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

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Vol. 18   No. 9

This issue is sponsored jointly
in loving memory of
HaRav Zalman Yosef ben HaRav Aryeh Leib Sharfman z"l
whose sixth Yohrzeit is 22 Kislev
HaRav Simcha ben HeChaver Moshe Hain z"l
whose fourteenth Yohrzeit is 6 Teves>br> and
l'iluy Nishmos
Mordechai ben Yitzchok z"l and Ruth bas Shlomo z"l

Parshas Vayeishev

Who Sold Yosef to Whom?
(Adapted from the Riva)

"And they drew Yosef up from the pit, and they sold Yosef to the Yishme'elim " (37:28).

Rashi explains that it was the brothers who pulled Yosef out of the pit and sold him to the Yishme'elim; the Yishme'elim then sold him to the Midyanim, and the Midyanim sold him to Egypt.

The Riva observes that Rashi seems to have omitted the M'danim, who, the Torah testifies a few Pesukim later, were the ones to sell him to Egypt.

Initially, he suggests that there is a printing error in Rashi. But he then cites the Rashbam, who resolves the problem by equating the M'danim and the Midyanim as one and the same nation. This is because M'dan and Midyan were brothers (See Chayei Sarah 25:2), who apparently merged into one nation.

In any event, Rashi clashes with own explanation at the beginning of the Parshah (in Pasuk 2), where he writes that the Keso'nes Pasim (the fine woolen shirt) given to him by his father hints at the four times that he was sold - as "Pasim" is the acronym of - 'Potifar, Sochrim (the M'dani merchants), Yishme'elim & Midyanim', clearly indicating that the M'danim and the Midyanim were two independent nations, and not one. He concludes that this is not necessarily a problem, since it is possible that the nations are indeed one and the same, and Yosef was sold to the same nation twice.

What is clear however is that the two Medrashim differ in that whereas the Medrash quoted here holds that Yosef was sold three times, the Medrash that he quoted earlier clearly states that he was sold four times.

In fact, says Rebbi Elyakim, Rashi here concurs with the Medrash Tanchuma. And it is according to the Medrash Tanchuma that Rashi omits the M'danim here.


A further proof for Rashi, says the Riva, is to be found in two Medrashim: the first relates how, when the brothers threw Yosef into the pit naked, he was wearing a Kame'a round his neck, which the angel Gabriel fashioned into a shirt. When the brothers pulled him out to sell him to the Yishme'elim, they demanded the shirt, since, they claimed, they had sold Yosef naked, in which case the shirt belonged to them. To settle the matter, the Yishme'elim gave the brothers shoes and took Yosef with his shirt. And this explains the roomful of shoes which the Paytan mentions in 'Eileh Ezk'ra' (that we recite on Yom Kipur and on Tish'ah be'Av).

The second Medrash discussing the episode of Binyamin and the silver goblet, describes how Yosef asked the brothers to identify as to who advised Binyamin to steal his goblet. To which Binyamin replied in self-defense, that when the brothers had sold Yosef, he took no part, not when they stripped him, not when they cast him into the pit and not when they sold him to the Yishme'elim.

According to both of these Medrashim, it was the brothers who sold Yosef to the Yishme'elim. If that is the case, he can only have been sold three times, since the only way he can possibly have been sold four times is if the brothers first sold him to the Midyanim, who then sold him to the Yishme'eilim.


To reconcile Rashi's two seemingly contradictory explanations, Rabeinu Tam explains that in fact, the brothers sold Yosef to the Yishme'elim. However, when the latter saw the snakes and scorpions in the pit, they were afraid to pull him out, until the Midyanim appeared on the scene. They then hired the Midyanim (renowned sorcerers, as we know from the story of Bil'am) to do it for them. And because the Midyanim withdrew Yosef from the pit, it appears as if the brothers sold him to the Midyanim, and that they were the ones to sell him to the Yishme'elim (hence Rashi says that he was sold four times). In reality though, he was sold only three times.

See also Parshah Pearls 'Who Sold Yosef to Potifar').

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Riva)

Right Country, Right Town

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

Having informed us that Ya'akov settled in the land where his father sojourned, it seems obvious that this refers to the Land of Cana'an (since this was the only country where Yitzchak ever lived). So why, asks the Riva, does the Torah find it necessary to add "in the land of Cana'an"?

Basing himself on the principle that grandchildren are sometimes referred to as children, he replied that had the Torah not added "in the Land of Cana'an", we might otherwise have thought that 'his father' in the first phrase refers to Avraham, and that "the land where his father sojourned" then refers to Charan.

And the reason that the Torah still needs to add "in the Land of Cana'an" is because without it, we would not have known whereabout in Cana'an Ya'akov settled; therefore the Torah needs to inform us that he settled "in the Land where his father sojourned" - i.e. Chevron.


The Snake-Pit

"And Reuven said to them 'Throw him into this pit in order to save him from their hands " (37:22).

Rashi explains that this last phrase was actually the words of 'Ru'ach ha'Kodesh', attesting to the fact that Reuven's motives were absolutely pure, that his sole intention was to save Yosef and return him to his father.

But how can that be, asks the Riva, when Rashi specifically states that the pit into which they threw Yosef was full of snakes and scorpions?

And he answers that Reuven specifically instructed his brothers to throw Yosef into a pit which did not contain snakes and scorpions (which explains why he told them to throw him into "this pit" and not just 'a pit'). And it was the brothers who opted to throw him into a pit which contained snakes and scorpions.

And by the same token, that is why the Torah informs us later that Reuven returned to the pit (the pit that he had specified) and discovered that Yosef was not there.

The Riva rejects this explanation however, based on the Pasuk which relates that the brothers threw him into the pit, implying the pit that Reuven had indicated.

He therefore concludes that Reuven, in fact, was unaware that the designated pit contained snakes and scorpions, in which case the Pasuk is perfectly justified in praising his efforts to save Yosef.

And he cites others who maintain that Reuven did indeed know about the snakes and the scorpions, and they quote the Gemara in Yevamos, which rules that if one sees somebody falling into a snake-pit, he cannot testify that he is dead (to enable his wife to remarry), because we suspect that he is conversant with the various incantations that keep the snakes at bay. This opinion seems to assume that Yosef possessed this knowledge and that Reuven knew that he did, though the source for this is not clear.


Water or Snakes and Scorpions

" the pit was empty, there was no water in it" (37:24).

We learn this, says the Riva, from the principle that whenever the Torah issues a double expression of exclusion, it comes to include.

But how do we know that it contained snakes and scorpions and not stones or some other commodity, he asks?

And he answers with a Pasuk in Eikev "Who leads you in this great dessert (where there were) snakes, serpents and scorpions, and thirst, because there is no water". From this Pasuk we learn that where there was no water, there were snakes, serpents and scorpions.


Alternatively, having stated that the pit was empty, when the Torah adds that it contained no water, it means to inform us that it contained something that was sometimes in the pit and sometimes wasn't - which can only refer to living creatures that can enter the pit and leave it at will.


(It also seems to me that if the Torah was merely coming to inform us that the pit contained stones and other similar objects, then it would not be teaching us anything significant).


Who Sold Yosef to Potifar?

"And the Medanim sold him to Potifar " (37:36).

The Riva queries this from the Pasuk later (39:1) which specifically states that Potifar purchased Yosef from the hand of the Yishme'elim.

To answer this apparent contradiction, he explains that when the Midyanim (who were black) offered to sell Yosef to Potifar, he became suspicious. It was common enough for a white man to sell a black man, but he had never heard of black men selling a white one. Suspecting that they must have stolen him from his home (and that his parents would come and claim him back), he declined to buy him, until the Yishme'elim came along and testified that the Yishme'elim were indeed the rightful owners. Only then did Potifar agree to purchase him.

(This explanation, he concludes, will apply, irrespective of whether Yosef was sold three or four times).

* * *


"And Ya'akov dwelt in the land where his fathers sojourned" (37:1).

The Gematriyah of this phrase, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, is equivalent to that of 'Yoshav lekayeim Mitzvas Kibud Av' (He settled down to fulfill the Mitzvah of honouring his father). It was because Eisav observed this Mitzvah all the years that he (Ya'akov) was away, that he merited all the good recorded at the end of the previous Parshah. So now that he (Ya'akov) was able to observe it too, he undertook to do it to the best of his ability.


" and he (Yosef) was a youngster (ve'hu na'ar) who grew up with the sons of Bilhah " (37:2).

The Gematriyah of "Na'ar", says the Ba'al ha'Turim is equivalent to that of 'Shoteh' (a fool [interestingly, the Yiddish word for a fool is 'na'ar']).

This hints at what the Pasuk says in Mishlei (10:18) "Someone who produces slander is a fool!" (see following Pearl). As the Torah informs us, the trouble began with Yosef bringing back to his father bad reports about his brothers.


"And Yosef brought back bad reports (dibosom ro'oh) about them to his father" (Ibid.)

The Ba'al ha'Turim points out that the Gematriyah of the word "dibosom" is equivalent to that of 'Mo'ves' ('death').. Indeed Chazal have said that Lashon ha'ra kills three people - the person who speaks it, the person who hears it and the person about whom it is spoken.


"And he (Ya'akov) sent him (Yosef) from the valley (Eimek) of Chevron" (37:14).

But surely, Chevron lies in the hills, and not in the valley? See Rashi.

The Ba'al ha'Turim (perhaps in answer to this Kashya) points out that the Gematriyah of "Eimek" is two hundred and ten - the number of years that Yisrael spent in Galus Mitzrayim.


He also tells us about the last conversation that Ya'akov and Yosef held, before Ya'akov returned for home after accompanying his son part of the way, as he left to meet his brothers: When Yosef bade his father to turn back, Ya'akov cited the Pasuk that the Sanhedrin would read in the Parshah of Eglah Arufah "Our hands did not spill this blood" - by not allowing the victim to leave town unaccompanied.

These were Ya'akov's last words - and it was as a direct result of his insistence to accompany his son that he remembered him later, when the latter sent him wagons ('Agolos' [which can also mean 'calves' as in 'Eglah Arufah']). For so the Torah records "And he saw the wagons (Agolos) that Yosef had sent" (physical wagons that also hinted at the Eglah Arufah).

And this what Chazal say 'One should always take leave from one's friend after discussing a D'var Halachah, because on account of it, he will remember him!'


" they sold Yosef for twenty silver pieces" (Sela'im).

Ya'akov gave Yosef, over and above his brothers a fine woolen shirt (that weighed two Sela'im). Therefore, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, Yosef was sold for twenty Sela'im, since each brother (with the exception of Binyamin, who was not present) received two Sela'im.

Alternatively, the Torah evaluates a slave at thirty Shekalim (Sela'im). Only because they had to sell him secretly, they deducted a third of his value, and sold him for twenty.

Or maybe it was because the 'Erech' of a young man between the ages of five to twenty is twenty Shekalim.

* * *

Chanukah Thoughts
(Adapted from the Avudraham)

Twenty Amos Tall:

There are three things that become invalidated by placing them above twenty Amos from ground level - the beam of a Movuy (a blind alley), Ner Chanukah and Succah. Each of these are hinted in the Torah.

'Mavuy': The Torah writes in Vayeiro (in connection with Lot's celestial guests) " because they came in the shadow of my beam (be'tzeil korosi). The Gematriyah of 'Tzel' is a hundred and twenty as if to say that the beam may be as high as a hundred and twenty Tefachim (the equivalent of twenty Amos), but no higher.

'Succah': The Pasuk writes in Yeshayah "And it shall be a Succah for shade (le'tzeil) by day from the heat " , as if to say the Succah shall be as much as 'Tzeil Tefachim' (as we just explained) but no more.

'Ner Chanukah': The Torah writes in Naso "And this was the inauguration of the Mizbei'ach on the day (ha'Mizbei'ach be'Yom) that it was anointed", The Gematriyah of "ha'Mizbei'ach be'Yom" equals 'a hundred and twenty'.

Seeing is Believing:

If someone who is unable to light Ner Chanukah lights sees one burning, he recites the B'rachah of 'she'Asah Nisim ', and on the first night 'Shehechiyanu' as well.

The Avudraham points out that no other Mitzvah shares this characteristic. And he attributes it to 'Pirsumey Nisim' (publicizing the miracle) that we find by Chanukah, but which does not apply by most other Mitzvos.

No Havdalah over Ner Chanukah:

The Yerushalmi rules that one cannot recite Havdalah over Ner Chanukah. This is because one is not permitted to derive any benefit from Ner Chanukah (as we specifically state in 'ha'Neiros ha'Lolu'), whereas Chazal have said that 'one may not recite Havdalah over a lamp until one is able to benefit from its light'.

Reciting Whole Hallel

The reason that we recite whole Hallel throughout Succos and on Chanukah (whereas on the subsequent days of Pesach and on Rosh Chodesh we only recite half-Hallel), says the Avudraham, is because there is a change on each day of the respective Yamim-Tovim. On Succos, it is the change in the Korbanos that took place each day (as the thirteen bulls decreased from thirteen to seven), whilst on Chanukah, it is the additional lamp that one kindles each day, rendering each day a Yom-Tov in its own right. Pesach on the other hand, sees no change in the Korbanos from one day to the next. Consequently, one only recites half-Hallel. And the same pertains to Rosh Chodesh, whose Korban is the same throughout the year.

The Shir shel Yom:

The Shir shel Yom is Kapitel 30 ('Mizmor Shir Chanukas ha'Bayis le'David'), in keeping with the Leining, which covers the inauguration of the Mishkan. On Shabbos morning, says the Avudraham, one recites this Kapitel after "Yoshev be'seiser elyon" (though this is not the Ashkenazi Minhag). Whereas on Rosh Chodesh, due to the principle 'Tadir ve'she'Eino Tadir, Tadir Kodem' (what is more common always takes precedence) one recites it after "Borchi Nafshi". Note, that according to those who follow Minhag ha'Gra (who recite only one Shir shel Yom per day), one recites "Borchi Nafshi" only.

When 'Tadir' does not take Precedence:

When Rosh Chodesh Teives falls on Shabbos, one takes out three Sifrei Torah. One Leins six Aliyos in the first Seifer, the Leining for Rosh Chodesh in the second (because 'Tadir' takes precedence) and Maftir - the Leining for Chanukah, in the third. The Haftarah is that of Chanukah ("Rani ve'Simchi"), a. because it tallies with the last Aliyah, and b. because of 'Pirsumei Nisa'.

The question arises why, despite the two above-mentioned reasons, we do not take into account the fact that Rosh Chodesh is Tadir, and read the Haftarah of Rosh Chodesh ("Ha'shamayim Kis'i")?

The answer, says the Avudraham, is that the principle of 'Tadir kodem' only applies when it is a question of which one comes first. It does not have the power to decide which one to include and which one to exclude.

* * *

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