Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Mikeitz

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Vayomer Paroh el Yosef acharei hodi’ah Elokem es kol zos ein navon v’chochom kamocha (41:39)

After Yosef was freed from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he explained that they foretold seven years of abundance to be followed by seven years of famine. Therefore, he recommended the appointment of a wise advisor to oversee the project of storing for the famine during the years of plenty. Upon hearing this proposal, Pharaoh responded that there was nobody more fitting for the role than Yosef himself, who demonstrated great insight by suggesting this idea.

Rav Eliyahu Lopian asks an obvious question: what intelligence do we see on the part of Yosef? Any rational person should realize that if one anticipates good years followed by bad years, the obvious solution is to save for the future during the good years. Rav Lopian explains that from the fact that Yosef is praised for his wisdom, the Torah is revealing to us a deep insight into human nature: the prevalence of short-sightedness. Even though our minds recognize the need to prepare for the future, we have great difficulty looking past the affluent present. Therefore, Chazal tell us (Tamid 32a), “Eizehu chochom ha’roeh es ha’nolad” – a wise person is one who sees the future – and plans for it accordingly.

The time we have in this world is analogous to the years of plenty. When we are young, the time we have left in this world seems abundant, almost infinite, and it is quite easy and natural to let it go to waste. Americans even have a concept called “killing time.” However, there inevitably comes a time when we must leave this world and enter the next. In that world, we won’t have any more time available to perform mitzvos and continue our spiritual growth. Let us learn from Yosef what it means to be wise and “save” by studying Torah and doing mitzvos during our time in this world so that we will have them to take with us when we pass on to the next world.

Chalila li me’asos zos ha’ish asher nimtza ha’gaviah b’yado hu yihyeh li aved v’atem alu l’shalom el avichem (44:17)

Rav Zev Leff questions how Parshas Mikeitz could end at this dramatic point in the action. Yaakov had been terrified to send Binyomin to Egypt as Yosef demanded, as he represented the last vestige of his beloved wife Rochel. As the food supply began to be depleted, Yaakov had no alternative but to rely on Yehuda’s personal guarantee to ensure Binyomin’s safe return. Although the brothers were confused and frightened by Yosef’s accusation that they were spies and his subsequent invitation for them to be his guests at a banquet, they thought that the coast was clear when they were finally able to depart on their return journey, armed with Binyomin, Shimon, and a new supply of food.

Much to their chagrin, shortly after setting out on their return trip, the brothers were accosted and Binyomin was “discovered” to have stolen Yosef’s divining goblet, which would presumably require the brothers to leave him in Egypt and return empty-handed to their heart-broken father. Could there be a worse place in the plot line to interrupt with “To be continued” than at this climactic moment?

Rav Leff answers that this was done intentionally to teach that no matter how bad things may seem at any point in our lives, we must always remember that there is another chapter waiting to be turned just around the corner. However long it may take us to ultimately realize it, there will finally come a time when we will be able to retroactively understand the Divine Providence and the good which were germinating in what seemed to be life’s darkest moments.

Rav Meir Shapiro points out that Dovid HaMelech writes (Tehillim 116:13), “Kos yeshuos esa uv’shem Hashem ekra” – The cup of salvation I will raise, and I will call out in the name of Hashem – in one verse, for when positive things occur, we have no problem seeing the good and praising Hashem immediately. When it comes to the bad, however, Dovid writes (116:3-4), “Tzara v’yagon emtza uv’shem Hashem ekra” – I will find troubles and suffering, and I will call out in the name of Hashem – spread out over two verses.

Dovid expressed that regardless of whether he will raise the cup of salvation or whether he finds troubles and suffering, he will ultimately call out in Hashem’s name just the same. The only difference is that when things seem difficult, we sometimes have to patiently wait until the next verse, or in the case of Parshas Mikeitz, until the next parsha, until we are able to recognize the good that will ultimately make us express our praise and gratitude to Hashem. Even if we aren’t there yet and aren’t able to see the good that currently lies hidden, the knowledge that it is there and we will eventually understand it should give us the strength to persevere with faith and trust until it is revealed.

Vayomer HaMelech gizru es hayeled hechai lishnayim (Haftorah – Melochim 1 3:25)

The Haftorah for Parshas Mikeitz, which is often pushed aside by the Haftorah for Shabbos Chanuka, contains the famous demonstration of Shlomo HaMelech’s wisdom. Two women had recently given birth, but one of their babies died. Each woman argued that the dead baby belonged to the other woman. Shlomo brilliantly discerned the truth by suggesting that the baby be cut in half.

In his commentary on Yevamos (17b), the Meiri provides a most fascinating insight and legal background into the case that was brought before Shlomo. The Medrash relates that these two women weren’t strangers, but a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law. Both of their husbands had recently died without leaving any offspring other than these two babies. The Torah forbids a woman whose husband has died without any offspring to remarry until she either marries her deceased husband’s brother in a procedure known as yibum or performs with him a process called chalitzah (Devorim 25:5-10).

In the case brought before Shlomo, the women weren’t arguing just because of a woman’s natural love for her newborn. There was much more at stake. If the live child belonged to the daughter-in-law, she would be permitted to remarry immediately for two reasons. Firstly, her husband didn’t die without children. Secondly, even if he did, there would be nobody with whom she was obligated to perform yibum or chalitzah, as the dead baby was her husband’s only brother. On the other hand, if the live child belonged to the mother-in-law, the daughter-in-law had a tremendous amount to lose. Because a baby which dies within 30 days isn’t legally considered a viable child, it would be as if her husband died without any offspring. At the same time, an acknowledgment that the live child belonged to her mother-in-law would mean that her husband had a brother with whom she must perform yibum or chalitzah.

However, that brother was a newborn baby who was presently incapable of doing so. In other words, if Shlomo ruled against the daughter-in-law, she would have to remain single for almost 13 years while she waited for her brother-in-law to become a Jewish adult eligible to perform yibum or chalitzah. Recognizing her biases and suspecting her motivations, Shlomo came up with a brilliant test. If the daughter-in-law was telling the truth, she would be appalled at the idea of cutting her beloved son in half. She would also gain nothing from it vis-à-vis her legal status.

If she was lying to save herself from 13 years of loneliness, she would happily allow the baby to be killed. Although her husband died without any children, there would no longer be a baby brother-in-law in the picture preventing her from remarrying immediately. When she agreed to the proposed compromise, Shlomo revealed her façade and rightfully awarded the child to the mother-in-law, condemning the scheming daughter-in-law to wait 13 years for him to become an adult.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Rashi writes (40:23) that the additional two years of jail time Yosef served (41:1) was his punishment for the sin of asking the cupbearer twice (40:14) to intercede with Pharaoh and secure his release instead of placing his trust in Hashem. Had Yosef asked him only one time, what would have been his punishment? (Chaim Sheyeish Bahem Vol. 2 Parshas Vayeishev)

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 in the days of Mattisyahu ben Yochanan Kohen Gadol. To whom does the appellation “Kohen Gadol” refer: Mattisyahu or Yochanan? (Megillah 11a with Dikdukei Sofrim, Peirush Mishnayos L’Rambam Introduction to Zeraim, Meiri Introduction to Avos, Shu”t Tashbatz 3:135, Rabbeinu Yerucham, Sefer HaIkkarim, Maharsha Pesachim 57b, Boruch SheAmar, K’Motzei Shalal Rav pg. 147-9)

3)     The Gemora in Shabbos (21b) teaches that the primary obligation on Chanuka is to light one flame on each night. The mehadrin – more preferable – level is to light one flame for each member of the household on each night, and the mehadrin min hamehadrin – most preferred – level is to light an additional flame on each successive night. Why did Chazal specifically enact a level of mehadrin min hamehadrin on Chanuka, a concept not found in conjunction with any other mitzvah? (B’nei Yissochar Kislev 3:19, Imrei Emes Shabbos 21b, Shu”t Divrei Yisroel 3:38, K’Motzei Shalal Rav Chanuka pg. 109-111, Peninei Teshuvos Chanuka pg. 49)

© 2011 by Oizer Alport.