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Haftarah: Melachim 1 2:1-12

January 2-3 2015 12 Tebet 5775


"Yissachar is a strong-boned donkey." (Beresheet 49:14)

In Ya'akob's blessing to Yissachar, he compares him to a strong-boned donkey. The commentaries offer different explanations for what this alludes to. Rabbi David Kaplan tells a story that sheds light in the analogy to a donkey (although not the plain meaning of the pasuk) and provides guidance in an area with which many Torah learners struggle.

Rabbi Eliezer Platchinsky zt"l was a tremendous Talmid Hacham, besides being the brother-in-law of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt"l. Some 50 years ago, when he was once walking in Jerusalem, he passed a stone quarry and stopped to watch the Arab workers for a few minutes.

One of the Arabs loaded up a donkey with a heavy load, and the donkey started on its way up the steep hill out of the quarry. After a few steps the donkey stopped moving. The Arab hit it with a stick, but the donkey didn't budge. He hit it again, still nothing. The Arab then took a towel and draped it over the donkey's head. The animal put its head down, started moving, and walked up the hill and out of the quarry.

Rabbi Platchinsky said this incident gave him an insight into the meaning of the pasuk. The donkey, he said, took a look at how far it had to climb and decided it would never make it that far, so it stopped in its tracks. When the Arab covered its head, it looked down and saw that all it had to do was take one step. Donkeys don't have great memories, so it obviously forgot it had to get to the top of the hill. The beast saw it had to take one more step and it just kept doing that until it was out of the quarry.

This is the very attitude Torah learners should have. A Torah learner is often discouraged because he looks to the end of the masechet or the end of Shas and feels he'll never get there, so he stops. He must realize that the only thing that should concern him is the page in front of him. Once he finishes that page he can go on to the next one. If he continues that way, he will eventually find himself at the end of the masechet, or even Shas. This, Rabbi Platchinsky said, explains the comparison to a donkey. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

The parashah begins by telling us about the dialogue which Yosef, the ruler of Egypt, was having with his brother, Yehudah, about whether to release Binyamin or not. The Midrash tells us that the debate was very heated and Yehudah threatened to destroy Egypt and all of its inhabitants. When Yosef saw that Yehudah had reached the limit of his patience, he revealed his identity thereby diffusing the entire drama. The Midrash calls Yosef a wise man who can appease people. It seems that it would be obvious to anyone that this is what Yosef should have done in this situation. What great wisdom is seen from Yosef's actions?

The lesson that can be learned from here is that there is usually a point during an argument when it is wise to back down and retreat. When one is involved in a dispute, it often escalates to levels far beyond the original issues. One needs to look at it with a clear head, and know when to cut it short. Otherwise it reaches another level which can bring pain and destruction. Although it takes wisdom and foresight to be able to concede to someone else, especially during the heat of "battle," one who can muster inner strength like Yosef will diffuse the tension bringing peace and harmony among all parties involved. Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

Special Attention

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"And now, your two sons who were born in the land of Egypt before I came to you to Egypt, shall be mine; Efraim and Menashe will be to me like Reuven and Shimon." (Beresheet 48:5)

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky asks, how could Ya'akob show special favor to Yosef's children by saying that they "shall be mine" - equating Yosef's children to Ya'akob's own children. Surely, showing favoritism to Yosef was the main cause of the brothers' hatred against him.

The answer that Rav Yaakov suggests is that it was understood by all that Yosef's sons needed special attention, because they were born in Egypt, a land steeped in immorality. They never grew up in the holiness of Ya'akob's home and because of this he feared that their surroundings would have had an irreversibly negative effect on them. By considering them as his own children, Ya'akob hoped to instill within them the feeling that they truly belonged to his family and deeply connected to his traditions.

This, continues Rav Yaakov, is the reason why Ya'akob placed Efraim before Menashe (even though Menashe was older); because the name Efraim is an Egyptian name, a factor which demonstrates that Efraim was further away from the ideals that Ya'akob was trying to give over to his grandchildren, and was therefore in greater need of Ya'akob's encouragement and support. (Short Vort)

Similar but Different

"Shimon and Levi are brothers." (Beresheet 49:5) "?? "

Shimon and Levi are called - brothers, and are singled out for common rebuke, implying that not only are they fraternally related, but that they are similar in other ways as well. These two shebatim did not receive shares of land in Eress Yisrael equal to the others. Levi received only forty-two cities that were dispersed among the other shebatim, because (Bemidbar 18:20) "I [Hashem] am their portion and their inheritance among Bnei Yisrael." Shimon did not receive a normal inheritance, either, as it says (Yehoshua 19:1), "Their [Shimon's] heritage was situated in the midst of the heritage of the children of Yehudah, which left Shimon with undefined borders.

Both of these tribes had small populations, but for different reasons. Since Shebet Levi did not participate in the servitude in Egypt, it also did not receive the blessing of (Shemot 1:12), "As much as they[the Egyptians] would afflict it, so [the nation] would increase and so it would spread out" (Ramban, Bemidbar 3:14). And later, any slight impurity of thought when touching the holy Ark brought death. Shimon, on the other hand, was a small tribe for shameful reasons: 24,000 members of his tribe died in the plague that followed Zimri's sin.

As similar as Ya'akob believed Shimon and Levi to be, these two brothers later followed very divergent paths. Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam - the leaders of Klal Yisrael - descended from Levi, while Zimri, the prince of the tribe of Shimon, sinned with Kozbi bat Tzur and led 24,000 of his tribe to disaster with the sin of Ba'al Pe'or.

Why did these two tribes, whom Ya'akob considered to be similar, follow paths that led them in such different directions? Apparently, when Ya'akob rebuked Shimon and Levi before his death, only Levi was inspired to repent wholeheartedly. As a result, Shebet Levi merited to become the spiritual leaders of Klal Yisrael, as it says (Debarim 33:10), "They shall teach Your ordinances to Ya'akob." These two brothers continued along their respective paths, until Levi produced Pinhas, the zealot who placed his life on the line for the sanctification of Hashem, slaying Zimri, the prince of Shebet Shimon who led a movement away from Hashem.

We can see from this power of teshubah. Ya'akob, the greatest of men, could see no difference between the two brothers. Indeed, at the time, his perception was presumably correct, yet nothing stands in the way of teshubah. (Rav Schwab on Chumash)

Messenger Service

In the days of the Roman Empire, it was pretty dangerous to be a messenger bearing bad tidings. The custom was for the receiver to shoot the messenger if the message he brought was negative.

Living in a city as traffic-ridden as New York, we watch bike messengers zipping and weaving in and out among trucks and taxicabs and uninitiated out-of-town drivers, and flinch in fear at their successive close calls. We wonder whether a messenger will be back at work the next day, or whether his company has a revolving staff of daredevils to transport documents from person to person.

You may not think of it this way, but the head of the largest messenger service in Creation is Hashem. Our Sages teach that there are many messengers who work for our Creator. He controls all that occurs - large events and small, great disasters and miracles, everything from blades of grass growing and hairs falling from your head, to earthquakes and volcanoes. His nature is to be concealed, and so when He wants something to happen, He uses one of the myriad messengers available to Him.

People tend to sense this concept when they deal with doctors. "Please make this doctor the right messenger form Hashem," they pray with sincere emotion. It must be that life-and-death circumstances bring to mind the control of Hashem over ultimate outcomes. Yet we must accept that everyone and everything is a messenger from Hashem, created and manipulated to bring His will to fruition.

As you go through your day, open your eyes to the fact that you are dealing with Hashem in all that you do. At every turn, His messengers are delivering messages to you. Yes, the doctor is a messenger from Hashem, but so are the plumber and the airline pilot. It takes a reality check to start looking past the apparent to the reality of Hashem's Divine Providence and control. (One Minute With Yourself - Rabbi Raymond Beyda)

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A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

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