Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Vayeishev

(Thursday, December 6th, 2012)

Vayishma Reuven vayatzileihu miyadam (37:21)

While the rest of the brothers were plotting to actually kill Yosef, the Torah records that Reuven saved him by suggesting that they instead throw him into a pit. As Rashi writes (37:24) that the pit was full of poisonous snakes and scorpions, in what way was this considered “saving” Yosef and not merely substituting one type of death for another?

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that while humans have free will and the ability to do to somebody even something which wasn’t decreed in Heaven, animals have no such free choice and are limited to whatever was decided by Hashem. Reuven knew that Yosef wasn’t the wicked pursuer that the other brothers thought he was and was confident that a death sentence hadn’t been decreed upon him. Nevertheless, Reuven feared that his brothers, with their free will, would succeed in their plans to kill Yosef, so he “saved” him by having him thrown into a pit where he knew that the snakes and scorpions would have no permission to harm him.

Alternatively, the Panim Yafos answers that being killed by snakes and scorpions is considered death at the hands of Heaven. However, Rashi writes (23:1) that the Heavenly Tribunal doesn’t punish a person until the age of 20. Since Yosef at this time was only 17, Reuven knew that even if he was guilty, throwing him to the poisonous animals would still be a salvation.

The Panim Yafos adds that Reuven was relying on this principle to escape punishment for moving his father’s bed after the death of Rochel (Rashi 35:22), as at that time he was also under the age of 20. When he returned to the pit and found Yosef missing, Reuven presumed that he had been devoured by the poisonous animals inside. This shattered his planned defense and caused him to exclaim in agony (37:30) “the boy (Yosef) is missing, and where will I go” – upon which the Medrash comments, “Where will I go with my actions in moving my father’s bed from Bilhah’s tent?”

Finally, the Tosefos Rid suggests that Reuven intended for his brothers to throw Yosef into a different pit, which was empty, but they didn’t listen and instead threw him into a pit full of serpents.

Vayomer Yehuda tikach lah pen nihyeh lavuz (38:23)

Before having relations with Tamar, Yehuda promised to send her a goat. She insisted that he leave a pledge with her, which she would return upon receipt of the goat. However, the messenger with whom Yehuda sent the goat was unable to locate her. After asking around unsuccessfully, the agent returned to Yehuda, who decided that it would be preferable to allow her to keep the collateral than to risk great embarrassment if his actions became publicized through further inquiries. If Yehuda was so concerned about potential humiliation, why did he initially leave a pledge with her, which would allow her to potentially publicize the episode herself? Why didn’t he overpower her on his way out to forcibly seize his collateral in order to protect himself from this risk?

The Rebbe R’ Bunim explains that despite his personal vulnerability, Yehuda would never have done something so lacking in yashrus (honesty and propriety) to protect himself. The Rebbe points out that had he done so, Tamar wouldn’t have had any way to hint to him that he was the father of the child she had conceived, and Yehuda would have put her to death for suspected adultery. With her death, Tamar would have taken with her her two sons, as well as the entire Davidic line that ultimately leads to Moshiach, for which Yehuda would have been held accountable for one simple action of dishonesty.

Similarly, the Ramban (39:12) questions why Yosef allowed part of his garment to remain in the hands of Potiphar’s wife when he fled her advances. Why didn’t he forcibly take it from her so that she wouldn’t have any corroborating “evidence” for her claims? The Ramban answers that Yosef refrained from doing so since it would have been disrespectful behavior to take something from his master’s wife by force, even though his failure to do so left her with incriminating evidence against him.

Rav Shalom Schwadron points out that it was specifically Yosef’s decision to do what he knew was right that led to his imprisonment, which led to his rise to power in Egypt, which enabled him to be reunited with his father and brothers after 22 years. The lesson that we learn from Yehuda and Yosef is that painful as the immediate consequences may seem, one never loses out when doing what is right.

Vayehi k’hayom hazeh vayavo habaysah la’asos melachto v’ein ish me’anshei habayis sham babayis (39:11)

After Yosef was sold into slavery in Egypt, his new master’s wife tried everything in her power to convince him to sin. Despite her greatest efforts, the righteous Yosef refused. One day his defenses began to crack, and he came into the house considering yielding to her. At this crucial moment, Yaakov’s visage appeared and warned him about the dire consequences he would face if he sinned. This critical reminder from his father about his family’s values saved Yosef at the height of his trial.

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein relates a beautiful story about the potency of the impressions we make on our children. In a small town in Europe, one of the Jewish children was kidnapped by the church and sent to study in a monastery. All of his parents’ emotional pleas to government officials fell on deaf ears. The local priest was well-connected and denied the accusations.

Finally, after years of petitions, a compromise was proposed. The parents would be allowed to spend five minutes with the boy. If at that time he chose to leave with them, their claims would be accepted. If not, it would be incontrovertible proof that their story was fabricated. As excited as they were at the opportunity, they were also full of trepidation. They could only imagine the brainwashing to which their son had been subjected during his years in the monastery.

They approached their local Rav, the Nachal Eshkol, for advice. He promised to accompany them to the meeting, assuring them that he would speak to their son on their behalf and that they had nothing to fear. Comforting as he was, they were still full of anxiety, wondering whether his plan would work.

On the fateful day, the three of them were led into a small room. The son was sitting across a table from them, glaring angrily and showing no signs of recognition. Their hearts dropped. The parents looked with hope to the Rabbi, who began slowly humming the haunting melody of Kol Nidrei. The parents anxiously looked back at their son, whose expression was as angry as ever. The Rabbi continued, picking up the pace and the volume, but seemingly to no avail as the son remained stone-faced.

The parents grew desperate as precious minutes ticked by. As they were about to give up hope, the Rabbi raised his voice further and reached a feverish crescendo. The boy broke down sobbing and ran into his parents’ welcoming arms. The unforgettable memories of his past, eternally etched into his subconscious, brought him home!

We all have nostalgic recollections of times that we spent with our families while growing up. Recognizing the power of these events to remain indelibly engraved in our children’s memories, it behooves us to put the appropriate effort into making sure that the priorities we impart to our children are the proper ones, for they will remain with them for life.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available! 

To receive the full version with answers email the author at oalport@optonline.net.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Did Yehuda betroth Tamar prior to having relations with her, and if so, through what means did he do so? (Moshav Z’keinim, Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, Chavos Daas Yoreh Deah 192)

2)     On Chanuka we add a paragraph, known as “Al HaNissim” to the Shemoneh Esrei prayers and to Birkas HaMazon in which we thank Hashem for the miracles which He performed at this time. In it, we mention that the Chashmonaim lit candles in the courtyard of the Temple. Why didn’t they light the Menorah inside of the Temple where it is normally lit? (Derashos Chasam Sofer Vol. 1 pg. 67, Boruch SheAmar, K’Motzei Shalal Rav Chanuka pg. 172-175)

3)     The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 678:1) that if a person only has enough money to buy either a candle with which to light his menorah or wine upon which to make Kiddush, he should purchase the candle, as the menorah takes precedence because it serves to publicize the miracles that Hashem performed. Doesn’t Kiddush, which serves as testimony that Hashem created the universe ex nihilo, serve as an even greater form of publicizing miracles? (Shu”t Shevus Yaakov 3:49, Gilyonei HaShas Shabbos 23b, Shu”t Avnei Nezer Orach Chaim 501:3)

4)     If a person is in jail on Chanuka and is given permission either to light the menorah or to say the morning prayers together with Hallel, which should he choose? (Chochmas Shlomo Orach Chaim 683:1, Halichos Shlomo Tefillah pg. 207-8, Ma’adanei Asher 5769)

© 2009 by Oizer Alport.


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