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

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Vol. 6 No. 11

Parshas Va'Yigash

Soft Words
(based on R. Bachye's introduction to the parshah)

"A soft answer diverts anger, and tough words bring it on" (Mishlei 16:1).

Shlomoh ha'Melech is issuing a warning in this possuk, that one should accustom oneself to respond softly, because by doing so, he causes the seething anger of his opponent to abate. A tough response on the other hand, has the opposite effect of sparking off his anger.

It is well-known that speech has a powerful influence, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad. It is man's most important component, just like the fruit is the main component of the tree on which it grows. That is why the Torah writes "And man became a living Soul" - meaning that man was created chiefly because of his living Soul, which, as the Targum explains, is the Soul that speaks. And that is also the reason that speech is referred to as a fruit, as the Novi writes in Yeshayah (57:19) "He who created the produce of the lips," because that is precisely what speech is.


The Torah frequently ascribes speech to G-d, when it writes "And G-d spoke ...". This is due to the fact that speech is a branch of intelligence, which in turn, is connected with the living Soul of speech unique to man. Man possesses intelligence, therefore he is able to speak. Animals, which have no intelligence (other than what is instinctive), are unable to speak. Consequently, it is the power of speech which renders man superior to animals.


Speech itself offers two options: that of life and that of death, as the possuk in Mishlei (18:21) writes "Death and life lie in the hand of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit". This is a warning to the person who speaks a lot. He can speak words of Torah and mitzvos - the path of life - or he can speak evil speech and other sins connected with speech, which are synonymous with the path of death. What Shlomoh ha'Melech is saying here is that commensurate with a man's many words on the path of life, will the produce of his lips be holy, a praise to Hashem, and he will receive abundant reward. And commensurate with his speech on the path of death, it will be bitter and evil, for which he will be severely punished.


And precisely because speech is so vitally important to a man, to preserve his soul and his body on the one hand, or to destroy it on the other, Shlomoh teaches us here to adopt the quality of soft-spokenness, because it will divert anger, even the anger of a King, as it is written "The anger of the King is like angels of death" (Mishlei 16:14).


Yehudah, Ya'akov's son, displayed this quality by speaking to Yosef quietly, which is why he caused Yosef's anger to dissipate, when Yosef (made out that he) was angry concerning the goblet. It is evident that it is not Yosef (who was accusing his brothers of stealing the cup) who should have displayed anger, but the brothers (whose explanation of all that had taken place between them, Yosef was choosing to ignore). Nevertheless, Yehudah was clever enough and strong enough to overcome his inclination to become angry. He realised that, in spite of the justification to do so, this was not the time and place to do it. What was needed was a quiet response to dissolve the anger of the Master Yosef. That is why he approached him to discuss the matter with him, with the intention of reviewing all that had transpired between them until then. Nevertheless, he discreetly prepared himself for three things, for judgement, for appeasement and if necessary, even for war (much in the same way as his father Ya'akov did, before he confronted his brother Eisov).

Parshah Pearls
Adapted from the Torah Temimah
Oh No, Not Again!

"To all of them he gave an outfit of clothes, and to Binyomin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five outfits" (45:22).

How is it possible, asks the Gemoro in Megillah (16b), that Yosef, who went through so much suffering on account of the special shirt that his father made him, should repeat the same blunder by favouring his brother Binyomin in the identical manner?

No problem, answers the Gemoro. He merely intended to drop him a hint that a descendant of his would leave the king's presence wearing five royal robes. This refers to Mordechai, who "went out from before the king in royal robes, dark blue and white, with a large golden crown, linen robes and purple" (Esther 8:15).

The Gro queries the Gemoro's answer. How were the brothers to know Yosef's reason for his gift to Binyomin? They would see him giving the gift, would assume that it was an act of favouritism, and jealousy would once again take its course. So we seem to be back at square one, he asks.


He answers that the five outfits that Yosef gave to Binyomin were of a cheaper quality than those that he gave to his brothers. In fact, he says, the five were equivalent in value to the one that he gave to each brother. What the Gemoro means is that, all he wished to achieve by giving Binyomin more than the others, was to hint to him the future, not to give him more value than them. Consequently, it stands to reason that, in order not to repeat his father's mistake, he would have achieved this by giving the brothers very expensive suits, and Binyomin, a cheap outfit.


The Torah Temimah supports the Gro's answer by pointing out that by the brothers, the word for outfits ('chalifos') is witten full, with a 'vov', whereas the very same word is written by Binyomin without one - to demonstrate that the five outfits of Binyomin were equivalent to the one that each of the brothers received (much in the same way, he says, as Chazal explain how the two Luchos were like one, because the word 'Luchos' is written without a 'vov').


And How About the Money?

The Maharsho queries the above Gemoro's question. Why does the Gemoro confine its question to the five outfits, he asks? How about the three hundred silver pieces that Yosef gave Binyomin, but not to the other brothers? Why is the Gemoro not worried that that would evoke the brothers' jealousy?


The Torah Temimah, basing his answer on the words of Rabeinu Bachye, answers the Maharsho's kashya like this: Based on the fact that the value of a slave is thirty shekel and on the fact that, someone who sells his slave to a gentile must pay a penalty of up to ten times his value - as the Gemoro says in Gittin (45b), each of his brothers was obliged to pay him three hundred shekolim. By not claiming this penalty from them, it is as if Yosef had given it to them as a gift. Consequently, he was perfectly justified in giving Binyomin (who had not participated in his sale) the same sum of three hundred shekolim.


To Honour One's Grandparents

"And he brought sacrifices to the G-d of his father" (46:1) - to the G-d of his father Yitzchok, points out the Medrash Rabah, and not to the G-d of his grandfather Avrohom. This teaches us, says Rebbi Yochonon, that one is obliged to honour one's father more than one's grandfather.

We learn from here, writes the Re'mo in Yoreh Dei'ah (240:24), that a person is obliged to honour his grandfather, but that the honour of his father takes precedence.


The Re'mo disagrees with the Mahari Kolon, says the Torah Temimah, who exempts a person from honouring his grandfather altogether.

The Gro in Yoreh Dei'ah (ibid.) differentiates between a son's son (who is obligated to honour his grandfather), and the son of one's daughter (who is not), and he bases this ruling on another Medrash Rabah which explicitly exempts a person from honouring his maternal grandfather. The Torah Temimah however, expresses doubts as to whether the Gemoro agrees with this Medrash, bringing a number of proofs, that in fact, the Gemoro is of the opinion that one's daughter's sons too, are called grandsons: for example, the Gemoro in Yuma (66b) which establishes the possuk in ve'Zos ha'Brochoh "ve'es bonov lo yodo" by the Levi's grandsons from his daughter; and the Gemoro in Yevomos (70a), which explains the possuk "ve'zera ein loh" to mean "ayin aloh' - check that the woman has no children at all - daughters, as well as sons (before obliging her to make yibum with her brother-in-law). From these pesukim and others, he proves the Bavli's opinion to be that the offspring of one's daughter are considered one's offspring no less than those of one's son. And it follows therefore, that if the one is obliged to honour his grandfather (and presumably, his grandmother too), then so is the other.


Reverting to the original dispute between the Remo and the Mahari Kolon, the Torah Temimah concludes that one ought logically, to compare the relationship of the grandson towards his grandfather to that of the grandfather towards his grandson.

Consequently, since the Gemoro in Kidushin (30a) obliges a grandfather to teach his grandson Torah (as the possuk writes in vo'Eschanan "And you shall teach them to your sons and to your grandsons", it therefore follows that a grandson must follow in the footsteps of his father and honour his father's father - like the opinion of the Remo (see Torah Temimah in his final paragraph 46:1, where he bases the analogy of a grandson to a grandfather, to a grandfather to a grandson on the Rif, the Rosh and other commentaries in B'rochos 54a).



The Shema
(Part XXI)

And you shall teach them to your sons (cont.)

We spoke last time about the importance of personal example, and how we learn from the sequence of this possuk that, if a father wishes to teach his son to learn, then first and foremost, he must sit and learn, and his son will do likewise.

The story is told of the man who approached his Rebbe for a b'rochoh that his son should grow up to be a talmid-chochom.

'If you want your son to become a talmid-chochom,' the Rebbe replied 'then take a seifer and learn. That will encourage him to do likewise. If the best you can do is to come and ask for a b'rochoh, then your son will take his cue from you, and, when he grows up, he will go and ask his Rebbe for a b'rochoh that his son should become a talmid-chochom.


In any event, from this possuk we can learn the extent of the obligation to study Torah, which applies in full force in every conceivable situation. Indeed, the Rambam rules that the mitzvah of Torah study extends even to someone who is destitute, or who is very ill.

Certainly, the simple explanation of the possuk is connected with the mitzvah of reciting the Shema (rather than that of Torah-study), instructing us how the Shema should be said and when, as well as when one is exempt from reciting it.

Nevertheless, there are many statements of Chazal which equate this possuk with Torah-study. They said for example, that one should divide one's learning into three parts, T'nach, Mishnah and Gemoro (interpreting "ve'shinantom" as if the Torah had written "ve'shilashtom"); that words of Torah should be crystal-clear, which they derive from the same word ("ve'shinantom") - Shas Bavli, points out Rabeinu Tam, comprises all three - which can also mean sharp (like the word "shinun"); that one should teach Torah to one's disciples, (since one's disciples are referred to as his children) and that one should confine one's speech to words of Torah and not to other things. Clearly then, there are occasions when the Torah deliberately uses ambiguous expressions, so that we should learn various concepts from the same word or phrase.


We just cited the Gemoro in Yumo (19b) that learns from "ve'dibarto bom" that one should talk about words of Torah and not about idle matters. And this is enhanced by the famous acronym which the commentaries learn from the very same word "bom" - the 'beis' they say, represents Bereishis, the opening words of the Written Torah, whereas the 'mem' represents 'Me'eimosai' - the first word in the Oral Torah - a clear hint as to what one's main topic of conversation should comprise.


And You Shall Bind Them ...

With regard to Tefillin, it is the Parshiyos of the Shema exclusively that one writes and inserts into them, and not the entire Torah - in spite of the fact that we have just been speaking about teaching one's children the whole Torah.

It is essential that we accept Hashem's Sovereignty (the essence of the Shema) not only with our mouths, but also with every fibre of our being. Therefore, the Torah instructs us to bind the text of the declaration on our arms, to render all our actions subservient to Hashem's rulership; next to our hearts, to include our emotions and our desires; and next to our brains, in order to submit even our intellect to the service of Hashem.


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