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This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat VaYeishev

25 Kislev 5767

December 16, 2006

Vol.16 No.13

In This Issue:

Mussar on Mussar

by Jesse Friedman

This week's Parsha teaches us an important lesson about what it takes to be a Jewish leader. The Parsha begins with the story of Yosef and his brothers. The Torah records how he uses his dream to rebuke his brothers. As a result, his brothers become angry with him. Still, Yosef is firm in his attempt to provide Chizuk. He later tells his second dream to his brothers. Once again, his brothers get angry. However, their resentment is rationalized in this case because Yosef's dream suggests that he is greater than his parents. Because of Kibbud Av VaEim, the brothers get mad at Yosef. In reality, Yosef erred in his attempt to influence his brothers.

What exactly is the purpose of this story and the brothers' fulfillment of Kibbud Av? Perhaps we learn from here how to deal with a familiar situation. Yosef is a typical righteous Jew, trying to inspire those around him. He tries once and people get mad at him. He then tries again, but this time he is not careful with his choice of words, so he ends up in trouble. Pirkei Avot warns that a Talmid Chacham must be careful with what he says; even if he says nothing wrong, he must make sure that his words cannot be improperly interpreted.

When Yosef is let out of prison and is the viceroy of Egypt, his great leadership skills allow him to run the Egyptian economy for years. Where did he get these skills? To find an answer, we must analyze the differences in his actions between when he was young and when he was in power. Doing so reveals a very significant difference. While still with his brothers, he goes out to share the words of the Nevuah he receives from Hashem, but when he is the viceroy, he keeps the Torah to himself except when he is asked for it.

The Vilna Gaon gave a Mashal to show when people should reach out to others. The person who will teach others is like a big jug of water surrounded by little cups. If he wants to fill all the cups at the same time, he must make sure that the pitcher is topped off. Only when one is filled up with Torah can he try to share his words of Torah with everyone else. Yosef first had to be an absolute Tzaddik before sharing his wisdom with others. He reached this level only later in his life. Therefore, he was only a successful leader when he was older.

People frequently try to inspire others, but one must be careful to see how full of Torah his pitcher of Torah really is before he tries to affect others. We must learn from Yosef the proper time and circumstances for giving advice to benefit others.

Keeping the Miracles in Sight

by Zev Kahane

The Gemara (Shabbat 22a) cites two seemingly unconnected statements of Rav Kahane regarding two unrelated matters. Rav Kahane first says, "Chanukah candles placed above twenty Amot from the ground are invalid." Rashi explains that this is because one cannot see a candle twenty Amot off the ground, and therefore one would not fulfill the requirement of Pirsumei Nisa, publicizing the miracle. The second comment quoted in Rav Kahane's name is about the pit which Yosef was thrown into, which we read about in Parshat VaYeishev. Rav Kahane states that when the Torah says (Bereishit 37:24), "The pit was empty, no water was in it," the Torah is teaching us that the pit actually was filled with snakes and scorpions. What do these two comments of Rav Kahane have to do with each other?

The Torah Temimah provides an explanation by analyzing Rav Kahane's second statement. The Torah Temimah wonders why, if he threw Yosef into a pit in order to return later and bring Yosef back to Yaakov, would Reuven throw him into a pit filled with snakes and scorpions. Even if Reuven did return, Yosef would be killed instantaneously by these animals. Therefore, the Torah Temimah concludes that Reuven must not have been able to see what was at the bottom of the pit.

The Torah Temimah arrives at this conclusion by first defining the depth of the pit. The Torah (Bereishit 37:24) uses the word, "VaYashlichu", "They threw him," to describe what the brothers did to Yosef. We know based on a Gemara in Tamid near the end of the first Perek that the root Hashlachah, throwing, is used only regarding a distance greater than twenty Amot. Therefore, the Torah Temimah concludes that the hole must have been at least twenty Amot deep.

Next, the Torah Temimah takes Rav Kahane's seemingly unconnected comment regarding the acceptable height of Chanukah candles and applies the same logic to the pit which Yosef was thrown into. If Rav Kahane says one cannot see Chanukah candles above the height of twenty Amot, and we know the pit was at least twenty Amot deep, then we can conclude that Yosef's brothers were not able to see the bottom of the pit. This is the basis for the Torah Temimah's claim that Reuven did not see the snakes and scorpions at the bottom of the pit and therefore really did intend to return Yosef to Yaakov.

These two comments of Rav Kahane which are placed right next to each other in the Gemara really are connected. We can understand his comment regarding the pit only if we understand his comment regarding Chanukah candles.

Rav Kahane is also linking two miracles; that of Yosef surviving a pit filled with snakes and scorpions and that of Chanukah. One was a personal miracle and the other was for all of Benei Yisrael. The public miracle of Chanukah enjoys the additional element of Pirsumei Nisa, and for this reason one must be able to see the candles. As we begin celebrating the upcoming holiday of Chanukah, we should not only visualize the miracle of Chanukah, but also internalize its deeper meaning. Through this appreciation and understanding may we merit to visualize and witness the rebuilding and rededication of the Beit HaMikdash, where we will light the Menorah Shel Zahav.

The Weight of Dreams

by Dani Yaros

From Avraham Avinu's dream about the Brit Bein HaBetarim to the end of Sefer Bereishit, many dreams are described. The question is, what is the power that a dream contains? On one hand, many dreams throughout Tanach have proven to be Nevuot which have come true; however, on the other hand, we all have dreams that are ridiculous and clearly will never come true. So, what is the true significance of a dream?

The Abarbanel answers this question in great detail, a small glimpse of which will be presented. The Gemara (Berachot 55a) states that dreams follow their interpretations. Based on this Gemara, it is quite clear that dreams do not have Mamashut (significance) because if a dream was really the word of Hashem, the interpretation of the dream could not affect Hashem's words. Conversely, another Gemara (Berachot 57b) describes that dreams are 1/60th of a Nevuah. According to this Gemara, dreams clearly do have great significance. Which Gemara is correct? Do dreams have Mamashut or not?

The Abarbanel answers that really there are two types of dreams. Dreams that do not have Mamashut, such as those that occur because one is sick or scared, have no real significance, and one's interpretation of them is just guesswork performed by the unintelligent. This is the type of dream discussed in the first Gemara. Additionally, there are dreams which are messages from Hashem and we have to try to interpret them in the way which they were intended to be explained. However, the reason the second Gemara said that only 1/60th of any dream is Nevuah is because there are some elements to every dream that are not real, and it is up to the dreamer to discern what exactly his dream was describing. An example of this can be seen in next week's Parsha, Mikeitz, when Paroh dreams about seven cows and then about seven bushels of corn. In his interpretation, Yosef had to realize that Paroh's dreams were not focusing on the cows or corn per se; rather, the dreams were focused on the number seven itself, signifying seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine.

Interesting Father

by Tzvi Zuckier

In describing one instance in which Potiphar's wife tempted Yosef into having relations with her, the Torah (Bereishit 39:11) says, "Vayhi KeHayom HaZeh VaYavo HaBaitah Laasot Melachto," "And it was like on this day and he came home to do Melachto."

Rashi cites a dispute (Sotah 36b) between Rav and Shemuel regarding the meaning of the word Melachto. One says that it means he came to do his actual household work for Potiphar, while the other maintains that it means he came with a mindset to have relations with Potiphar's wife, a mindset which was shattered when he saw a vision of his father's countenance. There is much discussion regarding whether the Gemara's comment that Yosef saw a vision of his father's face should be interpreted literally, metaphorically, or somewhere in between.

Representing the middle approach, the Yefei To'ar explains that Yosef saw the reflection of his own face, which was extremely similar to that of his father (see Rashi to Bereishit 37:3 s.v. Ben Zekunim). Looking at his reflection and noticing its similarity to Yaakov's reminded Yosef of the high spiritual level at which his father led his life. This realization gave Yosef the strength to restrain himself, and he ran out of the house to escape the situation.

The Yalkutei Reuveni (quoted in Maayanah Shel Torah) explains the Gemara in a metaphorical manner. He quotes the Pasuk (Bereishit 39:2) "Vayhi Hashem Et Yosef," "Hashem was with Yosef." This means, according to the Yalkutei Reuveni, that Yosef fulfilled the idea of "Shiviti Hashem LeNegdi Tamid," "I constantly have Hashem opposite me." The Kabbalists explain this Pasuk to mean that a person should constantly view the picture of Hashem's name in their mind's eye in order to bolster his Yirat Hashem and help him avoid sin. When the Pasuk says that Yosef saw his father, it means that he saw Hashem's name, as he always did. By keeping Hashem in his thoughts, he was able to resist the advances of Potiphar's wife. According to the Yalkutei Reuvenei, the reason why the Gemara records that Yosef saw "his father's face" and not "Hashem's name" is because the Gematria (numerical value) of " Yosef" plus the Gematria of "Hashem" equals the Gematria of "Yaakov," or, as the Gemara puts it, his father. Another reason why the Gemara used "his father" to refer to Hashem is because Hashem is considered our Heavenly Father. When Yosef saw Hashem, his "Father," he ran out of the house to escape from Poitphar's wife.

The Tzafnat Paneiach explains the Gemara in a literal manner. He quotes the Midrash, which comments on Yaakov's exclamation,(Bereishit 37:33), "Tarof Taraf Yosef," "Yosef must have surely been torn up." The Midrash explains that Yaakov unwittingly predicted that Yosef would somehow be torn up in the future. The Tzafnat Paneiach goes on to quote a later Pasuk (Bereishit 37:35), "Ki Eireid El Beni Aveil Sheola," "Because I will descend to Sheol in mourning for my son." He explains the word Sheol to mean Gehennom, and thus Yaakov fulfilled his prophecy (from 37:33) and his promise (from 37:35) when he appeared to Yosef in Gehennom to rescue him from the clutches of sin and the Yeitzer HaRa.

No matter which approach is taken, Yosef was able to strengthen himself and avoid sin. Potiphar's wife attempted time and time again to seduce Yosef and make him commit the grave sin of adultery. However, Yosef was able to overcome her temptations many, many times. We all should see Yosef as a role model who overcame an extremely powerful Yeitzer HaRa. When we are in a dire and tempting situation, we should remember Yosef to ensure that we don't fall into the Yeitzer HaRa's tempting traps.

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