parsha Vayigash

december 27th 2014

tevet 5th 5775


Tears Must Precede Punishment

by Rabbi David Pinto Shlita

It is written, “He fell upon the neck of his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck” (Bereshith 45:14).

Rashi explains that Joseph wept upon Benjamin’s neck on account of the two Temples that would be built upon Benjamin’s territory and later destroyed. As for Benjamin, he wept upon Joseph’s neck because of the Sanctuary at Shiloh, which would be built upon Joseph’s territory and later destroyed. This explanation raises an important question: It is said that “suffering is sufficient for its time,” meaning that a fixed time is established for weeping and mourning over each misfortune. That being the case, why did Joseph and Benjamin mourn over calamities that had not yet taken place? Furthermore, they were currently facing other trials, such as the exile of Egypt and the weight of servitude, meaning that they should have been saddened by these misfortunes, not by future ones!

Furthermore, the destruction of both Temples was not yet irreversible at that point in time. In fact the Temple was later destroyed because of baseless hatred and as punishment for the spies and those who needlessly wept over the land of Israel. Since such complaints were baseless, G-d said to them: “Because you have wept without reason, I will set [this day] aside for weeping throughout the generations to come” (Taanith 29a). Yet during the encounter between Joseph and Benjamin, the Children of Israel had not yet committed the sin of the spies, and this decree may never have been enacted, for they could have repented. As a result, the planned destruction was not yet confirmed at that point in time. Why then did both brothers weep over a hypothetical calamity?

Finally, it is said that when Jacob wanted to reveal the time of the exile’s end to his sons, he forgot it because the spirit of prophesy escaped him. Hashem intentionally made Jacob forget this date in order to teach the generations to come that although the time of the Final Redemption has already been established, we are obligated to wait for the coming of Mashiach each day. By the power of repentance, we can speed the end of the exile and G-d will hasten our deliverance. In fact it is commonly known that the Final Redemption will occur either at its set time or earlier, as G-d says: “I will hasten it” (Sanhedrin 98a). That said, it is forbidden to lose hope and we must await it each day.

As such, Joseph and Benjamin should have also felt that the decree of destruction had not been sealed, and that the repentance of the Jewish people could have revoked it. Knowing this, why did they feel it necessary to weep over the Temple, since at the time they were confronted with other misfortunes?

In reality, they wanted to transmit to future generations that we must precede the illness by the remedy. Thus the very possibility of the Temple’s destruction obligated them to do everything to avoid it. Just that possibility, even if not yet confirmed, must awaken people to complete repentance. This destruction was caused by baseless hatred and a breakdown in the unity of the Jewish people, and it was for this reason that the brothers wept. They wanted to teach the Children of Israel that they were now about to be enslaved to Pharaoh in order to later be delivered through miracles and wonders. As we know, the Torah was only given to the Jewish people when they were united. In fact the practice of Torah and the presence of the Shechinah require the unity of the people and a sense of mutual responsibility among them. As soon as strife arises among G-d’s people, He quickly withdraws the Shechinah from them.

Unfortunately, the Jewish people did not learn from the approach of these two brothers. During the incident of the spies, the people incited strife by mocking and disparaging the land of Israel. They did not preserve their unity at that point, but deepened their hostility toward one another, which finally brought about the Temple’s destruction.

The following story is told in regards to this subject: An elderly woman left this world, bequeathing the same amount to each of her offspring – except for one granddaughter, who received as much as all the others combined. The family of the deceased went to the Beit Din in order to make sure that there had not been any mistake in her will. The judges then looked at all the writings of the deceased, and in their search they found a diary in which the elderly woman had written everything that happened to her. In one of her entries, she described how she had gathered all her children and grandchildren to describe the dark days of the Holocaust to them.

In her diary, the elderly woman described how all her grandchildren had listened carefully to her, but that one granddaughter related especially to her words, her face filling with tears as she listened to her terrifying account. The elderly woman added that she was convinced that this little girl would transmit to future generations what had occurred during those fateful years, so worried she was by these stories. In light of this account, the judges understood why the elderly woman had bequeathed such a large sum to the little girl: She felt that she was able to pass these stories on to future generations.

The weeping of the brothers teaches us that we must mourn over the destruction of the Temple. If Joseph and Benjamin were so saddened despite the planned destruction being uncertain at that point, then how much more should we – after the destruction of the Temple has already taken place – mourn and repent in order to see its rebuilding. As such, we must strengthen our unity, bring people closer to Hashem, and avoid dissension in order to merit the coming of Mashiach, speedily and in our days. Amen.

Relevant Issues

The Three Fasts of Tevet

The fast of the tenth of Tevet is one of the four fasts that have been established by the Sages following the destruction of the First Temple. On this day, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon began his siege of Jerusalem.

The siege lasted a year and a half, ending on the ninth of Av with the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Jews to Babylon, an episode marked by horrors. During the siege, conditions in the city became increasingly desperate, a terror-filled period described for all the generations in Sefer Eicha (the book of Lamentations).

Three disastrous events, one after the other, occurred during the month of Tevet, from the eighth to the tenth of the month. Hence the Sages instituted fasts for all the generations, but those of the eighth and ninth of Tevet are called ta'aniot tzaddikim (“fasts of the righteous”). Only a few outstanding individuals observe them, whereas the fast of the tenth of Tevet is called a ta'anit tzibur (“fast of the community”).

As we mentioned, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem on the tenth of Tevet, a siege that ended with Israel’s destruction, as it is written: “It happened in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, he and his entire army, came against Jerusalem and encamped near it, and built a siege tower around it. The city came under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. On the ninth of the month, the famine in the city became critical; there was no food for the people of the land. The city was breached” (2 Kings 25:1-4).

The Midrash gives the following description of the famine that overtook besieged Jerusalem during the siege:

“The famine raged in the city – and the daughters of Zion gathered in the streets and looked at one another, each saying to the other: ‘Why have you gone outside, you who never go out into the street?’ And the response was, ‘Am I hiding something from you? The famine is unbearable, and I can’t stand it.’ They supported each other in looking for something to eat in the city, but found nothing. Then they embraced the pillars and died on them in every corner of the city. Their babies walked upon hand and feet, each recognizing its mother. They climbed upon them, looked for their bosoms in search of milk, but there was none. Thus they died upon their mothers’ bosoms” (Pesikta Rabbati 26).

For three years, the Holy One, blessed be He, waited for them to repent, as the Sages in the Midrash explain: “When that wicked one [Nebuchadnezzar] with the confederate kings came to Jerusalem, they thought they were going to conquer her in short time. However the Holy One, blessed be He, strengthened the people of Jerusalem until the third year, in the hopes that they would repent. In Jerusalem, there were giants of great strength who slew many of the Chaldeans. When the enemy propelled large stones to break down the walls of Jerusalem, one of these giants – Avika ben Gabtari by name – would catch them in his hands and fling them back upon the besiegers, and thus he slew many of them. Sin, however, brought a wind that blew him from the wall, and he fell to his death. At that point Jerusalem was breached, and the Chaldeans entered it” (Yalkut Shimoni, Eicha 1).

In a later time, the Sages added the commemoration of two more events to the tenth of Tevet, one that occurred on the eighth of the month, and another that occurred on the ninth: On the eighth was the death of the scribe Ezra, who restored the kingdom of Judah after 70 years of exile and brought about the construction of the Second Temple. On the ninth was the translation of the Torah during the era of Greek rule.

After the Holocaust, which brought about the death of six million Jews and the destruction of Jewish communities throughout Europe, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel established the tenth of Tevet as a general day for reciting Kaddish. On this day, families of Holocaust victims recite Kaddish for those who perished at an unknown date. They also study mishnayot and light candles in memory of these saints, may Hashem avenge their blood.

The Meaning of a Fast

The author of Yesod VeShoresh HaAvodah indicates that regardless of the day, fasting has the power to arouse tears through the reciting of Selichot. He adds that we are all obligated to deeply lament and mourn over these tragedies, ones that brought great suffering, so to speak, to the Creator and led to catastrophe for His children, as we all know. This is the essential meaning of a fast. In fact every ailment is sufficient for its time, but the essence and objective of a fast, as Rambam states, is to “awaken hearts and open the ways to repentance. These observances are a reminder that our evil deeds and the deeds of our fathers, which resemble our current deeds, brought these tragedies upon them and us. It is through recalling these things that we repent.”

In his commentary on tractate Ta'anit, the Shelah HaKadosh cites the Sages in stating that the term ta'anit (“fast”) is formed by the letters of the words tat ani (giving to the poor). In fact the term ta'anit has the same numerical value as the expression kematnat yado (giving as he is able), teaching us that we must give tzeddakah [charity] on a day of fasting.

In the Gemara, the Sages cite Mar Zutra in stating: “The merit of a fast day lies in the charity dispensed” (Berachot 6b). The Bach provides another reason: The Sages have said that some people love their money more than their own bodies, and for them a fast is not very difficult. Hence if we fast and give tzeddakah at the same time, the atonement achieved is complete.

The Gilionei HaShas gives yet another reason: In order for a fast to be entirely for the sake of Heaven, without the implicit benefit of saving money by not having spent some to purchase food for that day, once a fast is over we must give an amount of tzeddakah equal to the cost of food for that day. In this way, it will have been completely for the sake of Heaven.

Men of Faith

Stories of the Tzaddikim from the Pinto Family

What Was Yours

A merchant from Mogador was returning from London with a ship loaded with merchandise. On the way, a storm broke out in the middle of the sea and threated to sink his ship and drown all its passengers.

The merchant then became infused with the faith of his fathers, and he prayed to be saved by the merit of Rabbi Haim Pinto. He even promised to offer his entire fortune, as well as the very clothes he was wearing, to the tzaddik’s son (Rabbi Hadan) if he were to survive.

It is commonly known that protection is provided to anyone who finds himself in distress and vows to give to the charity fund of the tzaddik.

Arriving at the port, happy and relieved, the merchant began to bitterly regret his vow, so much so that he wanted to recite the formula for annulling vows. He decided not to give Rabbi Hadan all his wealth, as he had initially promised, but rather a small gift, nothing more.

While still immersed in his thoughts, messengers from Rabbi Hadan came to see him and said: “The Rav wants to see you right away.” The merchant immediately went to see the Rav, who said to him: “All your wealth and all your ships belong to me. The clothes that you’re wearing also belong to me, not you!”

Stunned, the merchant asked the Rav: “How did you know? I told no one about the vows I made!” The Rav replied, “My father appeared to me in a dream and told me everything.”

The Rav then said, “So that you don’t have to annul your vows, I am giving you everything back as a gift. What was yours shall remain yours.”

In the Footsteps of our Fathers

To Forgive and Forget

It is written, “And now, be not distressed, nor reproach yourselves for having sold me here, for it was to be a provider that G-d sent me ahead of you” (Bereshith 45:5).

Joseph’s greatness in all its splendor was revealed here, when he consoled his brothers about the “evil” they did to him by throwing him into the pit. He encouraged them and tried to persuade them that, in the end, their actions had a beneficial effect both for him and for them. In fact not only did he demonstrate kindness to them, he was concerned about their future!

Rabbi Shimshon Aaron Polonsky, the Rav of Teplik, had a close friend by the name of Mordechai Eliash. Each month, Mordechai would give the Rav money for people in need. It goes without saying that the Rav himself derived no benefit from this money, not even a penny’s worth. He distributed the entire amount to the poor of Jerusalem, with some coming directly to see him, while others, more discreet, he would meet in their homes.

One day, members of the Rav’s household noticed that he was distributing twice the usual amount to one particular family. Surprised, they asked him why, to which he replied: “Know that when I left Russia and its pogroms to settle in the land of Israel, I had nothing to eat. The man to whom I’m sending this money was then a gabbai tzeddakah [charity fund director], but he refused to help me. Now the wheel has turned, and I’m the one distributing money while he’s the one receiving it. In order to avoid all feelings of resentment, G-d forbid, I’m giving him more tzeddakah than usual. Thus in the World of Truth, I will not be accused of having taken revenge or holding a grudge as a result of what happened.”

A Profound Thinker

When the gaon Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik divorced his first wife, he vigorously refused the “generosity” of his father-in-law, who had planned on completely compensating him should he divorce his wife. Furthermore, even after having accepted his fate and granting his wife a get, he refused every “offer” from his father-in-law. He also decided not to take anything with him upon leaving the home of his in-laws, except for his tallit.

He was constantly occupied with earning a living as he yearned to be among the diligent in the house of study. A wealthy man in the town of Bobruisk then suggested that he teach Gemara and Jewish law to his two sons for three hours a day, in exchange for a full salary of three rubles a week, as well as food, lodging, and clothes laundered. Rav Soloveitchik, however, refused the offer.

The Rav of Bobruisk, a friend of Rabbi Baruch Mordechai Atinge, tried to convince the gaon to accept the offer, even if only for a few months, but he continued to refuse. The Rav of Bobruisk was unable to understand the gaon’s reasoning, but assumed that teaching Torah to the wealthy man’s sons was “beneath him.” He then said, “Teaching Gemara and dinim isn’t undignified! Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin even added the title ‘teacher’ after his name in order to stress its importance and function.”

However the gaon replied, “My ancestor Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin taught Torah to the sons of the poor, even providing them with sustenance so that they themselves could later transmit this Torah. However you’re suggesting that I earn a living teaching the sons of a wealthy man! I’m therefore afraid that the Torah I will lavish upon them in their youth will become a hindrance in their old age, for they may use it against the rabbis who preside as judges.”

Not convinced by the gaon’s arguments, the Rav of Bobruisk continued to press his point until the gaon would agree to teach the wealthy man’s sons.

The gaon then decided to reveal the real reason that prevented him from agreeing.

“I believe that this man is not looking out for the good of his sons, nor is he acting for the sake of Heaven. In fact he is a business competitor of my father-in-law, whom he hates. I’m afraid, and this is probably the case, that he’s only trying to keep me in Bobruisk – in his very own home – in order to irritate my father-in-law and exact vengeance on him and his family. How can I agree to something so vile? I refuse to humiliate them, to offend them in this way and thus transgress the prohibition: ‘You shall not be indifferent to the suffering of your neighbor.’ ”

Now fully aware of the gaon’s piety, the Rav of Bobruisk stopped trying to convince him.

In the Light of the Parsha

Jacob’s Consolation

It is written, “Now I can die, since I have seen your face, for you are still alive” (Bereshith 46:30).

The explanation given in the Midrash, which Rashi cites in his commentary, is the following: Jacob said, “I thought that I would die two deaths – in this world and in the World to Come – for the Shechinah left me and I thought that the Holy One, blessed be He, would hold me responsible for your death. Now that you are still alive, I will die but once.”

This is difficult to understand, given that our Sages cite Rabbi Yochanan as saying: “Jacob our patriarch is not dead” (Ta'anit 5b). In the above Midrash, however, it is said that Jacob would die – though only once – in this world.

In reality, Jacob’s suffering when Joseph went missing was due solely to the departure of the Shechinah. Furthermore, Jacob was afraid of going down to Gehinnom, as Rashi cites him as saying: “This sign was given into my hand from G-d, that if none of my sons die within my lifetime, I am assured that I will not see the face of Gehinnom” (Rashi, Bereshith 37:35).

Hence Jacob said, “Even if I must die once in this world, it is worth it. I am no longer suffering now, since you are alive. I will therefore merit the World to Come, and the Shechinah will again dwell with me. That is my consolation.”

At the Source

Justified Pride

It is written, “I fear G-d” (Bereshith 42:18).

From this expression, the Panim Yafot deduces that we can take pride in our fear of G-d. There is no reason to hide or conceal it in any way. In fact we should reveal it.

Furthermore, our Sages have declared that “everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven.” We therefore have the right to be proud of the fear of G-d that we have acquired. Hence that is what Joseph told his brothers: “Do this and live; I fear G-d.”

Not Enough

It is written, “It was not you who sent me here” (Bereshith 45:8).

The book Ta'am Vada'at states that Joseph’s consoling words, which he addressed to his brothers, teach us a fundamental lesson in proper behavior:

It is not enough to forgive a person who has wronged us. We must also leave him with the impression that he never sinned against us, just as Joseph explained to his brothers that G-d had sent him, meaning that they had no reason to be upset with themselves or feel distraught.

The gaon Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz Zatzal adds that if a person who has wronged us tries to explain himself, and we respond by telling him that an explanation is unnecessary, we are depriving him of the contentment that comes from apologizing. We are obligated to listen to him in order to make him feel better.

Like a Citizen

It is written, “It was pleasing in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants” (Bereshith 45:16).

Why did Pharaoh and his servants rejoice over the arrival of Joseph’s family in Egypt, to the point that the verse uses the expression “pleasing”?

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno responds as follows: The ungodly Pharaoh thought that from henceforth, as soon as Joseph’s family arrived in Egypt, Joseph’s oversight of the country would no longer be that of a foreign supervisor. Rather, it would be that of a citizen whose intention was to live in the land, both he and his descendants.

As such, Joseph would certainly take the country’s welfare, and that of its people, to heart. It was for this reason that Pharaoh rejoiced and was pleased by this turn of events, both he and his servants.

Special Days

It is written, “To all of them he gave…five [chamesh] changes of clothing” (Bereshith 45:22).

The author of Yesod VeShoresh HaAvodah finds a nice allusion in this verse. The term chamesh is formed by the initials of Chodesh (“month”), Moed (“festival”), and Shabbat, teaching us that we should change our clothes in honor of these days.

Jacob’s Example

It is written, “He wept on his neck a good while” (Bereshith 46:29).

Here Rashi comments: “Jacob, however, neither fell on Joseph’s neck nor kissed him. Our Sages say that he was reciting Shema.”

In his commentary on tractate Yoma, the Maharsha affirms that this is why our Sages said: “Concerning one who blinks with his eyes, gesticulates with his lips, or points with his fingers while reciting the Shema, Scripture says of him: ‘You did not call out to Me, O Jacob’ [Isaiah 43:22]” (Yoma 19b).

In fact such behavior does not resemble that of our father Jacob, who did not stop in the middle of Shema even when he met Joseph, the son of his old age, whom he had greatly missed for 22 years.

The Light of the Zohar

Where There is Joy

It is written, “He saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, and the spirit of their father Jacob revived (Bereshith 45:27).

We know that the Shechinah does not dwell amid sadness, but only where there is joy. It was for this reason that Elisha said, “ ‘And now, bring me a musician.’ It happened that as the musician played, the hand of Hashem came upon him” [II Kings 3:15].

We learn the same lesson from Jacob, from whom the Shechinah departed during the years that he was grieving over Joseph, but to whom it returned as soon the good news concerning Joseph reached him – when, as it says, “the spirit of their father Jacob revived.”

– Zohar I:180b

Guard Your Tongue


In regards to the prohibition against Lashon Harah, it makes no difference if we are speaking to a Jew or a non-Jew. Some people err greatly in this regard, speaking disparagingly to a non-Jew about the merchandise that a Jew sold them, or about the work he did. This often results in damage for the Jew in question, causing him harm and sometimes even resulting in his persecution.

– Chafetz Chaim


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