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Vol. 5 No. 9
A Shli'ach Mitzvah
When Yosef went to enquire after his brothers' well-being, he was performing a mitzvah, not just a simple mitzvah, but that of honouring his father, whose command he was obeying, and for which, the Torah prescribes long life. That being the case, he was assured, writes the Ohr ha'Chayim Ha'Kodosh, that he would return safely to his father.
The difficulty therefore arises, that since Yosef had the protection of the mitzvah, both on the way there and on the way back (seeing that Ya'akov Ovinu had told him "and return me word"), how did the brothers succeed in overpowering Yosef and selling him to slavery in Egypt? The Gemoro in Kiddushin, asks the identical question with reference to the boy who, whilst in the process of performing the very two mitzvos for which the Torah explicitly prescribes long-life (he was obeying his father's orders to fetch some eggs from a bird's nest, and had first sent the mother bird away), fell off a ladder and died. The Gemoro there answers that the boy had forfeited his own life by harboring thoughts of idolatry - a sin in itself, which has the power to negate any other mitzvah being fulfilled simultaneously. Consequently, the two mitzvos that he had fulfilled were powerless to protect him. But it is most unlikely that the great tzadik Yosef was guilty of such a sin.
To make matters worse, we must bear in mind that Ya'akov accompanied Yosef on part of his journey (see Seforno and Ba'al Ha'turim on possuk 37:14). And Chazal have taught us that someone who is accompanied on the first leg of his journey, will come to no harm.
The Ohr ha'Chayim himself, in his second answer, points out that Ya'akov sent Yosef to Sh'chem - and that that was where he wanted his son to meet his brothers. His mention of Sh'chem was not, as Yosef believed, simply Ya'akov's directions as to where he would find them, but, as with so many other deeds and actions of our forefathers, it came in the form of "the actions of the fathers are an omen for the children". It was specifically Sh'chem, and his intention, it appears, was to prepare for some future event that would take place there. Consequently, upon discovering that his brothers were not there, Yosef was exempt from further pursuing the mitzvah, and should have returned home. Going from there to Doson was performed on his own initiative, and was not subject to the protection which the mitzvah of Kibud Av would have afforded him.
The Ohr ha'Chayim's answer dispenses with the first question, but what do we do with the second? For, when all's said and done, Ya'akov Ovinu did accompany Yoself on part of his journey, so why didn't that merit protect him from his brothers' evil attack?
To answer the above questions, we must ask ourselves whether the brothers' plan really succeeded. Initially, they aimed at killing him, since that would have negated all of Yosef's intentions of wresting the reigns of leadership from Yehudah. They then commuted the sentence to selling him into slavery - for, in that way, his plans would be rendered equally ineffective. A man who lives under total subjugation, they figured, will soon stop dreaming of rulership. But did they really succeed?
Yosef's position, even when he suffered his most bitter experiences, can hardly be described as subjugation. From the moment he arrived in Egypt, he enjoyed positions of responsibility and leadership: first, the complete running of Potifera's large estate was placed in his hands; then he was put in charge of all the royal prisoners; and finally he became, as viceroy of Egypt, one of the most powerful men - ever. It seems, if anything, that far from selling him into slavery, the brothers merely sparked off a series of events, which ultimately led to the very conclusion that they were trying to prevent - Yosef's sovereignty. No, that hardly constitutes success on their part. So, if one asks, why didn't the mitzvah of honouring his father, or at least of him being accompanied by his father, protect Yosef from his brothers' plans, the answer is that it did! Not only did Yosef not become a slave, but he ruled right from the start, and continued to go from strength to strength, until both of his prophetic dreams came true. His dreams prevailed, his brothers' plans did not!
That is what the Ba'al Ha'turim means when he writes that, by saying "And return to me word" (of how your brothers are getting on), Ya'akov Ovinu was actually prophesying that Yosef would return. And that is what the Ohr ha'Chayim means when he writes (in his first answer) that harm that turns out to be good and advantageous is not called "harm". Yosef was not - could not - come to any harm, because "emissaries of mitzvah cannot come to grief"!
The Gemoro in Shabbos quotes Rav, who warns parents not to favour one son over the others. Ya'akov did that, when he made Yosef a special woollen shirt, and see what it caused! As a result, the brothers became jealous of him, and their jealousy led to golus Mitzrayim.
The Rambam, in Hilchos Nachalos, writes that a father should not give one of his sons preferential treatment *in his lifetime*, from which we can imply that on his deathbed, this is permitted. (The Tur, writes the Torah Temimah, does not differentiate.) The Torah Temimah suggests that the Rambam's source for this is probably the Torah's direct concession for a father to distribute his estate among his sons as he sees fit (with the exception of the firstborn, to whom he is obligated to leave an extra portion). And he goes on to connect the reason for this to the 'mitzvah to fulfil the words of the deceased'. In that case, he explains, the other sons will not fight over the inheritance, since that is not what their father ordered.
A strange answer!
Perhaps one can give a different reason for the Rambam's ruling. The Gemoro in Megillah (16b) asks how Yosef, the very one who suffered as a result of his father's favouritism, could later be guilty of the same 'mistake', by giving all the brothers a new suit, and Binyomin, five ?
And the Gemoro answers that here is different, since the five sets of clothing were a hint to Binyomin that Mordechai, who would go out with five robes, was destined to descend from him.
From there we see that, when there is good reason for the extra gift (and noy just the result of favouritism), then it is permitted to give the one more than the other.
Chazal have taught us that a person should not rebuke his children until he is on his death-bed (see Rashi Devorim 1:1) because then they will take him more seriously. People tend to take the words of a dying man seriously, and not query his motives, because they know that what he says then is said with much forethought and deliberation, and above all, because his decisions then are objective, rather than subjective.
That is why the Torah displays no objection to a man leaving a will, distributing his estate as he sees fit, in the knowledge that the children will respect his wishes - and that is why the Rambam rules accordingly.
But There *Were* Snakes and Scorpions
Had the brothers known that the pit from which they had just pulled Yosef, contained snakes and scorpions, they would have been convinced that he was innocent. See the awe which gripped even the wicked Nevuchadnetzar when Chananyoh, Mishoel and Azaryoh stepped out of the furnace unscathed, and the esteem in which he then held them! How much more so would those outstanding tzadikim have acknowledged Yosef's righteousness and bowed to the will of G-d, who was protecting His beloved one!
But they did not know! Nor is it likely that Reuven would have known this, since his intention in throwing Yosef into the pit, was in order to save him from the brothers, as the Torah itself testifies.
So writes the Torah Temimah, adding that it was not even possible for the brothers to have known what lay at the bottom of the pit. Why not? Because the Torah uses the term "va'yashlichu" - and according to the commentary in Maseches Tomid, whenever the term 'hashlochoh' is used, it refers to a minimum of 20 amos distance which, when speaking of heights, (and how much more so of depths) is not easily discernable. So, since the pit was twenty amos deep, there is no way that they could have seen the snakes and scorpions lurking there.
This also explains, writes the Torah Temimah, why the Gemoro in Shabbos (22a) places the fact that the pit contained snakes and scorpions right next to the Halochoh that a Menorah which is placed at a height of above twenty amos from ground level, is not kosher. (Besides the fact that both were said by the same Amora), it is to tell us that the pit into which they threw Yosef was also twenty amos deep, which would, in turn, explain why they failed to react to the snakes and scorpions - for the simple reason that they could not see them and were unaware of their existence.
What a Miracle!
The Gemoro in Yevomos (121a) states that, if someone falls into a lion's den, witnesses' testimony will not suffice to permit his wife to get married. On the other hand, if they testify that he fell into a snake-pit, she is permitted to marry, because his chances of survival are nil. Snakes and scorpions, it appears, will attack when disturbed, whereas lions will only react if they are hungry. Consequently, the witnesses cannot say with certainty that the man is dead.
There is no doubt, that had the brothers been aware of the fact that there were snakes and scorpions in the pit, they would have acknowledged Yosef's greatness and bowed to the will of Hashem.
All About Mitzvos
Do Mitzvos Need Kavonoh?
There are two opinions as to whether mitzvos need to be performed with 'kavonoh' (intentionally), and it is generally accepted that someone who performs a Torah-based mitzvah without intention, has not fulfilled the mitzvah, but by mitzvos de'Rabbonon, he *has*. All this however concerns 'bedieved' (after the mitzvah has been performed without kavonoh).
But initially, everyone agrees that, not only should mitzvos be performed with intent, but that that intention should be one of 'li'shmoh' (for the sake of the mitzvah - i.e. because that is what Hashem commanded us) the objective that overrides all other objectives.
There are two kinds of 'she'lo li'shemoh': the one, acceptable and sometimes even desirable, the other, unacceptable. Performing mitzvos for a reward, either in this world or in the next, is permitted, and, inasmuch as it attracts one to Torah and mitzvos, it is even praiseworthy, afor so Chazal have said "One should always study Torah and do mitzvos (even) 'she'lo li'shmoh', because 'she'lo li'shmoh' leads to 'li'shmoh" (Pesochim 50b).
About the other kind of 'she'lo li'shmoh' - such as learning Torah in order to criticise it - Chazal said that, "someone who studies Torah 'she'lo lishmoh', it would have been better had he not been born" (B'rochos 17a).
There is a middle stage of 'she'lo li'shmoh', and there is a difference of opinion as to which of the two categories it belongs: namely, someone who learns Torah for the sole purpose of obtaining the title 'Rebbi', there are some commentaries who fit it into the first, acceptable category, whereas others consider this forbidden, like the second.
THE MITZVOS OF TODAY
7. To daven every day to Hashem - as the Torah writes (Devorim 6:13) "And Him you shall serve". Chazal in Ta'anis (2a) have said that 'avodah' (service) is tefillah, as the Torah writes (Devorim 11:13) "And to serve Him with all your heart". What is called service with the heart? Tefillah! In Sh'mos too (23:25 - see Ba'al ha'Turim) the Torah writes "And you shall serve Hashem etc., and He will bless your bread and your water".)
The mitzvah comprises, first telling the praise of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, then asking Him for one's needs, and finally, of giving praise and thanks to Him.
Tefillah must be with Kavonoh (devotion), to clear one's mind of all other thoughts, and to see oneself as if he were standing before the Divine Presence. One should not daven as if he was trying to get rid of a heavy burden (nor should one daven by force of habit, because that is what he did yesterday and the day before) but like a poor man begging for alms. The words too, should come out slowly and deliberately, as if one was counting one's money.
Tefillah is one of those things that need constant strengthening.
The Torah obligation is once daily. It is the Rabbonon who increased this to three times. Tefillah applies everywhere, at all times, to men and women alike.
8-9. To bind Tefillin on one's left arm - as the Torah writes in Devorim (6:8) "And you shall bind them as a sign on your arm". The correct location is on the muscle at the top of the arm. (A left-handed person wears them on the right arm.)
And to wear Tefillin on the head - as the Torah writes in Devorim (ibid.) "And they shall be an emblem between your eyes". The correct location of the Tefillin shel Rosh is at the point (just forward of the middle of the head) where a baby's head is soft.
The Tefillin contain four parshiyos: 'Kadeish'; 'Ve'hoyo ki yeviacho'; 'Shema'; 'Ve'hoyo im shomo'a; incorporating taking upon oneself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, the mention of the miracles and wonders (that Hashem performed with our fathers when He took them out of Egypt and brought them close to His service) the love of Hashem, the mitzvos of Tefillin, Mezuzah, Torah-study, and reward and and punishment, among other things.
These four Parshiyos are written on one piece of parchment in the Tefilin shel Yad, where they are placed in one compartment; and on four smaller pieces of parchment in the shel Rosh where they are placed in four separate compartments.
Someone who fails to put Tefillin transgresses eight Mitzvos Asei - because each of the eight Parshiyos is an independent Mitzvah.
Tefillin require a clean body, so one should take care not to let out a wind while wearing them.
If somebody reads the Shema without Tefillin, it is as if he testified falsely against himself (since he is not being true to his word).
On the other hand, someone who is accustomed to read the Shema with a clean body will live long, as the Novi Yeshayah wrote "Hashem is on them, they will live".
Someone who is wearing Tefilin, is obligated to touch them at regular intervals in order not to take his mind off them - even for one moment - because of their great sanctity. And as long as a person is wearing Tefillin on his arm and on his head, he feels humble and G-d-fearing; he is not drawn after laughter and idle chatter and he does not think bad thoughts, but turns his attention to words of truth.
The mitzvah of Tefillin applies everywhere and at all times (every day - except for Shabbos and Yom-tov and the first day of mourning) - to men only.
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