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This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat VaYigash

6 Tevet 5768

December 15, 2007

Vol.17 No.14

In This Issue:

Tradition, Tradition!

by Rabbi Josh Kahn

As Yaakov Avinu began his journey down to Mitzrayim, beginning a Galut which would last 210 years, he provided a valuable blueprint for success. The first Pasuk in Perek 46 describes Yaakov's first rest stop on the way at Be'eir Sheva, as Yaakov offered a Korban to Hashem. The Ramban points out that this rest area was not randomly selected; rather, it had a very unique status as the "Beit Tefilah" of the Avot. The Torah then describes that this Korban was brought to the God of Yitzchak. Why did Yaakov refer to Hashem as the God of Yitzchak, as opposed to his own God?

In the next Pasuk, there is another unusual event as God calls out to Yaakov in the middle of the night. This event is extraordinary because this call to Yaakov is the only time we find Hashem calling out to one of the Avot at night. The Gemara in Berachot (26b) notes that Yaakov established the prayer of Maariv which furthers the assertion that Yaakov seems to be uniquely linked to night time.

In Jewish thought, night time corresponds to exile since it is a time of darkness, a time of strict judgment, and a time when it is difficult to discern the presence of Hashem. Yaakov was the first of the Avot to go into Galut, and therefore naturally relates to night time. Yaakov knew how to successfully navigate this night time and he alluded to it in his departure to Egypt. The Meshech Chochmah notes that Yaakov seized every opportunity to grab onto Zechut Avot, the merits of his forefathers. He davened in the place that had exclusive ties to Avraham and Yitzchak, and entreated Hashem as the God of Yitzchak. Yaakov realized that, in order to succeed in Egypt, the Jewish people must take the Kedushah they previously had in Canaan and transport it with them. Yaakov understood that this Kedushah was based on the tradition that preceded him and he therefore utilized this tradition, referring to Hashem as the God of Yitzchak, when asking Hashem to protect them in the night time. Yaakov's notion of taking the preexisting Kedushah with him into exile is described in a teaching of Chazal that, "The Shechinah dwells on someone in Chutz La'Aretz, only if it already dwelled on them in Eretz Yisrael" (Moed Katan 25a). Galut is not the place for the initiation of holiness; rather it is a place where Kedushah can be accrued by transferring it from the Kedushah we had already possessed.

Chazal teach (Berachot 26b) that Tefilah corresponds to the Korbanot. The Tefilah of Maariv corresponds to the burning of the leftover fats that were not burned during the morning and afternoon sacrifices, a practice which is related to the Tefilah of Yaakov. Just as Yaakov built off of the preceding generations, utilizing what came before him, so too the evening sacrifice is comprised of the previous two sacrifices. The night time sacrifice does not stand alone, since it is linked to the morning sacrifice, Avraham's Tefilah, and the afternoon sacrifice, Yitzchak's Tefilah. Yaakov was distinctly qualified to establish Maariv because he was able to draw upon the Zechut of both his father and grandfather.

Ultimately, when Bnei Yisrael were saved from Mitzrayim, Chazal teach that it was because they changed neither their names nor the way in which they dressed, traits which display a strict adherence to tradition. Yaakov taught his children that the key ingredient to sustaining themselves in exile is forging a link to the Kedushah imbued in tradition, advice which enabled Bnei Yisrael to merit the redemption from Galut Mitzrayim. Hopefully, if we are able to maintain our forefathers' various Mesorot and traditions, we too will merit a speedy redemption from the present Galut.

Not Knowing

by Philip Blass

In addition to kidnapping Yosef, the ten brothers cruelly gave Yosef's bloody, tattered coat to an inconsolable Yaakov, who inferred that his favorite son, Yosef, was dead, and felt responsible since he sent Yosef to seek his brothers alone. Rashi notices that Yaakov refused consolation for Yosef, and since a person is not consoled for a living person, Yaakov had a flicker of hope that Yosef survived -- a horrible ending to a terrifying nightmare.

Twenty-two years later, Yaakov is informed that not only is Yosef alive but is Egypt's sovereign. However, the Torah does not say if Yaakov ever learned what happened to Yosef twenty-two years earlier. One would suppose that Yaakov would immediately ask what happened to Yosef!

Ramban's theory is that Yaakov never found out the truth. Yaakov thought that Yosef was kidnapped when he was searching for his brothers and then sold into slavery in Egypt.

Ramban believed that Yosef evolved from a petty tattletale to Egypt's ruler because he stopped snitching on his brothers. He forgave them since the situation was out of their control, but his relationship with them was never fully ironed out. For Yaakov, on the other hand, the uncertainty regarding his child's whereabouts was worse than death. If he had known of the brothers' deed, he would not have blessed them on his deathbed. Therefore, since he blessed them, Ramban's belief that Yaakov never learned of the brothers' deed is plausible (see, though, Rashi to Bereishit 49:6 and 8 who clearly disagrees with Ramban on this point).

The Israeli Missing Soldiers, Ron Arad, Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz, Tzvi Feldman, and Guy Hever's parents have lived Yaakov's nightmare for longer than twenty two years, and are now joined by the parents of Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who must endure the pain of this "interloper" stage. We all must keep them in our hearts and prayers; we need to collaborate to help them, whether with our neighbors or our brothers overseas. I feel that the local Yeshivot should unite and pressure Syria to cease funding terrorists by supporting demonstrations, like the one I attended last Sunday night, outside the Syrian Mission to the United Nations.

The Torah teaches this message in the most dramatic way, and as we can see from the events of our own day and age, a most realistic way. We can learn a real lesson from this week's Parasha, that we cannot forget that while we go about our daily lives, our brothers sit in a prison, and their parents are in their own kind of prison. We must act upon the piercing message of the rally: free them now!

Editor's note: for updates on activist activities regarding the soldiers, visit The NORPAC mission to Washington on May 21st is a great venue for ordinary citizens to become activists. At this event one has the opportunity to lobby members of Congress to support the American-Israel relationship. In past years, NORPAC has successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Syrian Accountability Act which imposes economic sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism. Visit for more details.

Is Teshuvah Really So Simple?

by Jesse Friedman

In Parashat VaYigash, the Torah presents the recognition scene in the story which started when Yosef was sold by his brothers as a slave. It was truly an emotional time for all involved - Yosef, his brothers, and Yaakov. In the midst of this high emotional state, Yosef tried to convince his brothers that they were never at fault for having sold him, while the brothers seem to be simply dumbfounded by shame or guilt. After all is said, everyone has been forgiven, and they are ready to move on in their lives.

Nevertheless, Mechirat Yosef had apparently not been forgiven - it was a cause for the Jews' enslavement in Mitzrayim. Was there something lacking in the brothers' Teshuvah? Is Teshuvah sometimes insufficient? Megillat Kohelet states, "Meuvat Lo Yuchal Litkon," "A bent thing cannot be straightened" (1:15). Is Teshuvah therefore meaningless? It must not be so! Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 1:3) teaches that even mental repentance, when heartfelt, can suffice to nullify a negative decree for a dying man. How then could Mechirat Yosef, after the perpetrators had done their Teshuvah, have been the cause of many years of Jewish suffering?

We infer that there was something lacking in the brothers' Teshuvah. What, if not full and proper Teshuvah, might they have done instead? Perhaps they were sorry only for what they had done to Yosef; he was the one in the room with them, the one who knew all along what they had done. Maybe, though, they never thought about the wrong they had committed against Hashem. The very notion that they could cover up their misdeeds by dipping a coat in blood and presenting it to their father reflected upon their lack of recognition of God. They fooled Yaakov, but they didn't fool Hashem. And the entire time, they acted as if He didn't even notice. This was a more significant transgression for which they could not have as easily repented.

But was their sin against God really unforgivable? The Gemara states that there are certain merits (such as answering to Kaddish) for which Hashem will forgive a person for anything Bein Adam LaMakom. So what else could be unresolved about the brothers' Teshuvah? By covering up their action with a lie, they caused Yaakov to needlessly grieve for Yosef for so many years. Unlike a regular mourner, who naturally gets over his loss after a period of time, Yaakov could not be consoled. This was a Cheit Bein Adam LeChaveiro. We see throughout history that man to man conflicts tremendously anger Hashem: they were the cause of Churban Bayit Sheini. Since the brothers selfishly made no apparent efforts to tell Yaakov the truth or to ease his pain in any other way, their sin went unresolved, meriting She'ibud Mitzrayim.

We must be careful when we see someone going through a difficult time not to add to his anguish, by embarrassing him or otherwise. Doing so is what Kohelet calls an unfixable act. Pirkei Avot says that when someone is embarrassed, one should make a conscious effort to turn away from that person in order to lessen his pain. May we learn from the punishment for Yosef's brothers' actions that we must never embarrass anyone or otherwise sin Bein Adam LeChaveiro, and may we merit in return God's help in bringing us back to Eretz Yisrael.

Why Five Changes of Clothes?

by Zev Kahane

During his reunion with his brothers, Yosef gives them presents. The Torah records that "To each of them [Yosef] gave changes of clothing; but to Binyamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothing" (Bereishit 45:22). The Gemara (Megillah 16b) is puzzled by Yosef's actions. Why would Yosef give Binyamin five changes of clothing if he gave the other brothers only one change? Furthermore, the Torah Temimah elaborates that this type of favoritism was exactly what had caused the brothers to sell Yosef! After all, the brothers became jealous of Yosef after he received a special garment from his father, the Ketonet Passim. Hadn't Yosef learned his lesson?

The Gemara answers that Yosef gave Binyamin five changes in order to allude to something that would happen in the future. Yosef was hinting that in the future, Mordechai, Binyamin's descendent, would go out dressed in five different types of royal garments. This comes true in Megillat Ester, when "Mordechai left the king's presence clad in royal apparel of turquoise (1) and white (2) with a large golden crown (3) and a robe of fine linen (4) and purple (5)" (Esther 8:15).

This helps us understand the reason Yosef gave Binyamin five changes of clothing. The Maharshah, however, poses a question on the Gemara. Why did the Gemara not ask the same question about the three hundred pieces of silver that Yosef gave Binyamin? Even if the clothes were symbolic, wouldn't the extra money cause the brothers to be jealous of Binyamin?

Rabbeinu Bachya presents a beautiful answer. He begins by noting the Halacha that a Canaanite slave is worth thirty Shekalim. This is why "If the ox shall gore a slave or maidservant, thirty silver Shekalim shall he give to the master" (Shemot 21:32). In addition to this Halacha, there is a rule, "One who sells his servant to a Nochri is fined ten times the price" (Gittin 45b). Putting these two Halachot together, Rabbeinu Bachya concludes that the brothers all deserved to be fined three hundred silver pieces for selling Yosef as a servant to Nochrim.

Yosef, obviously, did not collect the fine from them. By so refraining, he essentially was giving each of the brothers a present of three hundred silver coins. Based on this, we can answer the question of the Maharshah. The reason Yosef would not make the brothers jealous by giving Binyamin three hundred silver coins was because really he gave each of them the equivalent three hundred silver coins. In fact, he was making sure that Binyamin, who did not participate in the sale of Yosef, would not be jealous of the brothers. Each of the brothers essentially received a present of three hundred silver coins from Yosef. Binyamin was the only one who was not three hundred silver coins in debt, so Yosef made sure that all of the brothers received equal amount of money.

We can learn a very important lesson from Yosef. Yosef was not required to spare his brothers from the obligation to pay their hefty fines. He, however, went beyond the letter of the law and exempted them from this payment. The Gemara explains, "Anyone who treats others with mercy will be treated mercifully by Hashem" (Shabbat 151b). If, however, people don't let things slip and instead choose to pick fights with others, Hashem will not let any of their negative actions go unpunished. The Gemara explains that the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because Bnei Yisrael chose to pick fights with their neighbors (Bava Metzia 30b). May we all find the power to work on our Midot Bein Adam LeChaveiro, specifically not getting upset over every small matter. And by so doing, may we merit the building of the third Beit HaMikdash BiMheirah VeYameinu.

Staff at time of publication:

Editors-in-Chief: Gilad Barach, Jesse Nowlin

Executive Editor: Avi Levinson

Publication Editors: Shlomo Klapper, Gavriel Metzger

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