December 23rd, 2017

5th of tevet 5778


Acquisition of the Torah – one's true greatness

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

"And if it comes to pass that Pharaoh calls you and asks, 'What is your occupation?' You shall say, 'Your servants have been owners of livestock from our youth until now, both we and our ancestors,' so that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, because all shepherds are abhorrent to the Egyptians." (Bereishit 46:33-34)

Yosef the tzaddik turns to his brothers and tells them that now, after their arrival in Egypt, Pharaoh will surely call for them to appear before him in order to see them to observe how strong they are. Pharaoh knew well the strength and power of Yosef, and therefore he crowned him as king over Egypt. Since he desired to strengthen his kingdom even more, he will ask to see Yosef's brothers to assess if they are as powerful as their brother Yosef. After Pharaoh will assess their might, most certainly he will seek to employ them for his interest in strengthening his kingdom even more.

Yosef the tzaddik did not wait for Pharaoh's invitation, but chose to bring his brothers before him on his own initiative, because he knew that Pharaoh will not pass up his chance to draft the brothers for his services. Therefore, Yosef preceded him and brought his brothers before him, as it is stated (ibid. 47:1), "Yosef came and told Pharaoh, and he said, "My father and my brothers and their flocks and their cattle and all that is theirs, have come from the land of Canaan, and behold, they are in the land of Goshen." We also find that Yosef guided his brothers and instructed them on how to behave and what to say before Pharaoh. This is because Yosef knew that Pharaoh would want to draft his brothers for his own purposes, therefore, he instructed them that when they would be asked what their occupation and business was, they should say that they were merely shepherds, and G-d forbid, they should not mention that they were in fact powerful and wise men.

As for Yosef's reign over Egypt, it was a necessary exception because of the situation, and certainly this is not the acceptable way for all people. The mission of the brothers was to establish Batei Midrashot and to disseminate the Torah of their father Yakov; it was the Torah that would protect Bnei Yisrael in exile, and whereby they would merit the redemption from Egypt.

Yakov Avinu wanted to mitigate the treacherous difficulty of the exile in Egypt, and therefore he sent Yehudah before his brothers "to pave the way," and he commanded also the other brothers to establish Batei Midrash in the land of Goshen, in order to spread the sound of Torah. For this reason the land of Goshen is called in this name, since the brothers "hitgosheshu" (grappled with each other) in the complex subjects of the Torah. The powerful influence of the Torah can be seen by the tribe of Levi, who by virtue of their total engagement in Torah, were spared slavery (Shemot Rabbah 5:16), unlike the other tribes, who were not entirely involved in the study of Torah, and therefore they were forced to perform hard labor.

Yosef instructed his brothers that the main message they had to convey to Pharaoh was that they were "anshei mikneh" (lit. shepherds, but it can also mean acquisition), since they were involved in acquiring the Torah. Although they were truly powerful and capable men, their main occupation was only Torah, which was their highest priority.

In fact, Yosef sent Pharaoh, "from among his brothers," the weaker ones. Rashi comments: "From the most inferior of them in regards to physical strength, [i.e., those] who did not appear strong, for if he [Pharaoh] recognized them as being strong, he would make them his warriors. They are the following: Reuvain, Shimon, Levi, Yissachar, and Binyamin."  He hinted to Pharaoh that their essence was not defined by their physical strength, but the Torah was their true essence. The proof for this was that physically they were not muscular and strong. However, it must be understood that Pharaoh already recognized the power of the brothers, so then how would he resolve the fact that they were not physically strong? Thus, this was what the brothers told Pharaoh: we are not inherently powerful people, just the Torah is our might. When we are engaged in Torah, we draw powerful strength from it, and when we need to defend ourselves, the strength of the Torah assists us and grants us the superhuman power necessary to overcome our enemies. But in truth, real strength is the ability to overcome the Yetzer Hara and practice self-control, as it is stated (Avot 4:1), "Who is strong? He who subdues his personal inclination."

Walking in Their Ways

Ties of Thanksgiving

Venezuela, the land of tropical rainforests and hurricanes. Countless accidents result from the frequent storms and avalanches. Homes and trees are entirely uprooted. Tornadoes rip apart anything in their way, wreaking complete destruction. It is life-threatening to be found in the eye of a storm. A man once related that he was miraculously spared twice from such storms.

The first time, he was trapped in his car. The windows were shattered by the mere velocity of the gales. He was sure that within a few moments, he would meet his end. Suddenly, a mysterious hand opened his door and allowed him to escape certain death.

The second time, he was once again seated in his car, when a storm erupted. Mountains crumbled and boulders broke apart. By a miracle, he was thrown with his car into a ditch. This provided him with a shelter of sorts from the threatening winds, and saved his life.

When I heard the man’s tale of escape, I asked, “Do you wear tefillin daily?”

“For many years, I used to wear tefillin. But as of late, I have stopped.”

“You stopped wearing tefillin?” I was incredulous. “How dare you? Didn’t you see Hashem’s hand saving you twice from certain death? Don’t you consider this a signal that you must be more careful with mitzvot, specifically the mitzvah of tefillin? You surely repaired your wrecked car. But what about your spoiled soul?!”

The man was silent. I instructed him to undertake to be more stringent concerning the mitzvah of tefillin, as well as other mitzvot. In this manner, he would merit constant Divine protection.

Words of Our Sages

A calculated gift

"He gave them all, to each one [several] changes of clothes, and to Benjamin he gave three hundred [pieces of] silver and five changes of clothes" (Bereishit 45:22)

There is a famous question of the Gemara (Megillah 16a): Is it possible that that righteous man should fall into the very mistake from which he himself had suffered?

R. Benjamin b. Japhet said: He gave him a hint that a descendant would issue from him who would go forth before a king in five royal garments, as it says, And Mordecai went forth from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue etc.

The Maharsha raises the following question: We can understand the issue of the clothing, but it is difficult to understand why Yosef gave Binyamim 300 silver coins, but did not give the same to the other brothers. Thus, we can ask again: Is it possible that that righteous man should fall into the very mistake from which he himself had suffered? So he explains that since Binyamin was also a brother from the same mother as Yosef, money wouldn't arouse their jealousy. However, the extra clothing would arouse their anger, since the brothers would think that he was harboring a grudge against them for selling him because of the "ketonet passim" (fine woolen tunic) that Yakov had given only to Yosef.

Rabbeinu Bechayei clarifies the matter according to the Gemara (Gittin 44a), and the Rambam also rules this way as halachah (perek 8 of hilchot avadim halachah 1): "One who sells his slave to a non-Jew is forced to retract the sale and redeem the slave from the non-Jew for up to ten times the price [that he sold him]."

The price of a slave according to the Torah is thirty shekels (Shemot 21:32). Since Yosef was sold by his brothers to non-Jews, his brothers were obligated to redeem him for up to ten times the amount they sold him, which amounts to three hundred shekels. But Yosef forgave them and waived the three hundred shekels that they should have paid to redeem him. However, Binyamin was not present at the sale, so Yosef gave him three hundred shekels, exactly the amount that he had waived for each of the other brothers. Consequently, there was no reason for them to be jealous of their brother…

Guard Your Tongue

Correcting the sin of lashon hara

If he already heard the slander and believed it in his heart, he can correct this by working to extract it from his heart and repenting, decide not to believe it as true, and to accept upon himself for the future not to believe slander about any Jew, and he should admit his sin verbally; in this way he will correct the negative and positive commandments that he transgressed by accepting the lashon hara.

The Haftarah

"And the word of the L-rd came to me, saying: And you, son of man" (Yechezkiel 37)

The connection to the parashah: The haftarah tells about the kingship of Yehudah and Yosef, which will join together in the future, as it is stated: "And you, son of man, take for yourself one stick and write upon it, 'For Yehudah and for the children of Israel his companions'; and take one stick and write upon it, 'For Yosef… and they shall be one in your hand."

This is similar to the subject of the parashah, when Yehudah fought to save his brother Binyamin, and in the end all the tribes united with Yosef the tzaddik, who ruled over all the land of Egypt.


Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

The obligation of expressing gratitude

"And Israel and all that was his set out and came to Beer Sheva, and he slaughtered sacrifices to the G-d of his father Yitzchak" (Bereishit 46:1)

Rashi comments: One is required to honor his father more than he is required to honor his grandfather. Therefore, the sacrifices are associated with Yitzchak and not with Abraham.

When Yakov Avinu was informed that Yosef was living in Egypt, he was overjoyed. He was mostly happy that Yosef ruled over himself with outstanding self-discipline and did not forget his Torah. Yakov was not proud for the temporal kingship that Yosef attained; he was only proud of the spiritual kingship that he had attained, for, as it is stated, "Who is strong? He who subdues his personal inclinations." The Torah is referred to as "honor" (Avos 6:3). Yosef told his brothers, "And you shall tell my father [of] all my honor" (Bereishit 45:13). It is not referring to personal honor, but the honor of the Torah. Also to the fact that he did not violate his holy covenant, which is referred to as honor.

Yakov Avinu was very happy, and as a sign of gratitude, he offered sacrifices, and the pasuk emphasizes that Yakov sacrificed the offerings for the G-d of Yitzchak his father. Rashi comments there that from this we learn that one is required to honor his father more than his grandfather. We may ask; why did the Torah specifically teach us this halachah over here and not in a different place. Certainly there is hidden depth to the words of Rashi.

It seems that when Yitzchak heard that Yosef was devoured by a wild beast, he shed tears and shared in his son's sorrow. He was grateful to Yitzchak that he shared in his sorrow over Yosef and shed tears; certainly his tears made a strong impression in Heaven and led to the liberation of Yosef. Thus, when Yakov was informed that his son is alive and well and a king in Egypt, he hurried to offer sacrifices, and with that he expressed his gratitude to his father. Therefore, we can understand why the Torah taught us this lesson specifically here.

From this we learn how significant the importance of gratitude is, since a person who shows gratitude to his fellow, ultimately will show gratitude also to Hashem. After all, Hashem bestows His benevolence day and night constantly. Thus, Yakov recognized the benevolence of Hashem and his father, and offered sacrifices in the merit of his father Yitzchak who comforted him at the time when he was informed about the tragedy of Yosef, his son. 

Chazak U'Baruch

In the previous issue we raised the question about the response of Hillel Hazaken, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." The obvious question is: Is this possible? Is this the entire Torah – "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow?" What about the 248 positive commandments? What about the 365 negative commandments?

The answer to this we find in the words of the holy Shelah (Sha'ar Ha'otiot, Oht 2), and he writes the following:

"And indeed, if you check, you will find that most of the mitzvot are based upon loving his fellow like himself: the entire mitzvah of tzedakah, tithes and terumah, dealing honestly in business, the prohibition of charging interest, and many other similar matters. Almost all character traits, such as mercy and amnesty, patience and tolerance, loving-kindness, judging favorably, not standing by your fellow shedding blood, slander, mockery, jealousy, hatred, bearing grudges, and thousands of others; in order to fulfill most of the positive commandments, and not violate most of the negative commandments, one is required to love his fellow as himself in order to perfect all his character traits.

Even issues which do not involve loving one's fellow like himself, such as the prohibition of eating chametz, and similar mitzvot – it may be explained through a fortiori: If he loves his fellow as himself, how much more so should he love Hashem, who constantly bestows His benevolence upon him unconditionally, performing true kindness, and He is the Master of the Universe and Omnipotent."

In other words, of course, the way to perform every one of the 613 mitzvot is not encompassed in one and only adage that Hillel told the convert. The convert was also obligated to learn all the minute details of each mitzvah in the Written and Oral Torah, for if not, he would not be able to fulfill the mitzvot of the Torah.

However, the Shelah explains that the one and only adage that Hillel told the convert sums up the entire foundation of the service of Hashem; it is the basis for the Torah and leads to the fulfillment of all the mitzvot:

As for the mitzvot between man and his fellow, this is self-understood. One who loves his fellow as himself, and avoids doing to him what he hates for himself, will not transgress any of these mitzvot. Certainly he will gladly perform all these mitzvot. He will be happy to give charity and to set aside gifts for the poor; he will not deceive his friends and not cause them grief, he will lend them his money happily and not want to charge them interest in return, of course he will not speak lashon hara, nor gossip, and the like.

Also all the virtuous traits are included and encompassed in the one and only adage: One who loves his fellow like himself – will act in a way that he would want others to deal with him… he will be merciful and gracious, he will distance himself from anger and arrogance, he will not take revenge or hold grudges, he will not mock his friend, and the like.

When a person loves his friend like he loves himself, he wakes up in the morning and thinks to himself: How can I bestow benevolence upon my fellow? How can I make him happy? How can I assist him? What should I do to avoid causing him pain, even the slightest form? Then, he has no choice but to open the volumes of the Torah and learn from the wisdom of the Master of the World, who probes man's most innermost chambers, to learn how he could act upon his good intentions.

Men of Faith

Rabbi Chaim Pinto, zya"a, was known to make rounds throughout the streets and shopping centers in order to collect money for tzedakah for the poor and needy. He would customarily bundle the money he collected in a handkerchief that was specifically designated for tzedakah. After the stars came out, even before Rabbi Chaim began to learn Torah, he would ritually wash the kerchief that held the money.

When questioned about this custom, the tzaddik explained, “I wash the kerchief from the kelippot and contamination of this world. The greatest filth in this world is money. Therefore, after distributing the funds for tzedakah, I wash the kerchief.” 

One night, Rabbi Chaim Hakatan could not fall asleep. He immediately rose from his bed and approached his wife, asking her, “Did you perhaps take some of the money that I collected?”

“Yes,” answered his righteous wife. “I took some money in order to purchase provisions in honor of Shabbat.”

Rabbi Chaim explained to her in no uncertain terms that he was not pleased. He told her, “Since you took money that was sanctified for the poor, a foul odor of this world entered our home and I could not sleep because of it.”

The tzaddik quickly took the money and set it aside for the poor. Then he fell asleep right away.

A Blessing for Wealth

The tzaddik Rabbi Chaim once met a Jew called Yichye Cohen. Rabbi Chaim informed him, “I know that you have in your pocket such and such an amount of money. Give me money for tzedakah, and you will still have a certain sum left.” Rabbi Chaim named the exact amount that would be left for him.

Yichye questioned, “If I give the honorable Rabbi so much money, I will not have enough left for all my needs.”

The Rav promised him, “A blessing will rest on the money that will remain, which will benefit you and all your descendants.”

Food for Thought

What caused the stains in the material?

A textile merchant and one of his clients came for arbitration to the gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, shlit"a, about a costly deal over expensive fabrics that amounted to a lot of money.

A few days after the transaction, the client noticed that there were white spots on the fabric, but the merchant claimed that the whiteness resulted from laundering the material, which the client had done in his home. Since it was forbidden to wash the fabric, and the customer had been warned about it, the client was at fault.

The client claimed that he had never washed the fabric.

At first, it seemed that the decision would be simple: the client loses because "one who attempts to charge his fellow money has to bring proof." However, since it was a case involving an enormous amount of money, and the loss would be very painful for the client, Rabbi Zilberstein tried to first contact the factory abroad to request that they should refund the material.

But the Rabbi added to the client a point to ponder: "A person who is visited with such a difficult problem, must conduct some soul-searching and figure out what could be the reason for this trouble. The rule of "measure for measure" was meant to make one aware of some fault so that he can correct it."

"Therefore, added Rabbi Zilberstein, "you should try to recall if perhaps you ever caused your fellow embarrassment and made his face blanch in public. Perhaps because of this you were dealt with from Heaven in a similar way that caused your material to become blanched with white spots, resulting in a great loss for you." Indeed, the client admitted that this was the case, and he resolved to correct this matter…


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