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

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Vol. 11   No. 8

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Parshas Vayishlach

Who Bowed Down
and Who Didn't

"And the maid-servants stepped forward, they and their children, and they prostrated themselves (va'tishtachavenoh - feminine plural). And also Leah and her children stepped forward and prostrated themselves (va'yishtachavu - masculine plural)" (33:6).

Why does the Pasuk switch from the feminine plural in the case of the maidservants and their children, to the masculine plural in that of Leah and her children, asks the Rosh?

The children of the maidservants, he suggests, whose status was higher than their mothers (since they were free, whilst their mothers were slaves), did not take their cue from their mothers, and declined to bow down to Eisav. What was good for their mothers, they claimed, was not necessarily good for them. The children of Leah, on the other hand, who did certainly not consider themselves in any way superior to their mother (one of the four mothers of Yisrael), took their cue from her. When they saw her bowing down, they bowed down, too.


The Targum Sheini describes how Mordechai justified himself for not prostrating himself before Haman, because, he explained, he was a descendant of Binyamin, who did not bow down to Eisav (Haman's ancestor), and who had certainly never bowed down to anyone else. Consequently, no member of the tribe of Binyamin would ever bow down to anyone other than Hashem. This Medrash certainly conveys the impression that Mordechai, as well as his ancestor Binyamin, was unique. Everybody else did prostrate themselves before Haman, and so did all of Binyamin's brothers bow down to Eisav, including the sons of the maidservants. In that case, the Targum Sheini will disagree with the Rosh's explanation.


Perhaps the Targum Sheini will subscribe to one of the two following alternative ways of resolving the discrepancy between the two Pesukim.

In fact, all the children took their cue from their mothers, which is why the Torah uses the feminine plural in the case of the maidservants and their children (instead of the masculine plural that it normally employs when incorporating men and women [and not because their sons declined to bow down]).

Indeed, the Torah would have done the same regarding Leah and her children. The problem with that is that there was only one woman involved, rendering that grammatically unacceptable. So it reverted to the more common masculine plural form, to incorporate Leah and her children (see Ha'amek Davar, who offers a similar grammar-based explanation).

Alternatively, some of Leah's children were already bar-Mitzvah (see Bar and Bas-Mitzvah on page 4). Consequently, the Pasuk employs the regular masculine plural to incorporate both them and their mother. The children of the maidservants, on the other hand, were all under bar-Mitzvah, rendering them all secondary to their mother, which explains why the Pasuk uses the feminine plural, rather than the masculine, plural.


Parshah Pearls

A Good Reason to be Afraid

"And Ya'akov was afraid ... " (32:8).

Why was Ya'akov afraid, asks the Rosh? Seeing that G-d had assured him of His protection, there seems to be no reason or justification for that.

Rashi's answer is well known. But the Rosh shares with us a different explanation.

When, on his way to Charan twenty years earlier, G-d promised Ya'akov that He would protect him, he was single. In the meantime, he had married, and now had a family consisting of four wives and eleven children. Who said that G-d's promise covered them too? That is why he added "Lest he come and smite me (by killing the) mothers and children". In fact, the Rosh adds, that is what he was referring to when he said "because with my stick (alone) I crossed the Jordan River, and now I have become two camps".

Perhaps Rashi, who attributes Ya'akov's fear to the possibility of having lost favour with Hashem on account of his having sinned, disagrees with the Rosh on two scores. Firstly, the phrase "will come and smite me, mother and children" implies that he was afraid that Eisav would kill him together with his wives and children. Secondly, the Pasuk's double expression "And Ya'akov was afraid and he was troubled", which Rashi, based on Chazal, interprets to mean "afraid" that he might be killed, and "troubled", that he might have to kill Eisav. According to the Rosh's explanation, Chazal ought to have said '"afraid that his wife and children might be killed'..


The B'nei Yisrael and the Sciatic Nerve

"That is why the B'nei Yisrael may not eat the sciatic nerve" (32:33).

As a reminder of the miracle, explains the Da'as Zekeinim M.T. (mi'Ba'alei Tosfos), that Ya'akov was saved from his encounter with the angel.

In addition, he adds (no doubt because of the Pasuk's reference to "B'nei Yisrael", who had not yet come into existence) that Ya'akov's sons had acted incorrectly, by allowing their father to walk alone. They ought to have accompanied him, and it is because they failed to do so that he was wounded on his thigh. That is why G-d forbade the Gid ha'Nasheh to K'lal Yisrael, to remind them of the importance of the Mitzvah of accompanying a traveler on his way.

And who do you think was the first person to take his cue from this incident? Why Ya'akov of course! When Yosef left to enquire about his brothers' well-being, Ya'akov made sure to accompany him part of the way. We know what happened subsequently. Who knows what might have happened to Yosef if he had not.


Ya'akov's Blessing

"Accept now my blessing that has being brought to you" (33:11).

The Miynim (heretics) interpret this to mean that Ya'akov was offering Eisav the B'rachos that he had received from his father. In other words, he was conceding the fact that Eisav was the one who should have received them and that he had stolen them from him.

Absolute rubbish, says the Rosh. The words 'that has been brought to you' imply something that is tangible (and refer to the gift that he had sent him). And in any event, even if that was what Ya'akov meant, Hashem scolded him for having said it, when He said to him later "I am G-d Al-mighty; be fruitful and multiply!" By this He meant that the B'rachos were not Ya'akov's to give away. G-d had promised them to his fathers, and He would see to it that they were fulfilled in him (and not in Eisav).

In addition to this, Eisav's angel substantiated the B'rachos, when he "blessed him there" (32:30).

Moreover, even Yitzchak, the one who had been 'tricked' into blessing Ya'akov, conceded "Also he is blessed" (27:33). And what's more, he added another three B'rachos before sending him to Charan.

And just in case one still has doubts, the Rosh concludes, one can be rest assured that, had Ya'akov been referring to the B'rachos, as the Miynim explain, he would not have found it necessary to plead with Eisav (which is what in fact, he had to do) to accept them. Eisav, convinced that Ya'akov had tricked his father into giving him what was really his (Eisav's), would have jumped at the offer.


How Could They Do It?

"And it was on the third day, when they were in pain ...and they killed all the males" (34:25).

It is hard to understand how Shimon and Levi could do such a thing, asks the Rosh. Such deceit was not worthy of the sons of Ya'akov!

It all depends however, how one interprets "when they were in pain", he replies. It seems that what the Pasuk means is that the men of Sh'chem had changed their minds about the B'ris Milah, and were now in anguish over their decision to perform it. That is what irked Shimon and Levi. They did what they did because their sister had been defiled, And as for the treaty which they entered into with the people of Sh'chem, the latter's remorse over the B'ris Milah was tantamount to abrogating that treaty, leaving them free to act as they saw fit.


They're All in the Same Boat

"And they (Shimon and Levi) said, Will he turn our sister into a prostitute"? (34:31).

That explains why they punished Sh'chem, the perpetrator of the deed. But what did the entire town do to deserve to be wiped out, asks the Rosh?

It is not however, clear as to why his own explanation in the previous piece does not automatically answer the question, (as the Da'as Zekeinim M.T. indeed explains)?

In answer to the question, the Rosh cites the Rambam, who proves from here that a ben No'ach who sees his friend transgressing one of the seven Mitzvos B'nei No'ach, and does not take him to Beis-Din to be killed, is himself guilty of the death penalty. The men of Sh'chem saw their prince steal Dinah, fully obligating each and every one of them to ensure that he was brought to justice. Having failed to do so rendered them all guilty.


A Staff in the Hand

"And his father called him Binyamin" (35:18).

The word Binyamin, the Rosh observes, is spelt with two 'Yuds', in which case the word has connotations of a son who supports his right hand. Indeed, the Gemara in Kesubos (64a) refers to a person needing a 'staff for my hand and a spade to dig my grave', when he attains old age.

And that fits nicely with the Pesukim later, which convey Binyamin as being Ya'akov's house companion, which explains why he did not join his brothers in tending the sheep, and why he was not used to traveling, whilst his brothers were constantly on the move. Nor can we attribute this to his tender age, since at the time to which we are referring, he was already a fully-grown man in his thirty's.


Mamme Rachel

"And she was buried on the way to Efrat, which is Beis-Lechem" (35:19).

This is in Chutz la'Aretz, the Rosh says, and she will arise ... like all those who are buried outside Eretz Yisrael, who will roll to Eretz Yisrael at Techi'as ha'Meisim, as the Gemara in Kesubos (101a) explains. Why, asks the Rosh, was Leah, who was the mother of many of the tribes, not buried there too?

And he answers with Chazal, who describe how Rachel enabled Leah to marry Ya'akov in place of herself. She was the one who would be able to plead with G-d, asking Him not to bring Yisrael's rivals in to His House, in reward for her having brought her own rival into her husband's house.

How the Rosh can refer to Efrat and Beis-Lechem as Chutz la'Aretz, is puzzling, to say the least. Neither is the footnote, which suggests that he is referring not to Rachel's burial, but to her death (as the Ramban explains), acceptable (since the Rosh would not then refer to 'Gilgul Mechilos', which applies to those who are buried in Chutz la'Aretz, not to those who die there).


Bar and Bas-Mitzvah

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:21) informs us that the age of Mitzvos is thirteen. The Bartenura cites as the source for this, the Pasuk in Naso "Ish o ishah ki ya'asu mi'kol chatos ho'odom ... ". And it is in our Parshah that the Torah writes (in connection with Sh'chem) "Vayikchu Shimon ve'Levi ish charbo". As Rashi explains in Nazir (29b), we do not find anybody younger than Levi referred to as 'ish', and Levi was thirteen at the time. This we know, the Tosfos Yom-tov explains, because Ya'akov spent thirteen years with Lavan after marrying Leah. Assuming that Levi was born after two years (including seven months for each pregnancy), Levi would then have been eleven when Ya'akov left Lavan's house. Add to that the six months that Ya'akov traveled plus the eighteen months that he spent in Succos, giving us a total of thirteen at the time that they arrived in Sh'chem.

The upshot of this is that Levi, the youngest person to whom the Torah refers as "ish", was thirteen at the time, so thirteen must be the age of manhood.


This leaves us with a number of questions however. First of all, from where do we know that a girl becomes bas-Mitzvah at the age of twelve? Why should the age of adulthood differ between a boy and a girl?

Secondly, the Tosfos-Yom-tov asks, that of the two years that Ya'akov traveled from Charan back to Eretz Cana'an, he spent eighteen months in Sucos. The other six months he spent in Beis-Eil, but that took place after the episode with Sh'chem (as Rashi himself points out in Vayeishev). That being the case, Levi was still six months short of bar-Mitzvah at the time of which we are speaking? And Rebbi Akiva Eiger exacerbates the problem, by pointing out that this is not just the personal opinion of Rashi, but that of the Gemara in Megilah.

And thirdly, so what if Levi was thirteen when the Torah refers to him as "Ish"? What if he had been sixteen, would that then mean that the age of bar-Mitzvah would be sixteen, just because we do not find anyone younger than him referred to as "Ish"?


It therefore seems to me that it is because Levi was specifically thirteen that Rashi and the Bartenura cite this as a proof. Otherwise, the age would be a casual fact, which would prove nothing. Why is that? What is the intrinsic ingredient that makes the age of thirteen unique?

Because thirteen is the age where a boy generally changes physically. Certainly, he has left the realm of childhood, to enter into that of young adulthood. Perhaps he might have changed his title from 'Yeled' to 'Na'ar', but 'Ish' is another matter. There are other stages in man's development, as recorded in the Mishnah with which we began. Prominent among these is twenty, which is the age of 'pursuit'. Inter alia, the Tif'eres Yisrael explains that from then on, a man is expected to pursue Mitzvos more vigorously. After all, he says, the Heavenly Court only punishes from the age of twenty. In that case, we might well have thought that the earthly Beis-Din too, will only punish from the age of twenty. In other words, that is when a boy turns into a man. That is when he becomes bar-Mitzvah. Hence the Pasuk that refers to Levi as "Ish", teaches us that puberty and manhood coincide. It would have proved nothing had he been sixteen, because then, the age of real manhood may just as well have been fifteen or fourteen.

Perhaps this will also solve our first problem. Now that the Pasuk equates puberty and manhood, it stands to reason that the same applies to a girl, who, by virtue of the fact that she reaches puberty a year earlier than a man, will also become an Ishah a year earlier.

The truth of the matter is however, that on a number of occasions, the Torah refers to a 'Na'arah' (which Chazal interpret as being twelve, the age of puberty), ascribing to her the responsibility of a grown-up (in the realm of Nedarim, Kidushin and even as regards the death-sentence). The age of adulthood of a girl, is written independently, and we do not need to learn it from that of a boy.

On the contrary, one wonders whether the source for bar-Mitzvah of a boy might not be the fact that a girl becomes bas-Mitzvah as she reaches puberty at the age of twelve. It follows therefore, that a boy becomes a man when he reaches the age of puberty at thirteen, dispensing with the need to learn it from the "Ish" mentioned in connection with Levi.


The Tosfos Chadashim cites the Teshuvas ha'Rosh, who gives the source for the age of bar-Mitzvah at thirteen as a 'Halachah le'Moshe mi'Sinai'. It is included, he says, in the 'Shi'urin' (measurements), which Chazal have said are 'Halachah le'Moshe mi'Sinai'. Needless to say, that solves all the problems.


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