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.