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Parshas Vayeishev - Vol. 10, Issue 9
Compiled by Oizer Alport
In his commentary on the episode involving Yehuda and Tamar, the Ramban writes that when a man dies without children, his neshama (soul) is in turmoil since it has no continuation in this world. The ideal way to rectify this is for his brother to marry his widow, but if the brother is unavailable, there was an ancient custom for the closest relative to marry her instead, which also provided some benefit to the neshama of the deceased. For this reason, when Tamar was denied the opportunity to marry her brother-in-law Sheilah, she instead focused on her father-in-law Yehuda. When the Torah was given, most close relatives became prohibited from marrying the widow, but the Torah specifically permitted the brother of a man who dies without children to perform yibum, as that is the ideal form of the mitzvah.
In the beginning of the book of Rus, not only Rus's husband Machlon dies, but so too does his brother Kilyon. In line with the teaching of the Ramban, Rus decided to marry the closest remaining relative, her uncle Boaz, as an uncle is permitted to marry his niece. Since marrying a relative other than the brother of the deceased does not provide the full rectification for the soul of the dead, it is not called yibum but ge'ulah (redemption), and for this reason Rus informed Boaz (Rus 3:9) that he was her go'el - redeemer. This connection is even more fascinating in light of the fact that the Chida writes that Rus was a gilgul of Tamar.
The Mishbetzos Zahav brilliantly explains that the Messianic chain is interconnected with the concept of yibum, first through Yehuda and Tamar and later through Boaz and Rus, because when a man dies without children, it appears that he and his memory are eternally erased from all future generations. However, Hashem in His infinite mercy, gave a mitzvah of yibum to give the deceased a second chance and enable him to return from what seems like eternal oblivion.
This is a perfect metaphor for the redemption that Moshiach will bring, as the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and sentencing of the Jewish nation to exile for so many hundreds of years would seem to indicate that all hope is lost and we are condemned to our plight, yet Hashem promises that just as yibum gives a second chance to the man who dies without children, so too will Moshiach, who came about through yibum, give Klal Yisroel a second chance.
Rav Shalom Schwadron points out that the entire miraculous unfolding of events in the upcoming Torah portions is entirely predicated on one chance encounter. The accurate interpretation by Yosef of the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker in prison set in motion a chain of events which altered the course of Jewish history. It led to Yosef's release from jail, his appointment as second-in-command in Egypt, the fulfillment of his dreams about his family bowing down to him, his emotional reunion with his brothers and eventually his father, and the descent of the Jewish people to Egypt where they were ultimately enslaved by Pharaoh and redeemed by Moshe.
However, the pivotal episode of Yosef interpreting their dreams wouldn't have even occurred were it not for one seemingly trivial exchange. Yosef woke up one morning and noticed that his fellow prisoners appeared aggrieved and upset. He chose to initiate a conversation which would literally change the future of all mankind, asking them quite simply, "What's wrong?"
The Alter of Slabodka once gave a discourse on the topic of greeting others kindly and showing an interest in their welfare. He noted that if a person stood next to the synagogue door and poured a glass of milk for each person who passed by, he would rightfully be declared a tremendous ba'al chesed (person who does kindness). However, the Gemora in Kesuvos (111b) teaches that showing another person the white of one's teeth with a warm smile is an even greater act of kindness than giving him milk.
So often, we pass somebody who looks like he could use a kind word, a warm smile, and a little extra attention, yet the evil inclination discourages us from stopping to waste our valuable time on such inconsequential matters. The next time this happens, which will likely be tomorrow, we should remember the lesson of Yosef that nothing that a person does is ever minor, and one has no idea what cosmic chain of events he could set in motion with just a few "trivial" words.
While in jail, Pharaoh's cupbearer had a dream in which he pressed grapes into Pharaoh's cup. After listening to the dream, Yosef told him that his dream meant that he would be returned to his original position of serving Pharaoh in three days, which indeed came to pass. However, after Yosef finished interpreting the dream, he additionally requested that the cupbearer, upon being released from prison, remember his kindness and intercede with Pharaoh to help secure his release. If the cupbearer only asked Yosef to interpret his perplexing dream, why did Yosef add on a personal request which seemingly had nothing do with the actual meaning of the dream?
Rav Chaim Soloveitchik answered based on a fascinating historical incident. After one of Napoleon's hard-fought military victories, he decided to make a grand celebration. Numerous orators came to speak in lavish praise of his greatness, but he found none of their speeches satisfactory and requested that a Jewish Rabbi be brought to address the gathering. Napoleon's royal coach was sent to a small neighboring village in search of the closest Rabbi.
The Rav of the community was delivered to the grand celebration, where he was requested to deliver an appropriate speech in honor of the special occasion. After providing the necessary background information so that those present could understand, the Rav continued by asking the aforementioned question: why did Yosef insert his personal needs into his interpretation of the cupbearer's dream?
The Rav explained that in the normal affairs of a country, a private citizen may be arrested and brought to trial for even a relatively small offense. Even if he is convicted, he will hold out hope for a successful appeal. On the other hand, a minister to the king will be able to get away with minor offenses since the courts will turn a blind eye to an esteemed officer of the king. However, if they elect to prosecute him, the charges against him must be grave. If he is convicted, his odds for appealing and being released are slim to none. Even in the rare case that he obtains his freedom, he will certainly never entertain any hope of being returned to his lofty position.
Knowing all of this, the cupbearer was surely floored to hear Yosef's prognosis that he would be freed in only three days time without even filing an appeal. Not only would he be released, but Yosef claimed that he would be returned to his position as Pharaoh's royal cupbearer. He could hardly believe his ears and was surely so happy to hear of his imminent freedom that he would have happily relinquished the position which originally brought about his imprisonment.
Rav Akiva Eiger explains that Yosef assured the cupbearer that although the entire episode made no logical sense, it was all part of a larger Divine plan for the Jewish people, a nation which has always defied the laws of nature. In light of this, an integral component of Yosef's apparently counterintuitive interpretation of the dream was to inform the cupbearer precisely why this bizarre turn of events was occurring: ki im z'chartani it'cha - the entire episode was merely one small part of Hashem's master plan to bring about Yosef's release from prison.
The Rabbi concluded by noting that Napoleon had similarly enjoyed miraculous military and political success in his rise to power. Even the fact that he already ruled over wealthy and advanced Western Europe and nevertheless showed interest in poverty-stricken, antiquated Eastern Europe defies logic. The Rav suggested that this unnatural turn of events could only be explained by realizing that Napoleon was good to Jews wherever he went, granting them religious freedom and equal rights. As a result, Hashem extended Napoleon's conquests so that he would see the plight of the Jews in Eastern Europe and work to improve their conditions, a conclusion which made perfect sense to Napoleon and found favor in his eyes.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Yosef dreamed that the sun, moon, and 11 stars, which represented his parents and 11 brothers, would bow down to him (37:9). Why didn't he see a 12th star, corresponding to his sister Dina?
2) Yaakov is associated with the attribute of truth (Micha 7:20). Where is his dedication to truth demonstrated in the Torah? (Tiferes Torah)
3) Although Tamar recognized Yehuda, with whom she had relations to fulfill the concept of yibum, he didn't recognize her and took her to be a harlot. How could the pious Yehuda transgress the prohibition against having relations with a harlot (Devorim 23:18)? (Bereishis Rabbah 85:8, Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, Moshav Z'keinim, Maharsha Sotah 10a, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
4) Rashi quotes (38:25) the Gemora in Sotah (10b) which derives from Tamar's willingness to be killed rather than publicly shame Yehuda that a person should give up his life rather than publicly embarrass another person. If the other person gives him in advance permission to shame him, is he allowed to do so? (Kovetz Shiurim Bava Basra 49, Bishvilei HaParsha)
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