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

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Vol. 7   No. 11

Parshas Vayigash

Asoroh be'Teives

There are four reasons given for the fast of Asoroh be'Teives, two of them connected with the Churban of the first Beis ha'Mikdosh, and the other two, with calamities that occurred during the era of the second.

Nevuchadnetzar's siege of Yerushaloyim began on Asoroh be'Teives. One and a half years later, Yerusholayim lay in ruins and the Beis ha'Mikdosh was destroyed. It was not until Asoroh be'Teives (five months after the Churban) however, that news of the Churban reached Bovel, causing the Jews who were already in exile to mourn afresh over the terrible tragedy.

During the time of the second Beis ha'Mikdosh, (thirty-four years after its construction) Ezra died, and some sixty years later, the Torah was translated into Greek. And it is these two reasons that we will now set out to clarify.


Ezra ha'Sofer

Ezra's greatness can best be understood by recalling Chazal, who ask why the Torah was given to Moshe and not to Ezra - insinuating that Ezra was on a higher level than Moshe. And the Medrash too, points out that, had Ezra lived at the same time as Aharon, he would have outshone him, too.

Ezra was a talmid of Boruch ben Neriyoh, who was in turn, a talmid of Yirmiyah ha'Novi. He was called Ezra ha'Sofer because he counted all the letters in the Torah to create the Mesorah, and he did this with the oral Torah as well as with the written (Shekolim 13b).

Ezra was a descendant of Pinchos and, if not for the fact that he remained in Bovel in order not to leave his Rebbe when the Beis ha'Mikdosh was built, he, and not Yehoshua Kohen Godol, would have been chosen as Kohen Godol, since he was the more worthy of the two.

One of his greatest achievements was no doubt, his sifting of the impure, inferior elements from Klal Yisroel, whom he took with him to Eretz Yisroel, leaving the bulk of Jews who remained in Bovel completely pure. At the same time he succeeded in convincing the Jews who were living in Eretz Yisroel to divorce their non-Jewish wives.

But what probably made the greatest impact on future generations were his ten takonos, as recorded in Bovo Kamo (82a) - including the order of leining at Shabbos Minchoh and on Monday and Thursday; that the Beis-din should sit every Monday and Thursday; washing clothes on Thursday (so as to be free on Friday to prepare for Shabbos); eating garlic on Friday (which is good for childbirth); that a woman should bake early (to feed a poor man, should this be necessary); that she should wear underwear (for reasons of modesty); and that she should wash her hair before going to mikveh; that peddlars should go round selling perfumes for the women; and that someone who is tomei should not learn Torah or daven before he has been to mikveh.


But the greatest loss to Klal Yisroel, was the fact that he was a novi - the last novi, Mal'achi, and that as a result, it was not only Ezra the tzadik, Ezra the leader and Ezra the Sage who died, but Ezra the prophet, explains the Iyun Tefilah, because when he died, prophecy (at least until the arrival of Moshi'ach) died with him.


The Septuagint

The tragedy of the Septuagint can be explained in three ways: by tampering with Torah, and changing letters and words, they stripped it of its Divine character - in any event, if even one letter of a Seifer-Torah is changed, it becomes posul, how much more so when so many changes are made deliberately. And besides, who can know how much harm is caused by changing parts of the Torah, not only in this world, but in all the worlds, because when one makes changes to the world's blue-print, one changes the world.

There was another problem, however, one which was really two-fold. Firstly, the gentiles now had an official translation of the Torah, one which, even if those of that generation (who were well inclined towards the Jews) would not abuse, those of future generations would (as was well demonstrated by the Nazis, who diabolically made full use of Torah and mitzvos to increase the pain and suffering of the Jews under their control), and in this regard it is not the changes in the Torah that were relevant, but the fact that it was translated and handed to them.

Secondly, the new version of the Bible, translated and modernised by the greatest Sages in Klal Yisroel, must have been a boon to the Hellenists. It gave them easy access to the written Torah, at the same time served as the perfect backing to the theory that Torah needs to keep up with the times, that one needs to bring Torah down to the level of the masses rather than to raise the masses up to the level of the Torah. It provided the fuel for the bitter flames of Reformism and Conservatism from which we are still suffering today.


Parshah Pearls


Of Mistresses and Maidservants

"These are the sons of Zilpoh ... sixteen people" (46:18). Interestingly, the sons of the main wives were exactly double those of their former maidservants. How is that?

Leah's family numbered thirty-three, one of whom was Yocheved (according to Chazal, or Ya'akov, according to the Zohar), leaving us with thirty-two sons, whereas Zilpoh (her former maidservant) had sixteen.

And Rochel's sons numbered fourteen, whereas Bilhoh (her maidservant) had seven. (From the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro)


The Seventy Families

"And these are the names of the B'nei Yisroel who came to Egypt, Ya'akov and his sons; the first-born of Ya'akov was Reuven" (46:8).

The Torah lists here seventy people, including three women: Serach, Dinoh and Yocheved.

The same seventy names are listed in Parshas Pinchos, only there, since the list is confined to the families of the tribes, and does not include the twelve founder-fathers of the tribes, the posuk makes up for the deficiency by including the eight sons of Menashe and the four of Ephrayim (who are not listed here) - twelve, corresponding to the twelve founder-fathers omitted here.


Five Less

However, five are still missing, because here the seventy people includes Ephrayim and Menashe, whereas there it does not, nor does the Torah mention the three women there.

To make up for that, the eight families of Levi are counted there, Gershon, Kehos and Merrori plus their five children, whilst here, only Gershon, Kehos and Merrori are mentioned.

That ought to total seventy, but it doesn't - the Torah lists there only sixty-five (five are missing: Eihud from Shimon; Geiro, Becher and Rosh from Binyomin; and Yishvoh from Osher), bearing out the posuk in Devorim (7:7) "Because you are the least of all the nations - "ha'me'at" = hey me'at = five less, since the nations of the world number seventy, and the families of Yisroel at that time, only sixty-five (see also Rashi Bamidbor 26:36).


How Old Are You?

"And Par'oh said to Ya'akov 'How old are you?' " (47:8) What sort of question is that, and what prompted it, asks the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos?

He explains that it was Ya'akov's exceptionally aged appearance that elicited Par'oh's question. He had never seen anyone with hair and a beard quite as white as Ya'akov's, nor perhaps looking quite as wrinkled. The Ramban also learns this way, but he goes still further. He uses this idea to explain Ya'akov's strange answer, too, as we shall now see.


Not As Old As I Look

In response to Par'oh's question, Ya'akov replied that he was a hundred and thirty, that he had had a tough life, and that he had not yet reached the years of his fathers, who had lived much longer.

Now what was the idea of complaining to Par'oh about his hard life, asks the Ramban? This is unethical and unbecoming for a man of Ya'akov's stature.


In fact, Ya'akov was simply replying to Par'oh's question. As we just wrote, Par'oh had never seen anyone looking so old, and so he could not restrain himself from putting the question to him. That is why Ya'akov assured him that he was not really as old as he looked, but it was the troubles that he had undergone that had caused him to age prematurely.


Be Grateful - Don't Complain

The Da'as Zekeinim however, quoting a Medrash, concludes: Hashem said to him 'I saved you from Eisov and from Lovon, I gave you back Dinah and Yosef, and you complain about your hard life? By your life, I will take the thirty-three words from the two pesukim (containing Par'oh's question and Ya'akov's answer) and deduct them from the hundred and eighty years that your father lived - you will live only a hundred and forty-seven!'

But the Ba'al ha'Turim in Vayechi, offers a totally different reason for the thirty-three years that were deducted from Ya'akov's life: Chazal have said in Makos (11a.) that the curse of a Chochom will always materialise, irrespective of any conditions attached. Now Ya'akov had said to Lovon "With whomever you find your god will not live" - thereby causing Rochel to die young. And it was for causing Rochel's death that he lost thirty-three years of his life (thirty-three being the numerical value of the word "lo yichye").




The Shema & The B'rochos

For All Generations He Endures ...

'Le'dor vo'dor Hu kayom, u'sh'mo kayom, ve'chis'o nochon ...' (For all generations He endures, and His Name endures, and His Throne is established). The Si'dur ha'Meforosh, quoting the Rudziner Rebbe, cites the Medrash 'The Name of Hashem will not be complete, nor will His Throne be complete until Amolek's name is obliterated'. That is why, in the posuk in Beshalach (17:16 - the posuk to which this Medrash refers), "Ki yad al keis Koh milchomoh la'Hashem ba'Amolek, mi'dor dor", the word "keis" (Throne) is missing an 'aleph', and the word 'Koh' (G-d) a 'vov' and a 'hey'.

The three missing letters 'hey', 'vov' and 'aleph' spell 'hu'. That is what is hinted here 'Hu kayom' (when the 'hey', 'vov' and 'aleph' will reappear) 'u'shmo kayom' (His Name will endure) 've'chis'o nochon' (and His Throne will be established).

And a further proof that when Chazal wrote 'Emes ve'Yatziv' they had in mind the posuk in Beshalach, is the mention of 'le'dor vo'dor' which opens the phrase here, corresponding to "mi'dor dor" which closes the posuk there.


You were always the Helper of our fathers,
the Shield and a Saviour to their children

These three terms 'Shield, Helper and Saviour' appear again in the first b'rochoh of the Amidah, and there are a number of explanations that elaborate on the difference between them. Some say that 'ezrah' pertains to help that comes unasked, whereas salvation, only following a request; others say that with help, the bulk of the effort is borne by the person in distress, whereas salvation comes from Hashem without the person needing to raise a finger (see Sidur ha'Meforosh).

It seems to me however, that 'Help' refers to the present, arriving simultaneously with the trouble on hand; 'Salvation', to the past, namely, that Hashem shleps a person out of the mire so to speak, even after the trouble has overtaken him; whereas 'Shield' refers to the future, that Hashem protects the person concerned, preventing the trouble from reaching him in the first place. And this is all on the merits of the Ovos: Shield on the merit of Avrohom, Help, on the merit of Yitzchok, and Salvation, on that of Ya'akov.


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