Saturday, 28 December 2019

Parsha: Vayigash, "Torah Temimah on Honoring Grandparents"

first posted on December 8, 2018

A must see Torah Temimah [TT] on Vayigash.

Here, the TT presents an encapsulated resource book on the issue of honoring grandparents. See TT on Vayigash 46:1The upper text quotes the Midrash Rabbah [MR] stating that the mitzvah kibbud Av trumps kibbud Avi Aviv [Literally paternal grandfather].

The Rema in Yoreh Deiah 240:24 deduces here that kibbud Avi Avi is an obligation, though a lesser obligation than kibbud Av, since it is still included in the discussion.

The TT says the following in note one below the line:
• Rema rejects Mahari Kolon who sees zero obligation.
• The GRA rejects kibbud Avi Imo [Maternal Grandfather],  thereby taking this MR very literally.
• The TT suggests that the Bavli would disagree with this MR and leaves the GRA in "Tsarich Iyyun" status.
•. He quotes several Bavlis and an interesting Rif and Rambam about miracles that occur to one's grandparents [or ancestors in general].

Quite a breadth of sources! This might give us a brand-new research topic for Parshat Vayigash


Sunday, 22 December 2019

Parsha: Miketz, "Is Avodah Zara the Same for Jew and for Gentile?"

First - Yosef identifies himself as "G-d fearing" (42:18). Later on, his servant sounds like he recognizes "Elokeichem" (43:23)  If Yosef is a G-d fearing man, then we may reasonably infer that he doesn't worship idols. However, later on,  Yosef and his servant presume that Yaakov's sons should KNOW that he is a "m'nacheish" (44:5,15).

None of the brothers, including Yehudah, challenge Yosef about this seeming contradiction. On the one hand, Yosef serves Elokim while on the other hand, he is a  "well-known" m'nacheish.  Now, if Yosef actively fears Gd, then how could Yaakov's sons know that he is a m'nacheish?

There may be room for a clever hilluq here. Although we have the 7 Mitzvot B'nei Noah, Mattan Torah hasn't yet happened. The text strongly suggests that  a Noahide is permitted to engage in activity that for a Ben Torah would constitute a form of Avodah Zarah [AZ]. In this case, worshiping G-d and still practicing Nichush regularly (as opposed to an occasional deviation).

BE"H we will follow up upon this same theme during Parshat Vo'Etchanan - namely that the criteria for AZ for a Jew seems stricter than for a non-Jew.


Parsha: Miqqetz, "Reuven and Yaakov, Miscommunication Skills"

Reuven offers to let Yaakov "kill" his two sons "et shtei bonai Tamit" (42:37) if he fails to restore Binyamin.

Yaakov refuses.

Let's presume that Rashi is correct regarding Yaakov's perspective. Rashi (42:38) explains that Yaakov saw Reuven's offer as though it were offered by a  "B'chor Shoteh." How would Yaakov gain through killing his own grandchildren?

What different perspective did Reuven have? Why did Reuven offer to let Yaakov kill two sons, and not one or four? Come to think of it, just what was Reuven thinking?

My friend, R' Joel Stern, explains Reuven's POV.  After Yehudah sells Yosef, he later buries his first two sons back in Parshat Vayeishev. Reuven didn't know why those two sons died. He assumed that it was G-d's punishment to Yehudah for "selling Yosef." Now we know why Reuven offered to risk two of his children.

Reuven offered to risk his sons based upon his perception of the deaths of Yehudah's sons. However, Yaakov was, after all, clueless about the selling of Yoseph. He couldn't have seen the connection to Yehudah. Yaakov thought Reuven's offer was "shtuyot" because it was pointless to harm his own grandchildren.

Interestingly, it seems that Reuven, like Yaakov, misunderstood related situations. Like Father Like Son?


Parsha, Miketz, "Davar Shebiqdushah Requires 10"

The Torah Temimah mentions a curiously anachronistic quotation.  Citing the Mishnah* in TB Megillah 23b [Mishnah 4:3], he states that any Davar Shebiqdushah requires ten. His list includes "... everything k'gon Qaddish Q'dusha, Bar'chu ..."

Surprise! None of those three things are actually mentioned in the Mishnah, and among theses three, arguably only Bar'chu is implied.

Although we certainly apply Davar Shebiqdushah requiring ten to these three, this Mishnah does not.

V'tzarich Iyyun. There  is a missing link here from the cases listed in that Mishnah to the one in the TT itself



* Mishnah 
. ד,ג
אין פורסין על שמע, ואין עוברין לפני התיבה, ואין נושאין את כפיהם, ואין קורין בתורה, ואין מפטירין בנביא, ואין עושין מעמד ומושב, ואין אומרין ברכת אבילים וחתנים, ואין מזמנין על המזון בשם--פחות מעשרה. ובקרקעות, תשעה וכוהן; ואדם, כיוצא בהן.

Parsha: Miketz and Vayeitzei, "Parsha breaks"

All things considered, it's a wonderful thing to live in the United States, a society with the right to Freedom of Speech. Unlike driving an automobile, there is no license required. Just find a soap-box and start speaking. One of the consequences is that since speech is therefore 'free," sometimes 'you get what you pay for it." 
Lately, I've realized how much absolute nonsense can be passed off as "Torah" and how many speakers present "facts" that are really misquotes or half-truths.

I've worked in data processing for many years.  Whether a program, design, or documentation, quality control was a major part of any product. At any rate, most errors were readily discovered by users, often accompanied by embarrassing results.

One of the early mis-steps I heard years ago. A member of my old Congregation [viz. COS] would fill me every Friday night on our way home from shul. He attended a local parsha class and would share with me some of the thoughts of the weekly speaker. This one week, he told me a D'var Torah re: Vayetze that it was the ONLY Weekly Sidrah that had no [i.e. zero] Parsha breaks. I exclaimed: "That is no true! Parshas Mikketz ALSO has zero parsha breaks!" FWIW, Mikketz was my friend's own bar-mitzvah Sidrah! The D'var Torah would have probably worked even if were not the ONLY exception but I was disappointed that the speaker was not more meticulous with his facts.
Fast Forward to this past Friday Night. The speak said an excellent D'var Torah all around, but at the end he inserted a very mis-leading interpretation. He stated [as per Rashi who quotes the Midrash Rabbah] that Vayishkav Ya'akov bamakom hahu meant Ya'akov had not slept his entire 14 years at Yeshivas Sheim vo'ever. I corrected the speaker later on, in private. I explained that Rashi/Midrash meant he had not "LIED DOWN to sleep" not that in fact had never slept! The implication is quite far different. Never sleeping for x number of days is an impossibility as per the Gmara re: Nedarim. OTOH, not lying down for a period of time merely presents Ya'akov as an ascetic not as a magician! After all, my own rebbe, R. Moshe Heinemann related to us that he slept in a sofa-chair for a period [a year or so?] whilst attending Lakewood. Sleep - Yes; lying down - No. Today, I confirmed that the Midrash Rabbah Hamevo'ar specifically interprets lack of Shechiva as meaning he did not lie down in a bed any sheinas keva. This can be further confirmed by the lack of Midrash on Vayalen SHAM. Point? A story of Ya'akov's p'rishus and hasmaddah is changed to a kind of Hassidic miracle story by lack of attention to the details!
But I'm not off MY soap box yet! In another faulty transmission, a noted Rav and Talmid Chacham was discussing the reading for Shabbos Hol Mamo'ed Sukkos. In his speech, he claimed that unlike the first luchos, Moshe himself WROTE the second set! Well the passuk says: "Pesal LECHA … v'chaszvTI" that God tells Moshe to CARVE the Luchos and God will write the 2nd set! I avoided correcting this rabbi because I had corrected him in the past and I did not wish to become a pest! But it is a shame the his audience may be unaware of his transmission error.
I was just informed a few hours ago that someone had given a D'var Torah asserting that the argument between Ya'akov with Shim'on/Levi was that Ya'akov was in favor of assimilation while Shim'on/Levi were opposed. Even the audience found that one shocking! While we can question Dinah's motives "lir'os bivnos ho'oretz" as possibly wishing to incorporate local fashion into her wardrobe, attributing assimilation to Ya'akov himself is quote a stretch.

Maybe Torah Authors and Speakers should have their writings go through quality control first. In the meantime, caveat emptor.


Parsha: Vayeishev & Miketz, "I told you so!"

This d'var Torah spans these two Parshiyot. It deals with the debate between Reuven and his brothers concerning Yosef's welfare.

Reuven may be the first person recorded saying, "I told you so!" (42:22) This seems a bit misguided. Reuven was the brother who suggested throwing Yosef in the pit. This pit was no bed of roses. (Rashi 37:24). So, what did Reuven mean?

In Parshat Vayeishev (37:21,22), the text records Reuven speaking, but with two vayomer's. One is at the beginning and the other one is in the middle of his speech.

In the first vayomer, Reuven says, "don't kill him."

 In the second vayomer, he says, "don't spill blood,  throw him in the pit [instead]!"

Apparently, Reuven was interrupted between vayomer one and vayomer two. Reuven started with "Plan A," then switched to "Plan B."

When Reuven says "I told you so" (42:22), he must mean the first vayomer - because he ends, saying, "v'lo sh'matem," you didn't listen! However, the brothers did listen to Reuven when they threw Yoseph in the pit! So this must refer to a rejected Plan A.

The 2nd vayomer was plan B, tossing Yoseph into a pit.  Then they listened to Reuven! According to the P'shat, Midyanim, and not his brothers, drew Yoseph up from the pit (Rashi). It was this plan that led to the sale of Yoseph.

Plan A was the "no harm" plan. Reuven's brothers rejected it, then accepted Plan B. Yoseph was lost through this plan. Like many other compromises, it was "the pits."

Had they followed Plan A, the brothers wouldn't have been guilty or blamed from the sale of Yoseph. Having followed Plan B, Reuven laments, "I told you so."


Sunday, 15 December 2019

Parsha: Vayeishev, "Was Joseph Being Punished?"

We are told that the Sar Hamashqim forgets Joseph in the last Passuq  of Parshat Vayeishev, (40:23) "v'lo zochar Sar Hamashkim et Yoseif." Rashi comments, "Huzqaq l'ihyot assur sh'tei shanim"

Most understand this as just a "2-minute penalty" for lacking Bitachon in Hashem. Joseph wound up in the penalty box for two years! Is this a punishment? Does this teach us to rely only upon Hashem and not use our own resources?

Remember that old joke? The one about the fellow in the flood to whom Hashem sent a car, a a rowboat and finally a helicopter and he refused each ride and drowned while waiting for Hashem to rescue him?

It seems harsh to blame Joseph for being resourceful in own rescue! Why punish him for lacking Bitachon?

 Let's take a look at an Abarbanel in the Haggadah.  Abarbanel writes that, "had HKBH NOT rescued us then "M'shubadim Hayyini l'Faroh." In other words, had Pharaoh freed us instead of Hashem, we would have been indebted - not enslaved - to Pharaoh. Think back, American slaves felt indebted to Lincoln, not to G-d.

Similarly, what if the Sar Hamashqim had freed Joseph? Joseph might have felt indebted to him. Instead, huzqaq, so the sar hamashqim would forget Joseph. Hashem wanted Yosef indebted to Himself alone.

Joseph might have learned the wrong lesson had he successfully used the Sar Hamashqim to rescue him.  We also might learn the wrong lesson if we see Joseph "blamed" and not "taught".


Vayeishev: What is Morality?

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Vayeshev and the topic is the nature of morality. Does morality have its own inherent value or is it simply defined by the Will of God. The story of Yehuda and Tamar begs this question for how are we to understand how a tzaddik, such as Yehuda, went to a prostitute. Was he coerced by the Divine? Or was there no problem as prostitution was not forbidden until Sinai? But wasn't it still immoral? But what is morality? 
Nishma Spark of the Week 5754-10, on this topic, is at

Parsha, Vayeishev, "Hotziuha v'Tisareif; a Burning Question"

In 38:24 Yehudah apparently pronounces a death sentence on Tamar, "take her out and have her burned."

Recently, I had heard about a slight variation of this. Tisareif could mean "branded." This means that Yehudah didn't sentence Tamar to be executed, but branded as a Zonah. 

With the help of some colleagues, I found this idea's source!

The Torah Temimah 38:24:25 quotes the "Ba'al Turim" who quotes R' Yehudah Hechossid: "roshem paneha" be branded. Tamar should not be incinerated, but branded as a "Zonah"

The TT also notes that this firebranding still happened in the Rosh's era and that the Rashba objected to this for Jews. He also explains the diyyuq that led RY Hechossid to revise s'reifaah to mean branding and not executing.


Parsha: Vayeishev, "Who Really Sold Yosef?"

Shloymie: Wait a minute, Rabbi! Didn't Yosef's brothers sell him? Doesn't Rashi says that "vayimsh'chu" means Yosef's brothers?
RRW: Indeed, Rashi does. But read Vayeishev 37:28 thru 36Where does it specifically show us how Yosef's brothers sold him? We also we notice that Reuven [38:29] was clueless about the sale. This seems a bit strange.
Shloymie: Ok, that might be a bit weird, but doesn't Yosef specifically say that his brother sold him in Parshat Vayigash 45:4 ?
RRW: True, but what about Binyamin?
Shloymie:  Just look at the 10 Harugei Malchut! It's obvious that Yosef's brothers sold him!
RRW: Shloymie, you must be agreeing with your namesake Rashi. However, I'm not quite "Rashidox" about this! :-) The simple p'shat is that the Midyanim intercepted Yosef while Reuven was on his way and sold Yosef to the Yishma'eilim.
Shloymie: What about Vayigash and the 10 Harugei Malchut?!
RRW: What about the simple Read, and the Rashbam who gently suggests that this is the P'shat? :-)
Shloymie: ???
RRW: OK, I see WHY Rashi pinned this on the brothers, though Rashi probably based this interpretation on Vayigash, not Vayeishev.
Shloymie: What's wrong with that?
RRW: Nothing, but I can read it simply here and still answer your point on Vayigash.
In Vayigash, Yosef accused his brothers of selling him, because:
a) They had said that they'd tried to do it.
b) That deed was l'maaseh done, even though through  Midyanim.

Do we really know who sold Yosef?

 Yosef had a right to accuse his brothers of selling him since they'd started the chain of events.  This seems to mean that even when they occur through others' actions, aisi HKBH are "mitztareif machshavah ra'ah l'maaseh".

Alternatively, maybe Yosef just thought that his brothers asked the Midyanim to do it, didn't realize that Reuven was clueless and assumed that they just beat the brothers to the "punch."

Maybe we shouldn't take  vaymish'chu to mean that the brothers actually SOLD Yosef - only that they caused the sale to happen.  I'm not saying that Rashi is wrong, just that we have a viable "davar acheir".  I prefer this explanation..

Shloymie: Cool



Parsha: Vayeishev, "The Case of "Minhag Attiq"

"Every Ancient Minhag has a Root and a Source In Israel's Literature"

Who said this?

The Torah Temimah on Parshat Vayeshev (38:10): he wrote that not mourning a b'chor, firstborn son, is a "Minhag Ta'ut."

The Rema YD 374:11 terms this Minhag a "Minhag Ta'ut" - flowing from a Shu"t Rivash. As the TT says, all the acharonim remain silent. Nevertheless, the Targum Yonatan (TY), seems to be its source, reasoning that  it's because Yehudah named his second son Onan.

As the TT says, "It is known that all of his [TY] words flow from Braitot and Midrashim." Although we might not actually pasqen like this Targum Yonatan, he has a solid source. It's unsurprising that the Torah Temimah, who frequently searches for m'qorot for questionable minhaggim, was the Aruch haShulchan's son

We should also distinguish between ANY "Minhag b'alma" and a Minhag Attiq. A Minhag Attiq's source may have become more obscure over time since it seems to have greater peer approval.


Parsha: Vayeishev, "Using a Non-Local Peirush"

Once,  I gave a peirush on Eiqev based upon a Rashi technique used somewhere else - during a speech at another shul.

One concerned fellow asked, ""How can you set aside what Rashi says here - in favour of an approach he uses elsewhere"? He meant that Rashi implicitly disputed my interpretation.

To me, the answer is simple, Rashi is not exhaustive. He only gives a subset of all the possible p'shatim that even he might have brought forth. Don't assume that Rashi objects to another approach just because he omits it.

There's a "Proof-Text" for my approach. Rashi gives one explanation for the word "Yassaf" in Vayeishev (38:26) "v'lo yassaf od l'daatah".  However, Rashi's gives a second explanation in B'haalotcha.  (11:25) Relying on the Targum Onkelos concerning Eldad and Meidad, Rashi interprets "Yassaf" to mean  "v'lo Passaq".

Here, the Local Targum says otherwise! It seems to mean  "V'lo Ossif". Sh'ma Mina - Rashi wished to bolster his own reading of the p'shat here even though the local Targum interprets the words differently.

I did the same thing. Although the local Rashi explains things differently, I used Rashi's explanation in Eiquev. I used Rashi to give p'shat in Eiqev from a non-local Rashi despite the local Rashi saying otherwise.

It's still possible that the local Rashi disagrees with his other interpretation. We can't know for sure. However, since Rashi himself used the technique, it's legitimate for us to use it as well.




Parsha: Vaychi, Vayeishev, "When did Yosef become the B'chor?"

When did Yaakov choose Yosef to be the Bechor?
Is it in Vaychi 48:5 when Yaakov said "KiR'uven v'Shimon yihyeh lee"?

Vaychi 48:22 "shchem echad al achecha"?
Note: Both implying pee sh'nayim...
Vayeishev - when Yaakov gave Yosef the K'tonet Passim; which implied that Yosef now held the mantle of "B'chor"?

BE"H we will cover Vaychi next and reflect back to Vayeishev and Vayishlach later.
Note: Stay tuned for "surprise twist ending"
Hypothesis. :-)



Parsha: Vayeishev, "Another Slap at Yaakov"

It seems obvious to us in hindsight that Joseph's brothers' actions towards Joseph hurt Yaakov even more  than Joseph. We see that Yaakov suffered heavily from his perceived loss. Yet, curiously, there seems to be a dynamic that was lost on most of the commentaries which I've seen so far. In this scenario, the brother's attack on Joseph was aimed directly at Ya'akov. How so?

Joseph diligently traveled in order to find his brothers, even though they hated him. Why did he risk his own safety? Seemingly, he felt that Yaakov's instructions compelled him.

This takes on several aspects. Joseph was fulfilling Kibbud Av and was probably relying on the principle, "sh'luchei Mitzvah einan nizaqin". Yaakov and Joseph expected Joseph to survive meeting up with his brothers unscathed since he was acting as Yaakov's agent. Later, however, Yaakov thought that Joseph was killed.

Let's illustrate some plausible, contrasting scenarios

Let's say that Joseph had actually ventured to visit his brothers on his own accord. Add Joseph's tattling nature onto that. It was probable that he would have come running to his Father to tell on his brothers. The brothers might have felt provoked into manhandling Joseph if they saw him as a threat.
Then, what if Joseph's brothers  had "asked first and shot later"?
What if one brother had asked, "Joseph what are YOU doing here?"
Joseph would have answered, "Dad, sent me, otherwise I would be minding my own business."
It's possible that in this case, out of respect for Yaakov, Joseph's brothers might not have troubled him.

In the parsha, Joseph is an agent of Yaakov. His brothers ignore this. So, now we see that ten of Yaakov's sons have:
  • Acted against Joseph and their own father's appointed agent!
  • Since they neglected to discern how Joseph came to find them, they probably took it the wrong way.
So what's the difference?

Let's see. Later on, Yaakov grows mistrustful - even paranoid? - about sending Benjamin. Where is his bitachon? Joseph was thought dead through serving his sh'lichut, Yaakov had, unfortunately, "learned" to lose his trust!

Since Joseph did  thrive, he was not really "Nizzaq"! (Well, he did suffer as a slave but we digress...). Yaakov might have felt differently had he known that Joseph was just missing, and not seriously harmed. He might have had faith that Joseph was really OK, and that he, Yaakov, was merely punished through losing Joseph's company. He might have understood this as simple "middah k'neged middah" for having left his own father, Yitzhak!

He might have suffered but not to the point of "Vaymo'ein l'hitnachem". He might have been sad, but not depressed.

Tangentially we see these dynamics in two of his sons' reactions.
Reuben just wishes to reunite Joseph and Yaakov. He is concerned about his father, not his brother.
Judah, who seemed to have some mercy for Joseph as his brother, doesn't seem to care about Yaakov's feelings.
Reuben's and Judah's responses deal separately with the two dynamics.



Saturday, 7 December 2019

Parsha: Vayishlach, "Ben Ish Chai, Criticising Avot"

In year two, the Ben Ish Chai (BIC) on Vayishlach criticizes Yaakov Avinu for putting off fulfilling his pledge, his Neder....

 I want to offer a sympathetic way of understanding the BIC here, and a way to understand criticisms of the Avot in general without dwelling on the specific topics of promptness and the seriousness of N'darim. The BIC uses a Key word here, "mussar."

BIC makes a classic Mussar point: if Yaakov were chided for his procrastination - kol shekein - should we blush. Yaakov "takes it on the chin" to teach us a lesson; but it's NOT meant to take Yaakov "down a peg."

Readers of BIC or of other similar criticisms of Avot should realize that the intended message is to use the
Avot as a foil or as a strawman to teach an ethical lesson. The BIC's critique isn't meant to impugn Yaakov's reputation at all. Rather, it is to teach us, the readers, a lesson in mussar. This story is meant to serve as an ethical lesson, not a factual account.

Sometimes, I've used this technique.  Unfortunately, however, with the unexpected result of the listener then going on to chide me for criticizing the Avot and so tuning out my message! Yes, I guess I need Mussar, too! :-).



Parsha: Vayishlach, "Yaakov and the Taryag"

In this parsha, Yaakov says something which seems very innocuous, "Im Lavan Garti." (Beraishit: 32:5)

Rashi's interpretation, "V'taryag Mitzvot Shamarti" raises at least one question: How can any one Jew perform all 613 mitzvot? For instance, how can a person be both a Kohen Gadol and a Levi? It's physically impossible!

The answer may lie in the unique nature of Yaakov Avinu, patriarch of all the tribes of Israel. Yaakov, progenitor of Am Yisroel, contained the DNA of every future Israelite. His unique potential encompassed every possible Mitzvah. 



Parsha: Vayishlach, "Do Shimon and Levi = Nadav and Avihu?"

An interesting Rashi notes that Shimon and Levi acted recklessly in attacking Shechem without consulting their father, Yaakov. In "Sh'nei B'nei Yaakov",  Rashi writes that "They [Shimon and Levi] failed to act like sons in that they didn't seek advice from him [Yaakov, their father]." (Bereishit 34:25)

Nadav's and Avihu's case seems comparable. They were two "righteous" brothers who brought an "eish zarah" into the Sanctuary without consulting their elders, their father, Aharon, and their Uncle Moshe. The parallels are striking.

Shimon and Levi were castigated with fiery words.  Nadav and Avihu were incinerated. Had they consulted with their elders, as they should have done, their recklessness could have been prevented. Both improper behavior and a kind of insubordination or usurping of authority should be considered in this equation.


Parsha: Vayishlach and Shavuos, "Taryag Mitzvos Shamarti"

I originally gave this Dvar Torah at the Teaneck Carlebach Minyan for parshat Vayishlach. So this may be said either on Shavuot due to its content or on Vayishlach where the passuk and  the Rashi are found.
Im Lavan garti
RashiV'taryag mitzvot Shamarti

Q: Was Ya'akov Avinu a kohen gadol? A Yabbam? How could he possibly have observed 613 Mitzvos?

A: (bekitzur). Ya'akov-Yisroel was the last of the avos the last to be "kolel" the entire nation. I.E. he included every one of the eventual am Yisroel. Once the shevatim separated, levi'i'm and kohanim had separate mitzvos from others. There would never again be one individual who would encompass all 613. 

This point was most applicable to Ya'akov Avinu: That he keep all 613 mitzvos. No other individual could ever do this again.



Saturday, 30 November 2019

Parsha: Vayetzei, "Reflecting upon Quality Control"

All things considered, it's a wonderful thing to live in a Free Society here in North America. People are free to talk and say what they want. Unlike driving an automobile, there is no license required. Just find yourself a soap-box, then speak. 
One consequence of this freedom of speech is that  you sometimes 'get what you pay for it!" I've lately realized how much absolute nonsense can be passed off as "Torah". Perhaps more insidious, how many inaccuracies are passed off by speakers as 'fact" when they are really misquotes or half-truths
I worked for many years in data processing. Usually some kind of quality control went into a product. Rarely was anything written without testing or some kind of peer review.  At any rate, users easily found most errors, often with embarrassing results.

Many years ago, I heard a mistake. A member of my old Congregation [viz. COS] attended a local parsha class. He would share some of the weekly speaker's thoughts with me every Friday night on the way home from shul. One week, he told me a D'var Torah about Vayetzei, claiming it was the ONLY Weekly Sidrah without any Parsha breaks. 
I exclaimed: "That isn't true! Parshat Mikketz ALSO has zero parsha breaks!" In fact, Mikketz was my friend's own bar-mitzvah Sidrah! The D'var Torah would have probably worked even if it weren't the ONLY exception but I felt disappointed that the speaker wasn't more careful about his facts.

Fast Forward to a subsequent Friday Night. Although the speaker's Dvar Torah was mostly excellent, he inserted a very misleading interpretation at the end. He stated that Vayishkav Ya'akov bamakom hahu meant Ya'akov hadn't slept during all of the 14 years he spent studying at Yeshivat Sheim V'Eiver. (Rashi, quoting Midrash Rabbah
I privately corrected the speaker later on, explaining the implication is something very different. Rashi, quoting the Midrash, had meant that he had not "LAIN DOWN to sleep" not that, in fact, he had never slept!  The Gemara, Nedarim, states that it's impossible to to never sleep for x number of days.  
OTOH, not lying down for a period of time just shows Ya'akov as an ascetic, not as a magician! After all, my own rebbe, R. Moshe Heinemann, related to us that he slept in a sofa-chair for a period [a year or so?] whilst attending Lakewood. 
Did Yaakov sleep? Yes. Did he lay down? No. 
Today, I confirmed that the Midrash Rabbah Hamevo'ar interprets lack of Shechiva to mean that Yaakov didn't lay down in a bed any sheinas keva. This can be further confirmed by the lack of Midrash on Vayalen SHAM
What's the point?  A story of Ya'akov's p'rishut and hatmaddah is changed to a kind of Hassidic miracle story through a lack of attention to the details!

However, I'm still on my soap box! Once, a noted Rav and Talmid Chacham was discussing the reading for Shabbos Hol Mamo'ed Sukkos. He claimed that unlike the first luchos, Moshe himself WROTE the second set! The passuk says: "Pesal LECHA … v'chaszvTI"  God tells Moshe to CARVE the Luchot and God will write the 2nd set! I avoided correcting this rabbi because I had corrected him in the past; I didn't wish to become a pest! But it's a shame that his audience may be unaware of his error.

Just a few hours ago, I was informed of another mistake. Yesterday, someone had given a Dvar Torah claiming that the argument between Yaakov and Shimon/Levi concerned assimilation; Yaakov was in favor, while Shim'on/Levi were opposed. Even the audience was shocked! Even though we may question Dinah's motives "lir'ot bivnot ha'aretz" as a possible wish to to assimilate local fashion into her wardrobe, it is quite a stretch to attribute assimilation to Ya'akov himself.

Maybe Torah authors and speakers should have their writings go through quality control before they present them. In the meantime, caveat emptor.


Parallels Between Sulam Yaakov and Migdal Bavel

Guest Blogger: R Shaul Robinson

* * * * *
In Israel last week I bought the Sefer "Parshut' of Rav Chaim Navon. I am a big fan of the 'pshuto shel mikra / inter textual analysis' of Chumash...

One of the ideas he discusses on the parsha was a real eye opener for me because I'd never heard of it before - the textual similarities between Ya'akov's dream and the Tower of Bavel. The examples are very persuasive - Rosh bashamayim pen nafutz vs ufaratzta - Bavel as 'Gate of G-d' vs Sha'ar Hashamayim, going to and from Kedem etc...

After reading as much as I could about this (and sites like vbm , Bar Ilan all have a number of shiurim on these parallels) I was left with the following question. None of the Rishonim from what I can see, noted this parallel. Neither, more significantly, it would appear did Chazal (at least from checking Torah Sheleimah - and , one can often find a lot of the 'new' style of p'shat interpretation anticipated in Midrashim) ... So what do we conclude from this complete absence in traditional sources of something that seems textually compelling? That it must be wrong / irrelevant because Chazal would have pointed it out? I.E. its 'outside the masorah' of exegesis..or that the links are there, but the Masorah is that it's not important, because we are supposed to draw other lessons from the story of Ya'akov's dream? Or that even though the Rishonim never said it, its a completely valid form of interpretation that one can in good conscience teach as the Emet of Torah

Kol Tuv,

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Parsha: Toldot, "Sometimes a Concordance is better than a Dictionary"

Quite a while ago, a friend asked me, what does "gadalta" mean in Tehillim: 104:1?
Why does it say that Hashem is very great? If Hashem cannot be defined by SIZE, then how can Hashem grow bigger or older?
In order to answer my friend's question, I picked up a Concordance.


One of the first entries for the word, "gadalta," is found in Parshat Toldot at the start of shlishi, the third aliyaBereishit: 26:13Vayigdal Ho'ish ...
In this context, Yitzchak Avinu wasn't growing spiritually. Instead, his r'chush - possessions, property, and portfolio - were all increasing! Yitzchak was becoming a "billionaire."
Let's look back at Tehillim:104:1. It's talking about the tz'va hashamayim; the wonders of the heavenly bodies.
Here, the words of praise mean that,  Hashem, YOU possess a magnificent portfolio of astronomical proportions. The words are praising Hashem's possession, not His Self or His Middot.  Hashem is GDL, great, in the sense of "Koneh Shamayim va'aretz." His property is Heaven and Earth.


Tangentially, this peirush directly relates to the piyyutim found in Birkat YotzeirKeil Adon and Eil Baruch GD'oL dei'ah. Through reciting this magnificent "Kapittel" on Rosh Hodesh, we remember the Creator and His creation.
In summary:  we've illustrated what I call the "Concordance Technique for Parshanut" and have learned how to parse Psalm 104.

Years ago, I learned this technique from Rashi, Z"L. He often uses the TaNa"Ch itself as a resource when he explains a difficult word without using the TalmudMidrash or Targum.  Through this technique, Rashi both presents a peirush and teaches us how to create our own original peirushim
BE"H I will illustrate Rashi's usage and a few of my own based upon following Rashi's methodology


Parsha: Toldot, "Be Careful of What You Pray For, Your Wish may be Fulfilled!"

 Yitzchak's Tefilla & Unintended Consequences. 

וַיֵּעָתֶר לוֹ ה' וַתַּהַר רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ. 

"We see that it is possible for a tefilla to be answered even when, unbeknown st to the mispallel, the desired answer is ultimately injurious. The one who is praying knows nothing about the collateral effect of the answer to his tefilla. He is only doing what the Torah teaches- when you need something, pray. But if he davens well enough and hard enough and long enough, sometimes the tefilla is answered as he desires, and this sets into motion a cascade of unintended and unexpected and unwanted consequences.
It's like Robert Merton's law of unintended consequences. a widely quoted admonition that intervention in a complex system always creates unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes. Does this sound reasonable to you?" (Havolim)



Parsha: Toldot, "Quid Pro Quo?"

It's often assumed that Esav exchanged his Bechora for Yaakov's bowl of lentil soup, "Lechem unzid adashim." (Beraishit: 25:30)

Well, I question that premise! The passage does lend itself to that interpretation, but IMHO that is a bit imprecise.

Look at Esav's reaction. It shows him dismissing Yaakov's proposal, not giving his consent. Esav doesn't seem to say, "Deal!" Esav seems to say, "Take the Bechorah and shove it. I'm starving! Feed me. " 

Given Esav's reaction - what was Yaakov's proposal? 

My interpretation is simple. Yaakov was only proposing to negotiate for the Bechorah over dinner. He delayed Esav's dinner in order to induce Esav to enter into negotiations. Esav, however, completely dismissed these negotiations. Since he thought the bechorah worthless, he gave it to Yaakov.  Only then did Yaakov begin to feed Esav

Go over and parse the P'suqim carefully and see which model you prefer.

To "quid pro quo" Or NOT to "quid pro quo"

Did Esav swap a dish of lentils for his Bechorah? Or did he simply refuse to bother with any haggling while starving, and so just tossed the Bechorah aside?

To be fair to the usual assumption, Yaakov did take advantage of Esav's condition, and Esav might have had "seller's remorse" after sating his appetite.  The bottom line may seem a "quid pro quo" anyway.


Pick Your Parshanut Preferences - Yaakov and Esav

Originally published on Nishmablog on 12/21/10, 9:13 am.

Which approach do you prefer?

A. Choice #1. Genesis 25 / Hebrew Bible in English / Mechon-Mamre
27 And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.
28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison; and Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 And Jacob sod pottage; and Esau came in from the field, and he was faint.
30 And Esau said to Jacob: 'Let me swallow, I pray thee, some of this red, red pottage; for I am faint.' Therefore was his name called Edom. 31 And Jacob said: 'Sell me first thy birthright.'
32 And Esau said: 'Behold, I am at the point to die; and what profit shall the birthright do to me?'
33 And Jacob said: 'Swear to me first'; and he swore unto him; and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.
34 And Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So* Esau despised his birthright.
* new JPS has "Thereby"


B. Choice #2. FREE Online Youngs Literal Translation. Genesis Chapter 25:1-34.
GEN 25:27 And the youths grew, and Esau is a man acquainted `with' hunting, a man of the field; and Jacob `is' a plain man, inhabiting tents;GEN 25:28 and Isaac loveth Esau, for `his' hunting `is' in his mouth; and Rebekah is loving Jacob.GEN 25:29 And Jacob boileth pottage, and Esau cometh in from the field, and he `is' weary;
GEN 25:30 and Esau saith unto Jacob, `Let me eat, I pray thee, some of this red red thing, for I `am' weary;' therefore hath `one' called his name Edom `Red';
GEN 25:31 and Jacob saith, `Sell to-day thy birthright to me.' GEN 25:32 And Esau saith, `Lo, I am going to die, and what is this to me -- birthright?'
GEN 25:33 and Jacob saith, `Swear to me to-day:' and he sweareth to him, and selleth his birthright to Jacob;
GEN 25:34 and Jacob hath given to Esau bread and pottage of lentiles, and he eateth, and drinketh, and riseth, and goeth; and Esau despiseth the birthright.

Kayyom - do you prefer "first" or "to-day"?
Vayivez do you prefer "And Esau" vs.
C. How does Yaakov come across differently across the 2 translations?
D. How does Esau come across differently across the 2 translations?


Saturday, 16 November 2019

Parsha: Hayyei Sarah, "Sh'nei Hayyei"

The pun on Sh'nei Hayyei Sarah offers much in the way of Drash when read as "Sarah led [past tense] TWO lives"
Here are some of my favourites...
  1. A life here in Olam Hazzeh, and another life in Olam Habba.
  2. A life as a wife, and another life as a mother.
  3. A life as a public figure, and another life as a private figure, for example, as both mother and wife.
  4. Similar to #1 a Life as a real alive human being, and a postmortem life as a Matriarch and iconic legacy for the ages.

Parsha: Hayyei Sarah, "K'turah"

This came from another list:
This past Shabbat, totally out of the blue, a congregant came up to me and asked me a question. Apparently, I must have missed that class. I didn't know the answer. Forgive me as I post my ignorance, but as I do not have the answer, I turn to you...

When Sara hears that she will become pregnant, her response includes the fact that she says Abraham is old. She implies that he is not exactly the stallion he may have been in his younger years.

Much later on, we discover that Abraham has married Ketura and had more children. How did he do it?


Here are two approaches:
  1. Both Abraham and Sara had a rebirth/rejuvenation (reJEWvenation?) when their names got changed because of the principle that a Convert is like a newborn [ger shinisgayer kekatan shenolad dami].

  2. Ein mukdam um'uchar batorah. This story is out of sequence. It's just here as part of a flashback sequence to fill us in on the old news that Abraham had previously married another woman named Keturah.  It's placed right next to Abraham designating Isaac as his successor (excluding Isaac's half-siblings) before Abraham's own death.


Parsha: Hayyei Sarah & Toldoth, "Navi vs. Halachah"

There is a story told in Y'shivot

Hossid will give you
15 answers to a single question
Litvak will give you 
a single answer to 15 questions.

Here are two related knotty problems.

In Hayyei Sarah, Avraham assigns Eliezer to find Yitzchak a mate. The Talmud admonishes us that we should not act the same way since Eliezer's technique involved "Nichush."  If so, then how could Eliezer use this means to select a proper shidduch? Alternatively, how can it be that Yitzchak's great match was manifested through such "under-handed" means?

Similarly, in Toldot, Yaakov "usurps" the brachah from Esav via deception.One may not excuse Yaakov's behavior on the grounds that he was obeying his mother, since one may not violate Halachah on the say so of a parent. So how was Yaakov permitted to engage in such a masquerade?

My approach is similar and simple. In each case, the alleged offense was committed under the instruction of a Prophet/Prophetess; Scripture actually makes this quite clear on a P'shat level

Avraham told Eliezer that a Malach will accompany him and that Hashem will cause him to succeed. Given this CONTEXT, his Nichush was under Divine Providence and therefore did not involve superstition or "dark forces"

Similarly, Hashem told Rivka [directly so - if we set aside Rashi] that "Rav Yaavod Tsa'ir." Given that this n'vuah is also in the text, her command to Yaakov is therefore that of a prophetess and not simply that of a Mom. Yaakov is therefore engaged to commit this deception in this extraordinary circumstance.

This also explains why the text orders these Prophetic pronouncements just before the questionable behaviour. It does so to set up a proper context so that we would understand the dynamic here and not learn the wrong lessons about Nichush and deception


Sunday, 10 November 2019

P V'a'yeira: Hagar's Eyes Open

Originally published 11/5/09, 4:18 pm.

This question has bothered students of Torah for many generations:
How could Avraham Avinu, the epitome of Hessed, fail to provide adequate water for his son and estranged wife?

The commentaries address this using several approaches. Some maintain that that Avraham was generous to Hagar after all.
Let's look at the text and see.

It says that Hagar's Canteen ran out of water. And she gave up - so to speak - and fell into melancholy.
After Yishma'el's prayer, it states that Hashem opened Hagar's eyes - and behold, there was a well!

Well!  Perhaps all was well all along. Maybe Avraham had given them sufficient water to make it to a well, but when Hagar ran out of water, her emotions overtook her and she suppressed her own ability to see the well in front of her. In response to her prayer, Hashem removed Hagar's self-imposed blinders and she could see the well all ended well!
All along,  Avraham had well-planned the rationing of the water, anticipating that Hagar would reach that well. But Hagar was not emotionally well enough to see well.


Vayeira Destroy What Needs To Be Destroyed

Guest Post:
Cantor Richard Wolberg
Adapted from an article by Rabbi Noson Weisz.
* * * * *

In the conversation between God and Abraham where God informs Abraham that he is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham challenged God's justice and demanded Divine mercy with a ferocity that leaves the reader astonished at his sheer audacity. Abraham then proceeds to demand mercy in terms that are almost as insistent, declaring, "Behold now, I desired to speak to my Lord although I am but dust and ashes. What if the fifty righteous people should lack five? Would You destroy the entire city because of the five?" [Gen. 18: 27-28]
How does such a ringing challenge emerge from the mouth of a person who regards himself as no more than a pile of dust and ashes?
To appreciate the utter impossibility of this conversation, remember that we are not Abraham. For us, God exists only in the abstract: He is a being we have never personally met and in whose existence we only vaguely believe. But to Abraham, God was a Being he knew and spoke to. Imagine that the Almighty Himself came to inform you about His decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorra on account of the great evil that He discovered there. Would you presume to challenge His judgment, and with such force?
The point here is that God came to inform him about His decision to destroy Sodom. If the proposed destruction was none of his business, God didn't have to tell him about it in advance. So the fact that God told Abraham, then that was Abraham's cue to respond.

Whereas your or I might have said to God: "Great! Destroy those evil people. Who needs them? All they are is trouble." Abraham was on a much higher level, so he asked for God's mercy, indicating a tremendous sensitivity to all of God's creatures. In His great wisdom, however, the Almighty did what needed to be done.

Parsha: Vayeira, "Aqeida, and Masorah - Rabbis Soloveichik and Rosenfeld"

I serve as a rotating Shabbat Chaplain for CareOne nursing center in Teaneck. I've become friendly with one of the residents whose daughter and son-in-law visit her nearly every Friday Night.

It so happens that this son-in-law is none other than Rabbi Harvey Rosenfeld! We have chatted many times. I was quite pleased to see his d'var torah in our local Jewish Paper "The Jewish Standard". Given Rabbi Rosenfeld's background, both the content of the d'var torah and its appearance here on this blog is a bit unconventional.

Enjoy R' Rosenfeld's d'var torah anyway! I'm confident you will.


Parsha: Vayeira, "Tiqqun Soferim"

 "Avraham is still standing in front of Hashem" (Vayeria 18:22)
Take a look at the Rashi on that passuq.

Due to Tiqqun Soferim it got switched around, even though the opposite is the case. This was not, however,  literally done by some "editor" who changed the text. EG see Iqqar siftei Hachamim 1.(Any such idea of an editorial change could be deemed a perfect mis-understanding.)

IIRC R Dr. MS Feldblum explained that tiqqun sof'rim is an idiomatic expression simply meaning "euphemism". This is only a slightly different interpretation than the Iqqar Siftei Hachamim's. The sentiment is similar. It's not an editorial change to the text, but rather a LINGUISTIC change to say one thing but mean another.


Parsha: Vayeira, Lot's Lot

Rabbi Y Seplowitz: 
«Lot was a man of contradictions.  He moved to Sodom to get away from his uncle Abraham.  He didn’t want to live near his uncle; Abraham was too . . . “religious.”  (“I can’t tolerate Abram or his G-d!” — Rashi’s commentary on Genesis, 13:11)

Yet, he adhered to many of the practices he had learned in his uncle’s home.  Abraham placed great emphasis on the Mitzvah of entertaining guests.  Although hospitality was actually outlawed in Sodom, Lot risked his life by inviting strangers to his home.  He served them Matzah, since it was Passover.  (He had learned from his uncle, who was, of course, a prophet, that there would some day be such a holiday  at that time of year.

Lot chose to live among the Sodomites; he was attracted by the material wealth the city had to offer.  The fact that it was a hotbed of evil and immorality didn’t faze him.  In fact, he seems to have preferred the decadent lifestyleof his neighbors over the restrictive morals of his uncle’s home.  Given the choice of Jerusalem vs. San Francisco, Lot chose ‘Frisco!»
“The Most Powerful Force on Earth”
To further our understanding re: Lot - a thought once popped into my head about Lot's Middah k'neged Middah. Lot had proposed that Anshei S'dom could do what they want with his 2 daughters. And it turns around, that's what happened to Lot himself, he wound up having relations with them shortly after having been mafkir them.

The Torah text is subtle, yet upon reflection, the juxtaposition of these texts does suggest a literary connection.

Shalom and Best Regards,

Parsha: Vayeira, "Is Seeing What's Already There a Miracle?"

I Witnessed A Small Miracle
Mark, Your friend was just under a lot of stress and likely "misplaces things" typical of someone with ADD/ADHD. When objects like wallets re-emerge from what I call "small object purgatory" (despite looking in that place before, sometimes compulsively looking again & again in that same place) as in your friend's experience, it is likely stress and his subconscious intervening so he literally can't see/find it. He had a subconscious hidden agenda for not seeing it, such as not wanting to spend the money, etc. This used to happen to me when I really did not want to date someone anymore, I'd misplace my wallet or my car keys just before going out, then they would appear right where I "knew" I'd left them. Your friend may have hit the nail on the head about it falling off the chair. (F.Lee Billy's comment on Emotional Times, September 27, 2010.)

Does this explain "Vayiphtach Elokim et eineha, vateira b'eir mayyim"? (Vayeira 21:19) If the well had always existed in that spot, then the miracle was noticing it.

Is it possible that Avraham knew the well was there? Could depression have clouded Hagar's vision until, via prayer, Elokim lifted it?

Could this unexpected appearance of the well be the "miracle" of simply seeing what was already there? 


Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Parsha: Lech Lecha, "Leaving Israel"

In  Mishna Torah: Hilchot Melachim: 5:9, the Rambam writes that:

"Even though it was a famine and one is permitted to leave Israel [nevertheless] "einah middat hassidut" ... [It is not the mark of a pious character]
And because of that Machalon and Kilyon - 2 "gedolei hador" [great ones of their generation] ..left and were liable to destruction by "the Maqom".

1. If it's Halachically permitted to leave the land of Israel, then who cares about "Middat Hassidut"?

2 If all Jews are on the same level of obligation and liability, then how does being a "Gadol Hador" change someone's level?

3. If even the Rambam concedes that Machalon and Kilyon's leaving Eretz Yisrael was Halachically permitted, then why did he say they were punished? 

4. In Lech L'cha, Avraham Avinu left the Holy Land under similar circumstances - and he seemed to be rewarded and not punished! How does this Rambam address that case?

For further sources

  • Torah Temimah on Lech L'cha 12:10 quoting Bava Qama 60b
  • Note 13 quoting Bava Batra 91a

Shalom, RRW

Parsha: Lech Lecha, "Skin-Garment-House"

An interesting linkage is made on the first verse in Parshat Lech Lecha (Beraishit: 12:1)
"A person has 3 protective casings:
The Bassar, the Begged, and the Bayit.

-  New translation P. 288, RSR Hirsch

This point dovetails completely with the 3 forms of afflictions listed in Tazria-Metzora:
  • afflictions of the Skin, surface, dermatological
  • Garments
  • Houses
In the cases in Vayiqra, the afflictions [Nega'I'm] proceed from the inner to the outer.I don't see any explicit connection made by R. Hirsch in Lech Lecha itself, but the parallel is more than skin-deep!

When Avraham leaves Haran he is asked to leave his:
  • Country
  • Birthplace
  • House of your Father

Or from outer to inner. This is highly counter-intuitive. It is also a major salient point in R. Hirsch's brief essay