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JANUARY 2-3, 2003 9 TEBET 5764

The Fast of Asarah B'Tebet will be on Sunday, January 4.

Pop Quiz: Who told Ya'akob that Yosef was still alive?


"And Joseph gave them wagons by Pharaoh's word" (Beresheet 45:21)

After Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, he urges them to return home and bring their father and families to Egypt, where they will be able to live in safety and security. Jacob was destined, by Divine decree, to leave the land of Canaan and go to Egypt. Originally, the decree was that he was to be brought in iron chains. However, this decree was changed because of the great merit of Jacob. He was brought to Egypt in the royal wagon that his son Joseph sent him.

Rabbi R. Pelcowitz asks an insightful question. At what price did Jacob come to Egypt in such style? Was it worth the 22 years of anguish he endured when he and his son Joseph separated, and the leaving of the Divine spirit from him? Was it worthwhile for Joseph to be sold as a slave and spend all those years in a dungeon so that his father could come to Egypt in these royal wagons? After all, it was only approximately a ten day journey to Egypt. Did it necessitate such style?

We can be sure that it wasn't the luxury that was important. It had to do with the frame of mind and the attitude of the family of Jacob. It was destined for this family to become slaves. It is only natural for slaves to feel inferior to their masters. If they would have gone down in chains, they would have gone down with a slave mentality. They would have quickly adopted the culture of the "master-race" right away. However, coming down in style with their dignity and self-respect intact, they would be able to retain their feeling of self-worth. They could withstand the pressures of that society and remain as proud Jews.

A true story: Once two Israelis were traveling through Scotland and stopped at a local inn. When they were seated at a table in the inn, they looked over the menu, and ordered a meal. As the non-Jewish proprietor set their dinner in front of them, he asked, "Do you mean to tell me that you people have suffered for 2,000 years just so you could eat the same food we do?"

Ouch! That one really hurt. But, we can say that this is what our long exile is all about. Some downright stubborn pride will go a long way to end our exile with success. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah


"Yisrael journeyed with all that he had, and he came to Be'er-Sheba" (Beresheet 46:1)

The decision to travel to Egypt had been made, but before embarking on the journey, Ya'akob first detoured to Be'er-Sheba. The Midrash explains that he cut down the cedar trees which his grandfather, Abraham, had planted, and carried them with him to Egypt. This act was the product of a prophetic vision in which he foresaw his descendants later needing the cedar wood for the building of the Mishkan. What is the significance of Ya'akob's detour, and what lesson may be derived?

When Ya'akob heard the incredible news that Yosef was still alive and had attained a significant position in Egypt's hierarchy, he was cautious in responding. Should he immediately depart for Egypt with his family, forsaking the security of his homeland for a foreign country? Even in the sheltered environment of his home, he almost tragically lost a daughter. How could he protect his family from the negative influences of the immoral Egyptian society? On his way to Egypt, he paused in Be'er-Sheba to take the trees which his grandfather had planted for the building of the Mishkan. The whole family waited while Ya'akob interrupted his journey to chop down the trees. These were no ordinary trees, however. These were going to serve as the foundation for the spiritual center of the future. By maintaining his relationship with the past and simultaneously building this past heritage into the future, he would be able to withstand the uncertainty of the future. Unless the spiritual life of today is rooted in the seedlings planted by our previous generations, they might also be swept away by the winds of change and assimilation. This was Ya'akob's message to his children. The strong cedar trees which our ancestors planted must be integrated into the edifices of the future. (Peninim on the Torah)


"Pharaoh said to Jacob, 'How many are the days of your life?' And Jacob said to Pharaoh, '...few and evil have been the days of my life.'" (Beresheet 47:8-9)

The Midrash comments that Hashem reprimanded Ya'akob for complaining about the evil that had befallen him during his lifetime. Indeed, he had suffered harshly, but Hashem's "intervention" always catalyzed a favorable outcome. Hashem, therefore, punished Ya'akob by shortening his life-span 33 years, corresponding to the 33 words of complaint which he had uttered. Instead of living to the age of one hundred and eighty years like his father Yitzhak, he died at the age of one hundred and forty-seven. If one looks at the text, it is obvious that the thirty-three words also include Pharaoh's inquiry regarding Ya'akob's age. Why should Ya'akob be reprimanded for Pharaoh's innocent question? We may suggest that it was Ya'akob's appearance that prompted Pharaoh to inquire his age. Indeed, Ya'akob suffered greatly throughout his life. There was hardly a moment that was not filled with strife and anguish. Undoubtedly, traumatic situations take their physical toll on a person. These crises, however, affect a person only as long as he becomes emotionally involved in them. The great Patriarch Ya'akob, who had reached a sublime level of spiritual devotion, should not have allowed these circumstances to affect his physical appearance. Inasmuch as his appearance prompted Pharaoh's inquiry, he was punished. (Peninim on the Torah)


Question: Why does the oleh say, "Barechu" ("bless," as if to direct others to do so and not to include himself,) before an aliyah, yet in zimmun prior to Bircat Hamazon, the leader says, "nebarech" ("let us bless"), including himself?

Answer: Since the oleh says, "Barechu et Hashem Hameborach," (bless G-d who is blessed), he shows that he is joining in the blessing. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


"It was not you who sent me here; it was Hashem." (Beresheet 45:8)

At one time or another, everyone has been hurt, whether by words or actions, by another person. If that person realized his misdeed and felt regret, he may have approached the victim and offered his apology. The victim may or may not have forgiven the guilty party. Our Sages teach that it is a praiseworthy trait to forgive anyone who has done you harm. There are two ways that someone may accept an apology. One would be to say, "I accept your apology but you should know that you really hurt me." In other words, he's actually saying, "I'll be a big man and forgive you, but I want you to feel guilty about this forever." Obviously, this is not the type of forgiveness that the Rabbis were praising. The correct way would be to say, "There was no harm done. All is forgiven." This shows that you forgive him with a full heart and hold no grudges.

We see that when Yosef forgave his brothers, he did everything he could to make them feel better. He told them, "You didn't really send me to Egypt. Hashem arranged it all. There is no need for you to feel guilty for what you did." When we act in this way toward our fellow man, we can hope that Hashem will be as forgiving to us.

Question: When someone apologizes to you, do you make an extra effort to put him at ease so that he doesn't continue to feel guilty? When you apologize to someone, how does it make you feel when you only get a half-hearted forgiveness?


This week's Haftarah: Yehezkel 37:15-28.

In this haftarah, the prophet Yehezkel, who witnessed the destruction of the First Bet Hamikdash, speaks about the future reunification of the twelve tribes. The Jewish nation had been divided to two separate kingdoms, Judah (together with Binyamin) and Israel (the Ten Tribes led by the tribe of Efrayim, descendants of Yosef). This is similar to our perashah in which Yosef and Yehudah confront one another, which leads to the reunification of the brothers.

Answer to Pop Quiz: Serah, the daughter of Asher.

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