Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Yosef answered Pharaoh saying, "That is beyond me; it is G-d Who will respond with Pharaoh's welfare." (41:16)

Yosef was quiet and unassuming, taking no credit for himself. He ascribed whatever powers he may have manifest to He Who is the source of all power - Hashem. Daniel was also endowed with great powers. He attributed all of his powers to Hashem. The Midrash cites the pasuk in Shmuel (1:2:30), Es mechabdai achabeid, "Those that honor Me I will honor," as applying to such people as Yosef and Daniel, who understood that whatever they achieved was through the kindness of Hashem. The character trait of anavah, humility, is an attribute found most often in those that are truly great individuals. Their sense of justice and integrity does not permit them to believe for one moment that they possess their own power to achieve. Whatever they accomplish reflects the will of Hashem. They never call attention to themselves, because they consider themselves to be nothing more than a vehicle for glorifying Hashem's Name.

There were great people who exemplified this character trait. The Alter zl, m'Slobodka, Horav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, was an educator without peer. He was fluent in every Chazal, understanding the profundities of their most difficult axioms. He never wrote a sefer, a volume of novellae. He would comment, "My life is my book."

Horav Meir Chodosh, zl, the Mashgiach par excellance, was a master of self-containment and silence. Yet, he was Rebbe and mentor to thousands from different walks of life. He taught the greatness of man. To teach gadlus ha'adam, the greatness of man, however, one must himself be a great man, a man of impeccable nobility and ethical perfection, one who lives life with perfect equanimity.

Rav Meir Chodosh lived his entire life with such conviction. He radiated tranquility, but he was sensitive to the needs of all those with whom he came in contact. Nothing seemed to bother him; he was serving Hashem. On his last day on earth, the doctor came to his house and asked him, "Rebbe, where does it hurt?"

"It does not hurt," replied Rav Meir.

"Rebbe, what is not right?" the doctor queried.

"Everything is all right," was Rav Meir's response.

"What is not comfortable?" the doctor tried again.

"I am comfortable," Rav Meir answered.

And so, comfortable, quiet, all right and calm, Rav Meir returned his soul to his Maker. He died as he had lived - quietly, not calling attention to himself. He was a biladi mench, everything came from the Almighty. He was just the medium. This is the attitude of great people. Indeed, the greater they are, the less they think of themselves. Horav Avraham Yitzchak Kohn, zl, the Toldos Aharon Rebbe of Yerushalayim, was such an individual. His incredible love for every Jew manifested itself in his self-effacing character. Gadlus ha'adam was a way of life for him. He saw immeasurable greatness in every person to the point that he felt himself subservient to them. As his health deteriorated, his doctor insisted that the Rebbe adopt a change of pace and accept a regimen of rest. He would, therefore, go for a stroll every day in the company of his attendant. One day, as they were walking down the street, a huge truck pulled up and the driver respectfully asked the Rebbe if he could offer him a ride.

Rav Avraham Yitzchak was overwhelmed with the gesture. The driver was obviously not an observant Jew, while the Rebbe was dressed in the ultra-religious garb of a Yerushalmi. Yet, the driver had overlooked the differences between the two. His inner feeling to perform a kindness, and the Rebbe's outstanding love for another Jew, overcame the differences between them.

The Rebbe, motivated by a powerful emotion to recognize the goodness of another Jew despite his spiritual shortcomings, accepted the offer and ascended to the truck's cab. As the Rebbe was about to get up on the truck, his attendant realized that this was no mere truck - it was actually a garbage truck. He begged the Rebbe not to go, as this form of transportation was far from dignified, especially for an individual as distinguished as the Toldos Aharon Rebbe.

The attendant approached the driver and explained that the Rebbe's stroll was for medical reasons and, thus, a ride on the truck would not be serving his best interests. The driver was visibly disappointed. He had wanted so much to perform a kindness for the Rebbe.

After the driver drove off, the attendant brought to the Rebbe's attention the irony that this was a garbage truck, and how ludicrous it would appear to see the great Toldos Aharon Rebbe driving around Yerushalayim in a garbage truck.

The Rebbe's reply defines his essence and demonstrates his distinction, "The moment the driver halted and offered me a ride, I immediately noticed he was driving a garbage truck. When I think about it, I think it is truly a pity that we declined his offer. If a Jew wishes to perform a kindness for another Jew, why should I deprive him of it as a result of personal reasons of pride and vanity?"

We should ask ourselves a question: How many of us would have a similar feeling of regret?

Suddenly, seven other cows emerged after them - scrawny and of very inferior form and of emaciated flesh. (41:19)

When one peruses the text carefully, we note that in Pharaoh's dream he saw cows that were, raos mareh v'raos basar, "ugly appearance and gaunt flesh." The word dalos, scrawny, does not appear in the text. Yet, when Yosef repeated the dream in order to render his interpretation, he clearly mentioned the fact that the cows were scrawny. This seems to be Pharaoh's own rendition of the image he saw. What was Pharaoh attempting to prove? The Beis HaLevi explains that this was Pharaoh's test to determine whether Yosef was truly Divinely inspired or simply a bright person who had a talent for interpreting dreams.

Yosef, however, had a more profound understanding of the situation. He was acutely aware that the Egyptian magicians lacked the ability to interpret the dreams correctly because they were missing one detail, a detail that served as the key to understanding the dream. There was a hidden secret that eluded the magicians without which the dream could not have been interpreted.

How was Yosef to uncover this key? He understood that the key to the dream would be provided by Pharaoh himself. Specifically, the one word that Pharaoh added to throw Yosef off the track in itself served as the key towards interpreting the dream. Yosef knew Hashem's ways. He delivers salvation through the hands of the enemy. What greater demonstration of Hashem's control than to manipulate the enemy, so that he becomes the medium for salvation?

As soon as Pharaoh uttered the word dalos, scrawny, Yosef knew that the dream revolved around grain. This is consistent with Chazal's axiom in the Talmud Bava Metzia 59a, "Klal Yisrael is referred to as dalim, poor, because of its relation to grain." Now it all became clear to Yosef. The dream was about a shortage of grain - a famine. This teaches us, says the Bais HaLevi, that one should always place his trust in Hashem, even when he see that the person he once trusted is now trying to harm him. Everything has its source in Hashem, and this instance is no different. It is for a purpose and for a reason. Be patient. Trust in Hashem, and things will work out.

Yosef called the name of his firstborn Menasheh, for "G-d has made me forget all my hardship and all my father's household." (41:51)

It seems enigmatic that Yosef would praise the Almighty for helping him forget his past. On the contrary, one would think that Yosef would do everything in his power to remember his roots, his home and his family. True, there might have been some negative aspects to his memories, but, for the most part, his spiritual foundation had its genesis in that home that he was now trying to forget. What did he mean? The Netziv, zl, gives a practical explanation. Yosef missed his father. He had an overwhelming love for Yaakov Avinu. Had the memories played an active role in his mind, they would have wreaked havoc on his ability to maintain a clear mind when running the country. The viceroy of Egypt, upon whom the management of providing for millions of hungry people relied, could not afford the luxury of falling apart while he was thinking of home. Thus, by making him forget his past, Hashem was helping him.

Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, takes a different approach, one that also conveys a very practical message. Yaakov Avinu raised Yosef in a specific milieu, with a singular goal and mission in mind for his special son. He was to be a kadosh v'tahor, holy and pure, totally divested of the frivolity of this world. The material and the mundane were to be far-removed from Yosef's focus. He was a tzaddik destined to become the gadol ha'dor, preeminent Torah leader of his generation.

Hashem had other plans for Yosef, as demonstrated by his rescue from prison to stand before Pharaoh as the future leader of the world. Yosef was to be the viceroy - not the gadol. This would necessitate a complete revocation of his past, a past which demanded a life of isolation from the material focus of this world. Yaakov's aspirations for Yosef and the reality that Hashem created for him did not coincide. When Yosef realized that Hashem's goals for him were not consistent with the way he was raised, he had no second thoughts. Hashem needed him for a specific purpose. Therefore, he praised Him for allowing him to forget his past, so that it would not lay like a heavy stone on his heart. "Oy, what I could have been!" True, you could have been - but Hashem selected you for another mission.

Rav Shternbuch observes that there is a powerful lesson to be derived from this pasuk. At times, a great person sees that Hashem is steering his life towards a new mission: to guide and direct the community. It takes time away from his learning, teaching and personal spiritual development. Hashem, however, has selected him for another task. He must do what is asked of him with no regrets regarding his personal development. Apparently, Hashem views his life from a different perspective. Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, gives a similar explanation to a statement made by Rabbi Yochanan, who said that he awaited the advent of Moshiach, but not the accompanying chevlei Moshiach, pangs of Moshiach, a reference to the various tzaros, troubles, that will befall the Jewish People prior to his coming. This statement is hardly consistent with the type of personality that characterized Rabbi Yochanan, a man who had buried ten sons. This was a person to whom tragedy and pain were no stranger. Why was he so afraid of confronting chevlei Moshiach? Rav Elya explains that Rabbi Yochanan knew himself well. He understood that he could not tolerate the enormous chilul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name, that would occur as a result of the victims of myriads of Jews who would suffer wholesale slaughter. He could not handle the way the Jewish apostates openly flaunted their derision and disdain for everything Jewish. It was not the pain that he could not endure. Rabbi Yochanan could not sustain the pain and anguish that constituted chevlei Moshiach. He could not tolerate seeing Jews in excruciating agony and torture, and he could not sit back while Hashem's Name was being profaned by vile degenerates. Yosef certainly was aware of his father's anguish concerning the loss of his beloved son. The love that existed between Yosef and his father was inextricable. One can only imagine the incredible pain and torment, the overwhelming mental anguish, that must have plagued Yosef. It would have driven a lesser person to the point of insanity, or, at least, to a point where they could not have functioned normally. Yet, Yosef knew full well the underlying message in Pharaoh's dream, the ensuing famine which would serve as the catalyst for his family to descend to Egypt, thereby setting the foundation for the Egyptian exile. Therefore, he understood that he had a function to execute as the Egyptian viceroy. For a lesser person, it would have been impossible. Hashem, however, gave Yosef the ability to forget his past, to put aside his memories, so that he could address the present and build for the future. The gift of forgetfulness enabled him to fulfill his role. Rav Shternbuch concludes with the thought that every baal teshuvah, penitent who returns to Jewish observance, should first forget his past and focus completely on the future. What occurred in the past can only bog him down. He must go forward and think only of the future, to build a home that adheres to Torah and mitzvos, the performance of good deeds and acts of loving kindness.

But Yosef said to them, "It is just as I have declared to you: You are spies!" (42:14)

Horav David zl, m'Lelov observes that redemption does not occur for a community until the members recognize their shortcomings and take action to correct them. The same idea applies to an individual. As long as people blame other people's deficiencies, and not their own, as long as they place the onus of guilt on everyone but themselves, they will be unable to take the corrective actions which would facilitate redemption. Thus, they will not succeed in achieving salvation. We derive this from the narrative concerning Yosef and his brothers' meeting. As long as the brothers proclaimed their innocence, Keinim anachnu, "We are innocent;" we have done no wrong, we have no regrets, (ibid. 42:12) they were not fit for redemption. On the contrary, we see that Yosef spoke harshly to them, referring to them as spies. It is only after they confessed and said, Aval asheimim anachnu, "Indeed, we are guilty concerning our brother," (ibid.42:21) that we find that, "He (Yosef) turned away from them and wept." (ibid.42:24) When the brothers expressed their regret, when they realized that they could be at fault, Hashem caused Yosef''s brotherly love to be reignited, so that their reunification began to take root.

When people are involved in a dispute, each one standing firm in his own opinion, when an individual errs and does not see or is not willing to accept the fact that he might be wrong, there is no hope. Only when the individual is not so wrapped up in himself that he does not see the other person's position can there be an end to controversy and a beginning of salvation.

They rent their garments. (44:13)

The Midrash teaches us an intriguing lesson: nothing is left unremitted; whatever a person does, however subtle it may or may not be, he will be called to task for it. The brothers caused Yaakov Avinu to tear his garments; Hashem recompensated them by compelling them to rent their garments when Binyamin was being taken away from them. The Midrash continues: Yosef caused the brothers to tear their garments. Therefore, his grandson Yehoshua, many years later, was forced to tear his garments. Binyamin was the cause for his brothers to tear their garments. Therefore, his grandson, Mordechai, tore his garments in Shushan over Haman's evil decree. Menashe caused the brothers to tear their garments. This later resulted in the split of his tribe's land between Eretz Yisrael and Ever HaYarden.

Three things caused the brothers to tear their clothes: Yosef issued the command to place the silver goblet in Binyamin's knapsack; Menashe chased after the brothers at his father's behest; Binyamin was the one in whose knapsack the goblet was discovered. Three people, three actions, three distinct punishments: each was commensurate with the degree of sin.

When a punishment takes place against a community, a family, or an individual, who would ever assume that there is a hidden agenda, perhaps hundreds of years old, that had to be rectified? Chazal are teaching us that such is the case. We do not understand the rationale behind what occurs because we are unaware of various components that comprised the decision. Mordechai cried bitterly in Shushan. Chazal tell us this was a reimbursement to Eisav for his tears at losing the berachos, blessings, to Yaakov. Hashem always pays his debts. At times, it takes awhile. This gives us a new perspective on reward and punishment. What appears to be enigmatic is really very clear and rational. It just depends on the perspective.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'tatzileinu…mei'ayin hora - And save me from an evil eye.

There are those who hurt others unknowingly and without malice. In fact, they do not realize the effect their thoughts concerning another Jew can have on the fortunes of others. This is the idea behind an evil eye. While optimally it should not occur, people are envious of others. Thus, one who displays his success in the presence of others who are envious, might well be incurring the effects of an evil eye upon himself. The envious person wonders to himself, "Why should he have everything? I work so hard, and he receives the good fortune." While it might be innocuous, this type of emotion constitutes a "complaint" addressed to the Heavenly Tribunal. Chazal teach us that a person is judged all of the time. A person may have his positive and negative deeds in an even balance, and a good word spoken on his behalf can make a difference. Likewise, a "complaint" can bring him down negatively, tipping the scale against him. Since none of us knows where we stand before the Almighty, we ask Him to protect us from the ill effects of those who would unknowingly hurt us as a result of their petty envy.

Dedicated in memory of
William Moskowitz a"h
Betty Moskowitz a"h
by their children
Rona and Robert Kantor
Marvin Moskowitz

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel