Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Parshas Vayeishev

Parshas Vayeishev 5777:

Alright; sorry this is a bit late, but here is the parsha report:  So the first passuk/verse in this parsha is Vayeishev Yaakov b’eretz mi’gurei aviv, b’eretz Canaan/And Yaakov settled in the land of the sojourning’s of his father; in the land of Canaan.’ 

Rashi HaKadosh (on verse 2) quotes from Midrash Bereishis Rabbah, which says “When Yaakov sought to dwell in tranquility, the troubles of Yosef sprang upon him. The righteous seek to dwell in tranquility. Said the Holy One, Blessed be He, “What is prepared for the righteous in the World to Come is not sufficient for them, but they seek [also] to dwell in tranquility in this world!” This is a very strange and puzzling Midrash!  Does Hashem not want the righteous to dwell peacefully?  What does that mean?  

So, there are a couple of very nice answers to this, that hopefully will answer our questions: 

1) HaRav Gedaliah Schorr zt”l explains that that is not the meaning of the Midrash.  The Midrash is trying to tell us, he explains, that Hashem does not want the righteous (or anyone for that matter...) to ‘settle’ (meaning to just stop where you are; spiritually, of course).  So He makes sure that we don’t just stop trying to move forward by sending us things that help us to move forward. (The things with Yosef HaTzaddik were troubles only sort of.  They actually paved the way for moving forward).  And Rav Schorr zt”l tells us further that there is only so much time to accomplish things.  We only have a certain amount of years, and there is no time to just “settle”, so to speak.[1]  That is the meaning of the Midrash quoted by Rashi HaKadosh, according to Rav Schorr zt”l.  

2) HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt”l gives us another explanation, however, in Darash Moshe:  He explains that Yaakov Avinu saw that his children (most of them) were already matured and at an age where they were old enough that he didn’t have to continue to raise them (and all the things involved, like discipline, etc.) anymore.  They were old enough (nearly all of them) to do things on their own!  But a parent’s responsibility really never ends, he explains.  (It changes, however, like the Baal Shem Tov zt”l tells us).[2]  So Hashem had to send him the message with the whole thing with the Brothers to teach him that he could not just “settle” – he always needed to guide his children in some way.[3]  This is especially very important for parents.  

Okay, now back to the parsha:  Yosef HaTzaddik was a shepherd at seventeen years old.  According to Seder Olam, at this time Yaakov Avinu was 108.  Yosef’s brothers were shepherds too, but he brought bad reports about them to Yaakov.  

Rashi HaKadosh explains that what happened was that Yosef HaTzaddik would misinterpret what they were doing, and while he thought the things were bad, they actually weren’t.  But we still can’t just suspect Yosef, who was a very righteous person of speaking Lashon Hara/slander!  So what was going on here?  

Explains the Nikolsburger Rebbe (Rebbe Yosef Yechiel Michel Lebovits shlita); that wasn’t what he was really doing.  But then what was going on?  So, he quotes the concept that the Baal Shem Tov zt”l teaches us that when you see another person doing something wrong, it means that you have that same defect in some way, otherwise Hashem would not have let you see a person doing something bad. (This is something to think about by itself.  For a more detailed discussion of the concept, see Chassidus and Mussar: The Message of What You See on my blog).  

But anyway, says the Nikolsburger Rebbe shlita, this is what was going on:  Yosef HaTzaddik would see things that he perceived as bad that his brothers were doing and he, following the above concept, thought that this meant that he had those defects in himself, so he went to Yaakov Avinu for guidance.  What should he do?  

But, by asking Yaakov Avinu’s advice about these matters, he consequently told him about what he had seen his brothers doing.  And it is for this reason, he explains beautifully, that Yaakov Avinu loved him more than the other brothers:  He saw that he was always trying to improve, and so that made him love him more.  

But then why did the Brothers hate him?  Explains Reb Lebovits shlita:  The Brothers thought that he was not a good person because he seemed to only see the bad in them (though it was not true) and so they began to dislike him.[4]  What an explanation!  

Okay; back to the parsha:  Yosef HaTzaddik had a dream, and remember, it was a Nevuah/Prophecy, which means that no matter what anyone said about it, since it was a message from Hashem, it would come true. 

He told his brothers his dream, and in it, they were all binding sheaves in the field, and his sheaf stood up, and the brothers’ sheaves gathered around his, and bowed down to it.  Now, his brothers understood what this would mean, so they were mad at him even more. But a lot of Mefarshim/commentators ask; why would Yosef HaTzaddik tell his brothers his dreams, if he probably knew that all it would do is cause more enmity between them!  

So, the Vilna Gaon (HaRav Eliyahu Kramer zt”l) explains that Yosef knew that they were Nevuahs/Prophecies, and a Navi/Prophet is not allowed to conceal from people what they need to know.[5]  

Anyway, the brothers were very upset and they asked “Hamaloch timloch aleinu, im mashul timshul banu?/Will you then reign over us? Will you be a ruler over us?” 

So, the Ibn Ezra zt”l and the Vilna Gaon zt”l explain that there is a difference between a melech/king (hamaloch and timloch are from this root word) and a mashul/ruler, (mashul and timshul are from this word). 

The difference, they explain, is that a melech/king means someone who is crowned king over subjects of their own free will, and a mashul/ruler, however, takes control by force, conquering a land or a people, and forcing them to work under him. Something to think about.  

But, anyway, Yosef HaTzaddik had another dream, which again was a Nevuah/Prophecy, and he told it to his brothers and to Yaakov Avinu. The dream was that eleven stars and the sun and the moon were bowing down to him.  

Now, we know that the brother’s sheaves and the eleven stars represented the eleven brothers, the sun represented Yaakov Avinu, and the moon represented Rachel Imeinu.  

Yaakov Avinu protested the dream, and (one of the reasons why) he did so, tells us Rashi HaKadosh from Midrash Bereishis Rabbah, because he didn’t realize that the moon in this case meant Bilhah, not Rachel Imeinu, who was already dead. 

Now, the Brothers just kept getting angrier at Yosef HaTzaddik.  And, one time, Yaakov Avinu sent Yosef to go see how things were going with his brothers and the sheep, because they were out shepherding, and he told him to bring back a report. 

Now, the Zohar explains that it would have been unnatural for Yaakov Avinu to have sent Yosef to people who hated him – it could have been dangerous!  It would have been much more logical, tells us the Zohar, for him to have sent a servant to check on the brothers!  The fact that he sent Yosef, it explains, was proof that Hashem was acting to carry out His promise to Avraham Avinu (about the Jews being in Mitzraim/Egypt, and likely even going further from there).  

But anyway, a man – who was Gavriel the Angel according to Targum Yonasan zt”l – found Yosef HaTzaddik wandering in the field, and he asked him what he was seeking, and he told him that he was looking for his brothers. Gavriel told him that he had heard his brothers say ‘Let us go to Dothan’.  So Yosef HaTzaddik went to Dothan, and he found his brothers there.  

But they saw him from afar, and they planned to kill him. They wanted to throw him into a pit, and kill him, and tell Yaakov Avinu that he had been killed by an animal. Reuven, however, told them not to kill Yosef, but just to throw him into one of the pits.  Really, Reuven wanted to return Yosef to Yaakov. 

We may ask, why didn’t Reuven tell them not to do anything to Yosef HaTzaddik?  But we know that a lot of times, when you ask someone only to do something small, not completely change; they usually listen more than if you would ask (or tell) them to completely change what they are doing.  

So, the Brothers threw him into the pit, and the Torah says that it was empty and there was no water in it.  And Rashi HaKadosh quotes from Gemara Shabbos 22a, which explains that the reason the Torah says that there was no water in it is because it goes to tell us that there was something else in it, and that something, was snakes and scorpions. However, Hashem in His Kindness protected Yosef HaTzaddik from them.  

But, on a different note, the Vilna Gaon zt”l (the third thought of his in this!) says a beautiful thing:  He explains that water represents Torah, as we know, and the fact that the Torah says the pit was empty and there was no water in it implies that it was empty because there was no water in it.  This teaches us, he says beautifully, that someone who doesn't have Torah in their life, their life is empty.[6]  Wow!  

And the Chassidishe Masters add to this concept and say that it also teaches us that if there is no Torah in one’s life, (Chas V’Shalom!) then they will have “snakes and scorpions” in their life - meaning bad things.[7]  

But I have a very simple question on the Gemara Rashi HaKadosh quoted:  How could there have been snakes and scorpions in the pit if the Torah says that it was empty?!  And I believe that the answer is that perhaps the Torah and Gemara are trying to teach us a wonderful lesson in life:  If you have “snakes and scorpions”, i.e. spiritual bad things in your life (meaning that you are involved in bad things, Rachmana LiTzlan/may the Merciful One save us), it actually makes your life empty!  Impure things do not fill up your life; they make it more and more empty!  

Okay, back to the parsha:  The Brothers then sat down to eat and drink.  And they saw a caravan with Yishmaelim in it that was carrying spices, and Yehuda said that they should sell Yosef.  So the Brothers sold Yosef to them.  

Now, according nearly all opinions, the Brothers sold Yosef HaTzaddik.  But there is a very novel approach taken by the Rashbam zt”l (grandson of Rashi HaKadosh), who says that, if you look at the verses, the Torah never says that the Brothers sold Yosef!  

It talks about them discussing selling him, but it never says that they did.  It actually says that a caravan of Midiani men came by and they lifted him from the pit.  Most assume that that was referring to the Brothers, but according to the Rashbam zt”l, the Brothers never actually sold Yosef HaTzaddik.  

Now, of course, HaRav Shalom Rosner shlita asks on this; how could Yosef then say at a later time that they sold him?  And, if you want to go with this explanation, he answers, it was only like they sold him.[8]  Most do not agree with the Rashbam zt”l’s approach, but it is how the verses appear, and definitely something to think about.  

Back to the parsha:  When Reuven came back to the pit, it was empty, and he was very worried.  He tore his garments, and asked the brothers where he would go.  The Maharshal (HaRav Shlomo Luria zt”l) explains that what Reuven meant by saying this, is that as the firstborn, he would be blamed by Yaakov Avinu for the loss of Yosef HaTzaddik.[9]  

And the Brothers slaughtered a goat, and dipped Yosef’s tunic in blood, and this is the excuse they were going to use to Yaakov Avinu for why Yosef was gone.  The tunic was shown to Yaakov Avinu, and he said that Yosef must have been torn by an evil beast, and he mourned for him.  

So, in Chamishi/the fifth Aliyah, it talks about Yosef HaTzaddik in the house of Potiphar.  Hashem was with Yosef, and so he did things very, very well. So Potiphar put him in charge of a lot of things.  Potiphar’s wife lied and said Yosef did something that he didn’t do, and so he was put in jail.  

Hashem yet again was with Yosef, and He made him find favor in the prison warden’s eyes, and the prison warden put him in charge of all the prisoners. The baker and the chamberlain of the cupbearers did something against Paroah, so they were put in jail. 

Rashi HaKadosh quotes from Midrash Bereishis Rabbah, which explains that the baker had baked a stone into the bread, and a fly had flown into the cup that the cupbearer was supposed to give Paroah.  

And Mizrachi and Gur Aryeh (the Maharal of Prague – HaRav Yehuda Leib ben Betzalel zt”l) explain that the cupbearer’s offense was much less serious, as it wasn’t his fault that a fly had flown into the cup, while it was negligence on the part of the baker to let a stone stay in the bread.  

Furthermore, Radak zt”l explains another way that the baker’s offense was more serious: He says that a stone obviously can do more harm, by having Paroah choke on it, and a fly, while disgusting, can do no harm. 

So, anyway, they both had dreams on the same night, and they didn’t know what they meant. Yosef HaTzaddik saw them in the morning, and they were upset. He asked them why, and they told him that they both had dreams, and there was nobody who could interpret them. Yosef told them to tell him, and the chamberlain of the cupbearer’s told Yosef HaTzaddik his dream first. 

In it, there was a grape vine, and on it, there were three things on it called Sarigim/tendrils, which, according to Rashi HaKadosh are long branches, and it was like it had budded. The blossoms bloomed and the clusters ripened into grapes. And he was holding Paroah’s cup, and he pressed the grapes into wine, and gave the cup to Paroah. 

Yosef HaTzaddik told him that the three tendrils (long branches) were three days, and he told him that it meant that in three days, he would be restored to his job, and he would once again hand Paroah’s cup to him.  And Yosef asked him to remember him, and basically put in a good word for him with Paroah, when he was put back to his job.

According to Seder Olam, Midrash Tanchuma, and Midrash Shemos Rabbah, it was a lack of faith on Yosef’s part, and so Hashem made his prison sentence lengthened for another two years.  

But HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt”l explains that it is the normal way of people to try to find a means of getting out, and that is what Yosef HaTzaddik did!  However, his mistake, explains Reb Moshe zt”l, was not seeing the fact that the entire reason for the cupbearer and the baker to be imprisoned, was to get him out of jail.  He should have recognized that Hashem was already in the middle of getting him out of jail, and he didn’t need to ask the cupbearer for help.[10] 

Okay, back to the parsha:  The baker then told Yosef his dream, and in it, there were three baskets on his head, and in the top one, there was a lot of Paroah’s food, and birds were eating it out.  Yosef HaTzaddik told him that the three baskets were three days, and in another three days, Paroah would have him hanged, and birds would eat the flesh of his carcass. Obviously, Hashem was the One Who let Yosef know all this, and so everything that Yosef interpreted, happened. And the cupbearer did not remember Yosef.

There are 112 pessukim/verses in this parsha.  B’Ezras Hashem/with the Help of Hashem, I hope to type up a thing for Chanukah sometime this week. 

Have a wonderful week everyone and a very Freilichen Chanukah! 


  1. From The Stone Edition Chumash:  By HaRav Nosson Scherman shlita.  Artscroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd.
  2. From Sefer Mishkan Betzalel.  By HaRav Betzalel Rudinsky shlita.  Told over by HaRav Shalom Rosner shlita.
  3. Told over by HaRav Shalom Rosner shlita.
  4. From Nikolsburg.org.
  5. From The Stone Edition Chumash:  By HaRav Nosson Scherman shlita.  Artscroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd.
  6. From YUTorah.org.  Told over by Reb Ari Mirzoeff shlita.
  7. From Chabad.org
  8. From OU.org.
  9. From The Stone Edition Chumash:  By HaRav Nosson Scherman shlita.  Artscroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd.
  10. From The Stone Edition Chumash:  By HaRav Nosson Scherman shlita.  Artscroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd.

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