Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 9   No. 9

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Parshas Vayeishev

Snakes and Scorpions

"Ve'ha'bor reik (and the pit was empty, it contained no water)".

There was no water in the pit, but there were snakes and scorpions, Rashi extrapolates. The Ba'al ha'Turim derives this from the combination of the only two places where the word 'reik' appears - here and in Ha'azinu (32:47) "Ki lo dovor reik hu mikem (because Torah is not something empty from you)". One Pasuk states that the pit was empty, whilst the other Pasuk implies that it was not. So we conclude that it was empty of water, but not of snakes and scorpions.


Were the brothers aware of the snakes and scorpions?

Certainly they were, says the K'li Yakar. In fact they deliberately chose a pit with snakes. They judged him as a tale-bearer, and a tale-bearer deserves to be thrown to the snakes (like we find in Parshas Chukas [21:5/6]).

The Ramban disagrees. Had the brothers known about the snakes, he maintains, they would have realized from the great miracle performed with Yosef, that in the eyes of G-d, he must be considered a great Tzadik, and they would have relented.


Why, you may ask, according to the Ramban, does the Torah find it necessary to hint to this miracle? It is to teach us that he was indeed, being judged for the lashon ha'ra that he spoke about his brothers (not by them but) by G-d, who judged him favorably, either because his motives were pure, or because he had done teshuvah on the sin. Perhaps G-d hid the knowledge of the miracle from the brothers, because the time had arrived to go down to Egypt (see Rashi Pasuk 14), a purpose which would not have been served had they relented.


The Rashbam explains why the Torah found it necessary to add that there was no water in the pit. It is, he says, because Reuven's suggestion to throw Yosef into the pit was in order to avoid killing him (as he clearly stated [in Pasuk 22]). In that case, what would they have gained by throwing him into a water-pit, where he would drown. And this becomes even more blatant when we bear in mind that Reuven intended to save Yosef and to return him to his father.

That being the case, it is obvious that the brothers could not have been aware of the snakes and scorpions. The Torah is merely implying (by means of the double exclusion, as the commentaries point out) that they were there, but the brothers did not know that. And this is substantiated (I once heard) by the dual spelling of the word "bor" (pit). The Torah, describing how the brothers threw Yosef into the pit, writes "va'yashlichu oso ha'boroh, ve'ha'bor reik, ein bo mayim". The first 'bor' (ha'boroh) is written lacking a 'Vav', whereas the second (ve'ha'bor), contains one. This hints that, as far as the brothers were concerned, the pit into which they threw him was lacking snakes and scorpions, but the Torah then testifies that in fact, it contained them.


The Ra'am, cited by the Maharsha in Chagigah (3a), proves that the brothers cannot possibly have known that the pit contained snakes and scorpions. If it had he asks, what would Reuven have achieved by having Yosef thrown into a pit containing snakes and scorpions when the Gemara in Yevamos specifically states that someone who falls into a pit of snakes is considered dead. The Mar'eh Kohen in Shabbos (22a) however, quoting the Zohar, differentiates between killing Yosef directly (which would have been classified as stretching out a hand against Yosef), and causing his death through snakes and scorpions (which was not).

The brothers did not want to kill Yosef directly. What they did want was to place him in a situation where, if he was guilty, G-d would punish him, and if not, then He would spare him. (And this is something that G-d, ever loathe to interfere with man's actions [especially with those of Tzadikim]), would not have have done, if they had killed him directly).

This Zohar bears out the K'li Yakar's explanation that we cited above. To answer the Ramban's Kashya, perhaps we can explain that it is not because Yosef was absolved from the death-penalty, that he was innocent. The brothers had convicted him of treason against Yehudah, and G-d had merely commuted the death-penalty to slavery or exile, which is why they went on to sell him into slavery in Egypt.


Parshah Pearls

(adapted from the Ba'al ha'Turim)
Clearing Away the Chaff

"And Ya'akov settled in the land of his father's sojourning, in the Land of Cana'an" (37:1).

The Ba'al ha'Turim, quoting the Pasuk in Tzefanyah "G-d removed your judgement, He cleared away your enemy", points out that it was Eisav who left Eretz Yisrael, and Ya'akov who remained. And he compares it to a harvested field, where the winnower separates the chaff and gets rid of it, leaving the corn intact.

Indeed, the Torah describes in Vayishlach (36:6), how Eisav left for Edom, because he knew, the Ramban explains, that his father had promised Eretz Cana'an to Ya'akov and his descendants (see also Targum Yonason).

It seems nothing short of a miracle that Eisav resigned himself to that, and (rather untypically) left peacefully and in good grace. Indeed, the Navi Tzefanyah has explained this phenomenon. It was not that Eisav chose to go of his own free will, but a matter of Divine intervention.


Making-up for Lost Merits

The 'Yud' in "megurei aviv" (the sojournings of his father), is bent, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, to resemble a 'Kaf' (which in turn, represents 'kovod').

Ya'akov figured that Eisav was reaping the tremendous rewards described at the end of Vayishlach, only because he had honored his father all those years (whilst Ya'akov was in Charan. As a result, not only was Ya'akov missing out on those benefits, but, in addition, Ya'akov's good deeds were not able to show up the superficiallity of Eisav's).

Consequently, even though he had received ten blessings from Yitzchak, he was nevertheless forced to bribe Eisav with ten gifts, as we learned in last week's Parshah.

That is why Ya'akov decided to bend himself and to honour his father in Chevron (the numerical value of "megurei aviv"), in order to neutralize Eisav's advantage.


A Fool

"And he was a boy (ve'hu na'ar [friendly]) with the sons of Bilhah" (37:2).

The word "na'ar" has the same numerical value as 'shoteh' (a fool), comments the Ba'al ha'Turim, conforming with the Pasuk in Mishlei (10:18), which teraches us that "Someone who speaks slander is a fool".


On The Merit of Ya'akov

"And his father scolded him" (37:10).

The word scolded ("va'yig'ar) appears one other time in T'nach, in Tehilim (106:9) "va'yig'ar be'Yam-Suf va'yecharav" (and he scolded the Yam-Suf, and it dried-up). This teaches us, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that just as here the scolder was Ya'akov, so too, it was Ya'akov who scolded the Yam-Suf, causing it to split. In other words, it was on the merit of Ya'akov that the Reed-Sea split.

And that explains why Chazal Darshen in that connection "va'yar Yisrael" - 'Yisrael Saba' (meaning that our Zeide Ya'akov Avinu saw Hashem's Great Hand at the Yam-Suf, because he too was there).


The Reward of Saving Yosef

"And he found them in Dosan" (37:17)

That is where Yehudah saved Yosef from death (see Pasuk 26/27). For that, his descendants merited the throne for 454 years (the numerical value of Dosan - without a 'Vav', as it is spelt here), from David ha'Melech until Tzidkiyahu ha'Melech at the time of the Churban. That is when Malchus Beis David came to an end (until the advent of Mashi'ach, as Ya'akov indicates in Vayechi 49:10).


Tit for Tat

"Vayikachuhu" (and they took him and cast him into the pit)" 37:24.

The word "Vayikachuhu" is written without a 'Vav', to read 'Vayikacheihu' - and he took him. The Ba'al ha'Turim explains that this comes to hint that it was Shimon alone who grabbed him and threw him into the pit. And that explains why, out of all the brothers, Yosef later picked out Shimon and cast him in prison, before sending the others back (see Rashi 42:24).

Not that Yosef was bent on revenge (see the following Rashi there), but that the brief time that Shimon spent in jail sufficed to atone for his sin. Perhaps the time he spent there corresponded to the time that Yosef spent in the pit - since only a short time elapsed before they pulled him and sold him to the Yishme'eilim.



The Gemara in Shabbos (22a) cites two statements from Rav Kahana, quoting Rav Nasan bar Minyumi Amar Rav Tanchum. The first, that a Chanukah Menorah which is placed higher than twenty Amos is not kasher, like a Sukah and a Mavuy; the second, extrapolating from the Pasuk ''and the pit was empty, it contained no water", that it did contain snakes and scorpions.

It is quite common for the Gemara to collect unrelated sayings of a group of sages (such as Rav Kahana, quoting Rav Nasan bar Minyumi Amar Rav Tanchum here) and juxtapose them, simply because that particular grouping is uncommon. In spite of that, at least two major commentaries (the G'ro and the Meshech Chochmah) connect the two statements, explaining just why the Gemara decided to cite both statements here.


The G'ro asks how, considering that the brothers' intention was to save Yosef from death (see main article), they could possibly throw Yosef into a pit which contained snakes and scorpions? And he replies by referring to the first of Rav Kahana's statements. A Menorah that is placed higher than twenty Amos is not kasher, he explains, because above that height one doesn't see clearly (and the principle Mitzvah of Chanukah-lights is publicizing the miracle, which entails seeing the Menorah clearly).

In that case, he concludes, the brothers must have thrown Yosef into that pit in spite of (rather than because of) the fact that it contained snakes and scorpions, because in fact, the pit was so deep that the brothers could not see them - conforming with the opinion of the Ramban (ibid.).


The Meshech Chochmah cites the Avudraham, who requires a miracle of supernatural dimensions before one may recite the B'rachah of 'she'osoh li nes ba'makom ha'zeh'. Consequently, he explains, the major miracle on Chanukah may well have been that of the victory over the Greeks, resulting in two hundred years of independent sovereignty, yet it was on account of the supernatural miracle of the oil, that Chazal inserted the B'rachah of 'she'osoh nisim la'Avoseinu ... '. In addition, he says, from the point of view of the miracle of the victory, it would have sufficed just to see the Menorah, in which case, a Menorah above twenty Amos would have been kasher. And it is only as a result of the miracle of the oil that Chazal added the requirement to view the Menorah more intensely, thereby disqualifying it when it is placed above twenty Amos. A hint to this is the fact that the Heichal, which housed the Menorah, was twenty Amos tall.

The Medrash Tanchuma (whose author is Rebbi Tanchum, the Amora quoted by Rav Kahana in Shabbos [refer to beginning of article]) relates how Yosef, on his return journey from burying Ya'akov, looked in the pit into which he had been thrown and recited the B'rachah 'she'osoh li nes ba'makom ha'zeh'. There too, the major miracle was the fact that he was saved from the pit, and as the result of a series of Divinely-inspired incidents, went on to become viceroy of Egypt. Yet that alone would not have necessitated a b'rachah, as we explained above. A b'rachah requires a supernatural miracle, and that took place in the form of the snakes and scorpions, from which Yosef was saved.

Now we can better understand the connection between the two statements of Rebbi Tanchum, the Meshech Chochmah concludes. For both the disqualification of a Menorah that is placed higher than twenty Amos, and the B'rochoh recited by Yosef, were the result of a secondary miracle. Without the miracle of the burning lights on the one hand, and the snakes and the scorpions on the other, a Menorah placed higher than twenty Amos would not be Pasul, neither would Yosef have recited a B'rochoh.


The Chronological order of events in the Chumash

(based mainly on the Seider ha'Doros).



2216 Yosef is seventeen ... His father makes him a special shirt ... Yosef's dreams. Yosef and his brothers ... He is taken down to Egypt and enters the service of Potifar, chief hangman of Paroh ... The brothers demote Yehudah. He marries the daughter of Shu'a, who bears him three sons, Er, Onan and Sheilah. He takes Tamar (daughter of Shem) for Er.

Er and Onan sin and die young ... Yehudah and Tamar ... Birth of the twins, Peretz (father of the royal family) and Zerach ... Yosef is appointed manager of Potifera's household.

2217 Yosef and the wife of Potifera. Yosef is imprisoned.

2227 The chief butler and the chief baker sin against Paroh.

2228 Yitzchak Avinu dies ... The butler and the baker dream. Yosef's interpretation. The baker is hanged, and the butler, reinstated.



2229 Yosef interprets Par'oh's dreams (on Rosh Hashanah), and is freed from jail. He is appointed viceroy of Egypt and marries Osnas daughter (or step-daughter because according to some, she is the daughter of Dinah and Sh'chem) of Potifera (alias Potifar) ... The seven years of plenty begin. Menasheh and Ephrayim are born during these years.

2236 The seven years of famine commence. Egypt starves ... Yosef opens the storehouses and sells corn, not only to Egypt, but to the whole world.

2238/9 Ya'akov sends his sons (except for Binyamin) down to Egypt to buy corn ... They plan to search for Yosef at the same time. Yosef and his brothers - he accuses them of being spies, takes Shimon as a hostage, and sends the rest back with provisions and orders to fetch Binyamin. Ya'akov entrusts Binyamin to the care of Yehudah, and they return with him to Egypt ... Yosef and Binyamin ... Yosef's cup the confrontation between Yehudah and Yosef.



Yosef reveals his identity. The reunion. He sends his brothers back with wagons to fetch their father and families. Ya'akov and the seventy members of his family travel down to Egypt. Ya'akov and Yosef reunited. Yosef introduces Ya'akov and some of his brothers to Paroh. The B'nei Yisrael are settled in Goshen (which an earlier Paroh already gave Sarah as a gift) ... The tail end of the famine (which ends after two years when Ya'akov arrives in Egypt). Yosef buys the whole of Egypt for Paroh ... Yisrael begin to flourish ... Ya'akov lives in Egypt for seventeen years.

2255 Yosef promises to bury Ya'akov in Cana'an ... Ya'akov becomes ill ... He blesses Ephrayim and Menasheh and later his children (the twelve tribes), before dying at the age of 147. The Egyptians embalm his body for forty days, and they cry for another thirty ... Ya'akov's burial in the Me'aras ha'Machpeilah. Eisav dies and is buried then too. The brothers beg Ya'akov for forgiveness. Yosef sustains them until his dying day ...

2309 Yosef dies at the age of 110. The Egyptians embalm him and place him in a coffin, which they cast into the Nile.


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