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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

Horav Meir, zl, m'Premishlan, related that his father had once experienced aliyas neshamah, during which his holy soul took leave of its physical container and ascended into the Heavenly sphere. He "noticed" that two "people" were being brought into Heaven; one was quite young, while the other appeared to be very old. Strangely, in Heaven, they referred to the young man as a senior citizen, while, concerning the old man, the converse was true. His father questioned this. After all, this is the Olam Ha'Emes, World of Truth. One's age should be registered in accordance with his biological journey on earth. If he had spent eighty years in this world, he should be treated accordingly.

The response that he received should frighten all of us, and serve as a wake-up call to the living concerning the meaning of life - as viewed through the Heavenly lens. He was told that, veritably, the youth had achieved so much in his life, both in Torah erudition and action. He was young in years, but old in achievement. In Heaven, this is what matters. Living a life of eighty years, during which his achievements are minimal, categorizes the individual as a young man. It is not how long one lives; it is how one spends his life and how full of achievement his life is. The famous World War II General, Douglas MacArthur, once quipped, "There are people who die at the age of thirty, but are not buried until they are seventy years old."

How true this is. People go through life just watching the grass grow; having no idea that life on this world is for doing, achieving, building, assisting others. Sitting around and either feeling sorry for oneself, or feeling good about oneself but doing nothing to earn his space in this world, is wasting his life.

Rav Meir employed this idea in his interpretation of the pasuk. Va'yehi mikeitz shenasayim yamim, "A man reaches his keitz, the end of his days on this world." His soul now divests itself of its earthly container and returns home, feeling that it has had a long, fruitful life. Alas, when it arrives in the Olam HaEmes, it is dismayed to discover that of all the years which it has lived is considered only shenasayim yamim, two years. Heaven has a different view of "time lived."

So Yaakov said to his sons, "Why do you make yourselves conspicuous?" (42:1)

In the Talmud Taanis 10b (cited by Rashi), Chazal explain Yaakov Avinu's words. Being in possession of grain when the whole countryside is starving would catalyze envy and ill will on the part of the descendants of Yishmael and Eisav who were the neighbors of Yaakov and his family. Yaakov Avinu's rhetorical question has been the motif of many Jewish leaders who admonish their fellow Jews not to shtech ois di oigen, "pierce the eyes of their gentile neighbors," by flaunting their good fortune. Regrettably, the theme has not been exhausted over time, as the issue has demanded constant reiteration.

This idea applies whenever one's actions may provoke envy on the part of another fellow. Horav Meir Tzvi Bergman, Shlita, relates that his father-in-law, Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, went out of his way to circumvent any issues of envy. Once, one of his grandchildren gave birth to twin boys. The revered great-grandfather was, of course, asked to be sandek at their brissim. While it is well-known that the custom is not to serve as sandek for two brothers, the Rosh Yeshivah, nonetheless, accepted the role of sandek at both brissim. The reason was so that, when the boys grew up and one would comment to the other that their great-grandfather had been his sandek, the other brother would not feel a sense of jealousy. This indicates the sensitivity of the esteemed Rosh Yeshivah.

The Steipler Gaon, zl, writes that if one seeks to be successful in an endeavor, he should conceal both himself and the endeavor as much as possible. Notoriety causes envy; envy causes an ayin hora, evil eye, which can lead to lack of success. It is related in the name of Horav Shlomo Zvihil, zl, that he was acutely aware that once he became well-known in Yerushalayim, this fame had caused him spiritual damage.

A well-known Torah scholar, who had undergone a number of tribulations, visited with the Steipler to ask his sage advice and to seek his blessing. The Steipler told him, "Your fame is causing you to have these troubles. Everything has its limits, and this will also end shortly." Indeed, the Steipler once attributed a serious bout of illness to the fact that an American Rosh Yeshivah had authored a volume of Torah novella, in which he had cited the Steipler a number of times, using reverential accolades. We must learn to realize that every accolade engenders envy, and envy is a poison we can do without.

All of us, sons of one man are we; we are truthful people; your servants have never been spies. (42:11)

Yosef leveled an excoriating accusation at his brothers, denouncing them as treacherous spies. They responded that they were all sons of one man, as Ramban explains, an individual of eminent standing, whose reputation was well-known. It would not be difficult for Yosef to inquire about him and his family. In other words, they were contending that, since they were distinguished people, all sons of a well-known, eminent person, labeling them as spies was totally out of line. Ramban adds that they were all sent together, because their father did not want to break up the family unit. Understandably, Yaakov Avinu could just as well have sent one or two of his sons with a group of slaves to accompany them. Why did he insist on sending his whole family just to purchase some food? In addition, what about the bitul Torah, wasting time from Torah study, which is inevitable when one is on the road? The mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael, inhabiting the Holy Land, should not be ignored either. Traveling to Egypt in those days was not a hop, skip and jump. It was a journey. Did they all have to go?

Horav Henach Leibowitz, zl, derives from here that Yaakov Avinu viewed the achdus, unity, of his family as superseding the mitzvos of Torah study and yishuv Eretz Yisrael - despite the apparent danger. Yaakov did not want his sons to separate from one another - even for a short while. By remaining together as a family, their love for one another would be complete. This is what the brothers emphasized to Yosef. Our family is unique. We stay together, because that way we remain together. Yaakov was willing to chance danger - both spiritual and physical- but not to break up the family unit. He understood that true success in Torah study and mitzvah observance is predicated upon the foundation of achdus Yisrael.

The Rosh Yeshivah notes that some truly believe that they fulfill the mitzvah of ahavas, love of, Israel, when, in fact, they are far from fulfilling this mitzvah. They expound the importance of achdus, unity, but do not understand its true meaning. These individuals erroneously love the Jewish People as a unit, as an entity. Do they, however, love each and every Jew individually, as well as the unit collectively as a whole? No! They care about Am Yisrael - the nation - the entire unified nation. The mitzvos of Jewish unity and the love for Klal Yisrael begin with our love for every Jew - regardless of religious background, affiliation, personality, etc. If he is a Jew, then we already have reason to care for him. He is one with us. We are all in this together.

They said to one another, "Indeed, we are guilty concerning our brother in as much as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us and we paid no heed." (42:21)

The saga of Yosef HaTzadik and his brothers slowly came to a positive conclusion. The brothers, having descended to Egypt for the purpose of purchasing grain, confronted the Egyptian viceroy, who was really their long-lost brother, Yosef. They were unaware of his true identity, and, after accusation and counter diplomacy, they returned home to bring Binyamin to Egypt. Otherwise, Shimon would have been compelled to establish permanent residence in Egyptian captivity. This would have ultimately catalyzed Yaakov Avinu's descent to Egypt and the commencement of galus Mitzrayim, the Egyptian exile. As we read the narrative, the discerning mind notes Hashem's handprint on the ensuing events. Veritably, the entire course of events was orchestrated by the Almighty, so that Klal Yisrael would end up in Egypt.

A basic question begs elucidation. This question invariably applies to a number of episodes in the Torah. How is it that individuals who play a role in events that have been foretold and are apparently pre-destined to occur, must take responsibility for their actions? After all, it was supposed to happen. Is this not what Hashem wanted?

In his commentary to Bereishis 37:14, Rashi quotes Chazal who say that when Yaakov sent Yosef to visit his brothers, this action was meant to fulfill the prophecy which Avraham Avinu received: Ki ger yiheyeh zarecha, "Your children will be sojourners in a strange land." This comment implies that the entire Yosef ordeal was preordained by Hashem. Yet, when one reads in the Haftorah of Parashas Vayeishev that Klal Yisrael will be punished for "selling a righteous man for money, and a poor man for a pair of shoes," Chazal say this pasuk is a reference to the sale of Yosef by his brothers. Why are they blamed if, in fact, the entire narrative was preordained? This is a hashkafah, philosophical, question which appears a number of times whenever calamities occur. On the one hand, Chazal say (Berachos 35b), "All is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven." In other words, man has free will. He decides how he wants to live. His religious life reflects his personal preference. On the other hand, we certainly believe that Hashem controls the world. How are we to reconcile calamities which are the result of people's actions against the backdrop of Divine guidance? Free will and Divine Providence appear to be two contradictory concepts. Do they work collaboratively or exclusively of one another?

Horav Aharon Soloveitchik, zl, cites a principle from the Baal Nesivos HaMishpat, Horav Yaakov, zl, m'Lissa, in his commentary to Sefer Eichah, entitled Palgei Mayim. Commenting on the pasuk in Eichah 3:38, Mipi Elyon lo seitzei ha'raos v'ha'tov, "From Above neither evil or good emanates." This pasuk, which addresses Divine Providence, has a noticeable anomaly in its text. The word used for evil, ha'raos, is written in the plural, while ha'tov, which refers to good, is written in the singular. Does more evil exist than good? He explains that, actually, we can distinguish two forms of evil and, likewise, two forms of good. There is ethical good and ethical evil, and physical good and physical evil. A man who acts kindly towards others is ethically good. This ethical good is a human action. It is not performed by G-d. Likewise, a person who steals, plunders, or murders is performing ethical evil. This is not G-d acting; it is man. A person who is in good health, who enjoys good experiences, who is wealthy, is experiencing physical good. A person who is in poor health, victimized by poverty and misery, is experiencing physical evil.

When it comes to physical evil, however, the Palgei Mayim draws a distinction. While Hashem does not cause physical evil, He does directly cause physical good. A person who acquires wealth is the direct beneficiary of Hashem's Providence. One who becomes impoverished, however, is not the "victim" of a Divine decree. To recap: Ethical evil and physical evil are consequences of man's actions. Ethical good is the result of man's actions, while physical good results directly from Hashem's decree.

In further elaborating on the difference between physical good and physical evil, the Palgei Mayim explains that, at times, when a person acts inappropriately and performs an ethical evil, Hashem temporarily removes His Hashgachah, protection, from that person. The individual then becomes subject to the destructive forces that are within him and nature in general. An earthquake may strike, causing immense destruction. This is because Hashem has removed His Hashgachah from that location for a split second, allowing the forces of nature to run their course. In other words, without constant Divine Providence over the world, there would be no control over the world; there would be no control over the natural catastrophes. They would occur continually. This might give us some insight into many of the "natural" events that occur which seem "inexplicable."

In the area of human nature, a similar concept applies concerning Hashem's Hashgachah. He prevents the multitude of nefarious forces from executing their evil intentions. We are only aware of the evil doers that have perpetrated their malevolence against others. Numerous others - whose potential to harm is hanging in the balance - are kept in check by Hashem. His constant Hashgachah maintains that the human nature, which is intrinsic to many individuals, never sees the light of day and does not achieve fruition when punishment is deserved. However, the Almighty removes His protection, allowing nature as we know it, to run its course. This particular act of destruction is not a Divine decree. It is merely Hashem allowing events in nature to act "naturally." Thus, it is quite correct for the pasuk to use the plural in addressing evils, since neither ethical nor physical evil emanates from Divine decree. Concerning good, however, while ethical good is not decreed by Hashem; physical reward/good is a direct decree from the Almighty. This is why the word "good," which appears in the pasuk in Eichah is written in the singular.

The question that remains is: What about human beings - those who cause harm or destruction to others - are they held responsible for their actions? The Rosh Yeshivah says that they are certainly accountable for their evil. Nevuchadnezer and his minions, the evil incarnates of history, are all held in contempt for the harm which they wrought upon us. They chose to act maliciously. They will pay for their evil.

We now understand why the brothers were held accountable for selling Yosef - even though their actions were part of a Divine Plan to fulfill Hashem's prophecy to Avraham Avinu. No Divine decree pre-destined Yosef to be sold by his brothers. It was an action which they initiated of their own accord, motivated by their malignant relationship with him. They felt that he had sinned, a behavior that helped cause their jealousy towards him. When Yaakov Avinu showed favoritism to Yosef by giving him the kesones passim, he acted in a manner that, in accordance with his lofty spiritual plateau, was considered demeaning. Hashem is very exacting with the righteous, such as Yosef and Yaakov. Thus, he metes out retribution even for the slightest infraction. As a result of their actions, Hashem removed His Hashgachah from them, thereby allowing Yosef's brothers to sell him, creating the ordeal which brought tremendous grief to our Patriarch. Concerning the brothers, however, they were held accountable for their actions, since their actions were not part of a Divine decree.

Their father Yaakov said to them, "I am the one whom you bereaved! Yosef is gone, Shimon is gone, and now you would take away Binyamin? Upon me has it all fallen." (42:36)

Yaakov Avinu had experienced two tragedies with the loss of two sons: Yosef and Shimon. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that Yaakov was addressing his sons from a practical, Torah-oriented perspective. It is quite possible that the "disappearance" of the brothers is unrelated. There is, however, one common thread between them: both tragedies directly affected Yaakov. He was left bereft of both sons. If things repeatedly happen to someone in a similar manner and he cannot see a clear reason why they should occur, he should not place himself into a position in which it could occur once again, until he develops some insight into its cause. He should view the repeated fact as a sign, an ominous warning that something in his life just might be wrong.

When a person experiences what might be termed as a klop, slap, from Hashem, and this happens again and again, he should first reflect on himself and his life. He should introspect his actions, asking himself: Am I acting properly? Am I observing mitzvos the way I should? Am I acting properly with my fellow-man, my immediate family? If he has worked through this checklist and found that he has led an exemplary life, Chazal say he should blame his troubles on bitul Torah, wasting time from Torah study, studying Torah with an attitude of indifference. If he is so perfect that he cannot find any failing whatsoever in his Torah study (there are such people), he should accept these troubles as yissurim shel ahavah, afflictions which Hashem brings upon a person out of a sense of profound love for the individual. Thus, his sins - or minor infractions - are cleansed in this world, allowing him to enter into Olam Habba in a state of spiritual purity.

Regrettably, there are individuals whose arrogance misguides them into thinking that life's troubles are G-d's test of their spiritual mettle. They will proclaim, "I will hold my head up high! I will fight this! I will persevere!" What they do not realize - or, perhaps, refuse to confront - is the notion that G-d is not testing them, but rather, speaking to them, telling them to change their lives: Something is wrong; this is not a time for arrogance, it is a time for teshuvah.

The Baal Akeidah interprets Yaakov Avinu's statement as a lesson to his sons: "Yes, you are grieving. You lost two brothers. It is a tragedy, but it does not compare to a father's pain. I lost two sons!" I think what we derive from here is that not all tragedies are the same. Different people react to a given event in various ways. A blanket reaction does not occur. There are parents, spouses, siblings, children, and friends. Each of these individuals represents his own personal and unique relationship, closeness and reaction. When dealing with people, one must take their unique emotions in mind.

Malbim and Sforno interpret Yaakov's reaction as a declaration of taking personal blame. The onus of guilt is on me. Their reasoning, however, is different. Malbim attributes Yaakov's expression of guilt in Yosef's "death" to himself: "I sent him to Shechem, a place of danger. I will be held similarly accountable for Shimon's being taken captive. Ultimately, if I allow Binyamin to leave, and something happens to him - it will all be my fault. Thus, I dread the punishment in store for me."

Sforno takes a different approach. Yaakov takes the blame because he is the father. His sons argued among themselves. Yet, they were not punished. He was punished. This was an indication that he was being held accountable for the sins of his sons. The fact that there was sibling rivalry, envy and contempt for Yosef, is a blemish on Yaakov's chinuch, education. He did not raise his sons properly. Had it been purely the fault of his sons, they would have been punished, or their own children would have been punished. Since, with the loss of his two sons, it appears that the punishment was directed at Yaakov, it is an indication that something was lacking in his parenting skills.

In the Talmud Yevamos 63b, Chazal relate that when the Chabarim, evil and contemptuous Persians - who had no respect for the Jews - came to Babylon, they enacted three decrees. The third one seems inconsistent with logic. They began exhuming the dead. Chazal said this was punishment for the Jews who had begun to amuse themselves together with the Babylonians on Chabarim holidays. Consequently, Hashem "provided" the Jews with an opportunity to mourn. The question is obvious: Why should parents who have passed on from this world be subjected to further anguish with the exhumation of their bodies, just because their children were acting inappropriately by celebrating gentile holidays?

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that, regrettably, the parents are held liable for the sins of their children, because they are at fault. Had the parents respected Shabbos and held it in its proper esteem, had they beautified their home for Shabbos, generating an air of spirituality and joy, then their children would have maintained a much different attitude to Judaism. They would have seen and sensed the holiness of Shabbos and the beauty of Jewish life. They would have had no reason to gravitate to other religions, to celebrate with the goyim. When they see their parents' indifference to shul attendance, however, when davening becomes a drag to the point that they must talk all the time, when they count every minute until Shabbos concludes, they serve notice not only as a poor example for their children, but they are causing them irreparable life-long harm.

In the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 63:10) Chazal teach that a father must address his son's spiritual needs until he reaches thirteen years of age. Afterwards, he should recite the blessing, Baruch she'p'tarani mei'ansho shel zeh, "Bless that He relieved me of this (source of) punishment." There is a debate among the poskim whether this blessing should be recited b'Shem u'Malchus, articulating Hashem's Name, as we do in all blessings. Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, explained the reasoning behind the individual who contends that Hashem's Name not be mentioned. If the father's education of his son had been lacking or inappropriate, the father should then not recite the blessing. One can make the blessing only if he is truly absolved from liability, by having executed his responsibilities to the fullest. If the father failed his son, then the father is held responsible for whatever the son does in life which is counter to Torah-orientation. He is at fault because he was the first line of defense. He should have provided a solid Torah education. He should have supported this education with his personal example.

I know things can - and do - go wrong, even in the finest of families. Parents cannot always be blamed, but they are the first ones who are scrutinized. They are the source of a child's education, either by example or by provision.

Children are always watching. They hear everything that goes on at home and are indelibly impacted by both negative and positive activity. When a father is involved in contentious strife, the children are affected. They learn that machlokes, controversy, is permissible. After all, "my father does it." When a father is late coming to shul, and, when he is there he does nothing but talk incessantly, the children learn that shul and davening are jokes. When a father manifests little respect for Torah scholars, including his children's rebbeim, the children learn to be disdainful of Torah. It all begins at home. The flip side, of course, is that the positive impact also begins at home. When parents act appropriately, respectfully and joyfully, it rubs off on their children. The first line of defense is usually the responsible party.

Va'ani Tefillah

Tov yatzar kavod liShmo. He formed all this goodness as glory for His Name.

The physical universe, with all of its Heavenly bodies, is a tribute to Hashem. The Creator is concealed from us. We recognize Him, however, through His manifold creations, which attest to the most powerful and awesome Creator Who brought all of this to existence. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains the word tov, used here as a metaphor for all of Creation. Vayaar Elokim es kol asher asah, v'hinei tov me'od, "And G-d saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Bereishis 1:31). Thus, the phrase, Tov yatzar kavod lishmo, means: "He formed all of this goodness as glory for His Name." The word kavod is not translated as personal honor which Hashem, in His total perfection, does not require; rather, it means glory. His creations constitute an affirmation that He exists. Hashem makes His Presence known by virtue of His creations.

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