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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


It happened at the end of two years to the day. (41:1)

It took an additional two years after the release of the Chamberlain of the Cupbearer before Yosef was finally remembered. Chazal attribute this to a breach of bitachon, trust, on Yosef's part. Because he placed his trust in a man, rather than in Hashem Himself, his prison sentence was increased by two years, consistent with the two times he asked the chamberlain to remember him. Let us attempt to understand Yosef's rationale. He was incarcerated in a filthy prison, a place certainly not conducive to spiritual and moral growth. He wished to be released so that he could continue his spiritual ascension, to return home and continue studying Torah with his father. Thus, his attempts to gain freedom were, from his point of view, mitzvah-oriented - certainly, not a sin. Furthermore, why do Chazal say that he was wrong in twice requesting of the chamberlain that he remember him? If the first request was acceptable, why was the second request considered a sin?

There is a noteworthy discourse from the Alter, zl, m'Novardhok, Horav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz, zl, on the paths towards building bitachon, trust, in Hashem, which sheds light on Yosef's error. He first explains that internalizing the attribute of bitachon accrues to two benefits. First, one who trusts in Hashem is freed from all of the troubles of the world. He is spared the emotional upheaval and fragmentation that result from worry and concern, from overly intense involvement in worldly issues. He is relaxed, calm, content. He no longer needs to flatter, seek to gain favor, or sell himself for the proverbial bowl of red lentils. The man who has acquired bitachon can ignore life's problems, for he knows that he will not want. He trusts Hashem. He walks securely, not fearing what tomorrow will bring, for as long as he relies on Hashem, his needs will be addressed.

Second, in addition to the direct benefits he has gained, he has also acquired the habit of bitachon, a constructive course in life. The direction that one has in this world is even more valuable than the benefits to which it leads. Indeed, the advantages and benefits gained through bitachon are only barometers of its supreme value, and by no means its only measure. This habit becomes a way of life, with bitachon his shadow.

The Alter explains that there are two obstacles to man's quest for spiritual growth. Veritably, these obstacles are incongruous with one another. On the one hand, we are told in Sefer Mishlei (24:16), "The righteous will fall seven times and rise up again." Yet, we learn in the Talmud Yoma 86a that when one commits a sin and repeats it, it becomes to him as something which is permitted. The resolution to this contradiction is to be found in yet another source. Chazal say in the Talmud Berachos 19a, "If you see a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, commit a sin at night, do not think badly of him the next day, for surely he has repented." The specific terminology used here clarifies our discrepancy. A talmid chacham is translated literally as a "student of the wise." He is still experimenting with various approaches to the Divine. He is a student who is searching, grappling with issues, looking for his way in life. At times, he might even unintentionally stumble, because he is a sincere seeker of the truth, so that he might err in his search. His fall, however, is a learning experience. He immediately rises, dusts himself off, and goes on. Every blunder becomes a guiding light which furthers his mission. Each failing is an opportunity for change and growth.

A serious student will not allow himself to fall twice. This is not true of the individual who considers himself no longer a student. He sees himself as being a "wise man" who will continue on his chosen path, regardless of the obstacles and how often he falls. He knows better. Rigid and set in his ways, he will not deviate from his decision. For such a person, each failing becomes a greater obscurity, each error diverting him from following the correct course. In fact, he is so committed to the correctness of his position that he will denigrate anyone who disagrees with him and praise those who follow in his ways. The more he repeats his error, the more permissible it becomes in his eyes.

Yosef's error lay not in his initial request, but in repeating it. He erred, and then he repeated his mistake. He had the opportunity to realize that a baal bitachon, one who trusts in Hashem, does not ask man for assistance. Yet, he asked again. Therein lay his fault and failing.

Why was it inappropriate for Yosef to be mishtadel, endeavor, to help himself? Do we not all do just that? There are many levels of trust in Hashem. Yosef stood on a very high plane in this respect. When Yosef was sent by his father to search for his brothers, the Angel indicated to Yosef that his brothers were scheming against him (Rashi, Bereishis 37:17). Yosef, however, was resolute in his faith and maintained his unequivocal trust in Hashem, so he went to them. When Potifar's wife attempted to seduce him, he did not rely on his spiritual immunity. He ran from the house. He did not think of the future; he did not care. He was at risk in the present. One who has achieved such a lofty plateau is judged accordingly. Great demands are made upon such a person. It all goes with the territory.

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

Yosef's response to Pharaoh was an inherently Jewish response. Indeed, his response epitomized the way a Jew should act. Yosef was locked up in a dungeon with little hope of release. He was in a strange country, in a pagan nation which was governed by an egotistical king. The king had an ambiguous dream, which no one was able to interpret to his satisfaction. Suddenly, Yosef was taken from prison, shaved, cleaned up and dressed in finery and presented before the king as the one man who could shed light on his dream. Everybody looked at Yosef. This is the type of moment that dreams are made of. His destiny was in his own hands. He could have taken all of the credit. After all, he was in a country where such a response would not only have been acceptable, it would have been lauded! This was not Yosef. He took no credit for himself. He eschewed any praise that came his way, "That is beyond me. It is all Hashem." Why did he do this?

Yosef acted like a Jew - or at least the way a Jew should act. In fact, this is what distinguishes the Jew from all other people: his humility, his ability to attribute everything to the Almighty. The Jewish people are compared to the moon. The moon does not have its own ability to illuminate. It reflects light from the sun. So, too, the Jewish people do not take credit for their success. They attribute it all to Hashem. Their wisdom, intelligence, wealth, life, health: everything is from Hashem. Avraham Avinu viewed himself as dust. Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon said, "What are we?" David Hamelech compared himself to a lowly worm. In contrast, the pagan kings, Eisav, Pharaoh, Nevuchadnezer, Chirom, Alexander the Great, and the Christian god all claimed divinity; they all demanded reverence; they all pontificated.

We only have to peruse history to note this glaring distinction between our people, our leaders, our tzaddikim, righteous and pious people, and their counterparts among the nations of the world. Yaakov received Hashem's kindness, and he felt diminished by it. He did not consider himself to be deserving. This does not seem to be the nature of the nations of the world. There are givers and takers, and there are those who, when they take, feel indebted beyond words. This approach characterizes the Jewish way.

They turned trembling one to another, saying, "What is this that G-d has done to us?" (42:28)

There is a fascinating Midrash on this pasuk which conveys a powerful message. After the sudden death of Rabbi Simon, Rabbi Levi commented, "The Shevatim, Tribes/brothers, made a discovery of something of value, yet they trembled. We, who have lost so much, how much more should we tremble." The Midrash is teaching the way a Jew should think and view life. The brothers opened up their sacks and discovered money. Nevertheless, they were in a state of fear, because it is uncommon to have money returned after it is spent. Certainly, Hashem was demanding something of them. He was talking to them. What did He want? These were the questions they asked. This should be the Jew's reaction to every gift that he receives from Hashem. There is no such thing as luck or coincidence. Hashem does everything with a purpose. We have to search for that purpose. Perhaps it is a test: Will he thank Hashem? Will he spend the money prudently? If this is how we should react to a gift, how much more so should our reaction to misfortune be thought out with concern? "What does Hashem demand of me?" should be our first reflection.

Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, goes one step further. No human being can possibly fathom Hashem's reasoning. When the brothers noted that the viceroy, who had originally acted harshly towards them, was now returning their money, they understood that something was brewing. This does not happen without a reason. What does Hashem want of them? Likewise, when a brilliant Torah scholar such as Rabbi Simon was suddenly plucked away in the bloom of his youth, there had to be a serious reason, but Hashem's ways and His rationale are hidden from man. We have no clue why Hashem does what He does. Thus, just as the Shevatim had no idea why the money was returned, why Hashem was doing this to them, so, too, could the reason for Rabbi Simon's sudden death not be discerned. Hashem decided; we must accept His decision with trepidation and awe.

Rav Shternbuch suggests that this is the underlying meaning of the words of consolation which we say to a mourner, Hamakom, yenacheim eschem, b'soch shaar aveilei Tzion v'Yerushalayim. "The Makom/Almighty should comfort you among the other mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim." Just as it is impossible for us to understand why, throughout the course of history, the Jews have been subject to cruel persecution: to death under the most heinous circumstances; with the greatest and most righteous suffering unspeakable horrors; in which tender, young children died under the most brutal conditions. Similarly, it is beyond our grasp as human beings to understand the current death of a loved one. Our only consolation is that it is a direct action of the Almighty, whose rationale is just and whose reasoning is peerless, but, nonetheless, beyond our comprehension.

And Yehudah said to Yisrael, his father, "Send the lad with me… that we may live, and not die, both we and you and also our little ones." (43:8)

The emphasis of Yehudah's concern seems to be misplaced. He first expressed his concern regarding himself and his brothers, followed by his concern for his father, and only in conclusion does he express his distress for the imminent danger facing the young children. Is this the way a human being, let alone a Torah leader, should act? His primary focus should have been the children, and only then should he have dealt with the hunger's effect on the adult members.

Menachem Tzion suggests that Yehudah was acting practically, in a manner befitting a Torah leader. He understood that as the food supply depleted and the food had to be rationed, the first to give up their portions would be the able-bodied men. Thus, Yehudah and his brothers were the ones who were destined to succumb to the famine before anyone else. Afterwards, Yaakov Avinu, the elderly Patriarch would have to make the ultimate sacrifice in deference to the young children. Last, the children would become victims of the famine.

Yehudah understood that the hunger would progress downward, from him and his brothers, to his father, and, last, to the young children. His concern was certainly not misplaced.

I will personally guarantee him; of my own hand you can demand him. (43:9)

Yehudah offered to serve as guarantor for Binyamin's safe return from Egypt. The idea of arvus, whereby one serves as the responsible party in addition to the borrower, is viewed by Chazal as being rooted in Yehudah's affirmative action. Yaakov Avinu feared sending Binyamin to Egypt. Yehudah came forward and said, miyadi tevakshenu, "of my own hand you can demand him." When we think about it, Yehudah's acceptance of responsibility neither makes sense nor can it be compared to a standard case of arvus. A guarantor assumes the responsibility to pay back the loan if for some reason the borrower does not - or cannot - repay it. The lender lends the borrower money based upon this assumption. In Yehudah's case, the situation was different. In the event something happened to Binyamin, Yehudah could do nothing about it. If Binyamin was gone - he was gone -and nothing Yehudah could do would bring him back. How then is Yehudah an areiv, guarantor, in the classic sense of the word?

Apparently, arvus has a different connotation. It has been the assumption that a guarantor takes on the responsibility to repay the loan if the borrower does not. The actual concern to see that the loan is repaid is the sole responsibility of the borrower. The guarantor enters the picture only when, and if, the borrower leaves the scene. We see from Yehudah a new perspective on arvus. A guarantor is responsible from the minute the loan takes place. He must see to it that the loan is paid, or else he must pay it. Daagah, concern, is his responsibility. Veritably, if Binyamin suffered a mishap, Yehudah could do nothing about it. Binyamin would be gone. Yehudah could not reproduce him. Yaakov acquiesced to sending Binyamin, because Yehudah took responsibility for his safe return. Yaakov knew that Yehudah would do everything within his power to see to it that Binyamin returned safely.

Arvus means accepting responsibility, being concerned, caring all of the time. Horav Yerachmiel Krom, Shlita, derives from here a new dimension in the famous Rabbinic dictum of Kol Yisrael areivim zeh la'zeh, "All Jews are responsible for one another." This means that just as I am obligated to put on Tefillin, shake a Lulav, and eat Matzah, so, too, am I responsible to see that my fellow Jew does the same. It is my concern, my responsibility, my obligation as a Jew. If my fellow Jew does not put on Tefillin, I cannot do it for him. Thus, my responsibility extends to seeing to it that he fulfills the mitzvah. I must worry and concern myself constantly about his spiritual welfare. I can no longer wash my hands and say, "I fulfilled the mitzvah." My responsibility extends beyond myself. I am an areiv, guarantor, for my fellow Jew.

They approached the man who was in charge of Yosef's house. (43:19)

Chazal tell us that "the man who was in charge of Yosef's house" was none other than his son, Menashe. Let us for a moment attempt to put ourselves in Menashe's shoes. He was acutely aware that the people with whom he was dealing were his father's brothers, his uncles. What must have gone through his mind when he saw his father act toward them as a stranger, accusing them of being spies, and then incarcerating Shimon? Menashe was instructed to strike and imprison Shimon. He was the one who was told by his father to place the silver coins in each brother's sack. What did he think then? The turning point was when his father instructed him to place the silver cup in Binyamin's sack. Certainly, he knew that his father was preparing a libel against his unsuspecting uncles. Was he not bothered by his father's actions?

The Torah informs us that, "He followed Yosef's word exactly" (Bereishis 44:2). Apparently, Menashe followed his father's orders, despite their questionable nature, to the letter. How? The Maharil Diskin, zl, explains that one thing - and only one thing - went through Menashe's mind: My father is greater and wiser than I am. He is more righteous and more holy than I. He knows exactly what he is doing. My function is to follow orders, to obey my father's command - no more, no less. What a powerful lesson for us to digest. There is such a concept as daas Torah, the wisdom that emanates from the Torah. One who is erudite in Torah law, who has absorbed its lessons both halachic and ethical, who reflects everything that Torah teaches us, has the ability to render an incisive decision regarding all facets of life. There are times when we do not understand or agree with the decision expounded by our Torah leaders, but our function is to listen and carry out their command. They represent the foundation of Torah. To question them is to question the Shechinah.

Certainly, Menashe was bothered by some of the things he saw, but he would never question his father. Yosef embodied the Torah, and one does not question the Torah.

Va'ani Tefillah

miBinyan Av mikasuv echad u'miBinyan Av mishnei kesuvim.

Through a general principal derived from one pasuk, or from a general principal derived from two pesukim.

A Binyan Av is a general principle. This may be derived from either one or two pesukim. For example, the Torah in Devarim 19:15 states, Lo yakum eid echad b'ish, "A single witness shall not stand up against any man." From the fact that the word echad, one, is affixed to the word eid, witness, we derive a binyan Av, that whenever the word eid is written without the echad affixed to it the word no longer denotes "witness" but "testimony," which must be based on the "testimony" of two witnesses. In other words, whenever the Torah writes the word eid, it denotes the testimony of two witnesses - unless it specifically writes eid echad, a single witness.

Another example of Binyan Av is the hekesh, comparison, of a mah matzinu, "What do we find?" When a general principle is derived from a pasuk, it is applied to all cases that are similar. For instance, the Torah prohibits marrying one's maternal half-sister. This Binyan Av enjoins that the prohibition against marrying one's father's sister applies to his father's maternal half-sister, as well.

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