Back to this week's parsha Peninim on the Torah Previous issues
Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Vayeishev

And Yaakov settled in the land of his father's sojournings. (37:1)

The Rokeach makes an incredible statement which begs elucidation. He says that every pasuk in Parashas Vayeshev, with the exception of eight pesukim, begins with the letter "vav." The eight exceptions correspond to the mitzvah of Bris Milah which is performed on the eighth day of the boy's life . Horav Zeev Weinberger,Shlita, gives the following explanation: If one were to follow the narrative throughout Parashas Vayeshev, it would seem to be one long story in which everything fits into place naturally. This is implied by the "vav" which is the connecting letter meaning "and." This is the picture perceived by the average person, who sees things from a purely superficial perspective. One who looks at an incident with both of his eyes, with depth and understanding, clearly sees that nothing just occurs as a natural course of events. This is especially true concerning the events surrounding Yosef's life, from his sale as a slave to his eventual liberation and ascent to leadership over Egypt. Every incident was pure miracle!

Indeed, this idea applies particularly to Klal Yisrael, whose very existence is beyond the scope of the natural. Klal Yisrael's survival throughout history, marked by challenge, tribulation and suffering, is truly miraculous. Bris Milah, performed on the eighth day, is linked to the eight pesukim which do not begin with the "vav". The number eight symbolizes the spiritual, since the highest number in creation is seven. The number eight transcends creation and, therefore, implies miracle. It behooves the nation, whose standard for existence is supernatural, to view life's occurences with more depth than the human eye can perceive.

These are the chronicles of Yaakov; Yosef. (37:2)

The word "toldos" is commonly translated as "offspring". In this case, however, the Torah only mentions Yosef. Thus, it seems that the Torah is referring to Yaakov Avinu's personal history. The Midrash suggests that since Yosef and Yaakov had so much in common, the concept of toldos, offspring, applies most to Yosef. Yaakov slaved in Lavan's home in order to earn Rachel, Yosef's mother, for a wife. Yosef's physical visage was similar to that of Yaakov. Yosef experienced some of the same life events as Yaakov did. Each one had brothers - or a brother- that hated him and sought to kill him. Horav Elyakim Schlesinger, Shlita, renders a novel interpretation of this Midrash. Everyone wants to be remembered, to know that when he is gone his memory does not disappear together with his mortal remains. Some people will build a city or community or will dedicate a building to serve as a remembrance for the future. Others will commission a painting or a statue of themselves. There are also those who will either write or collaborate on their biography. This is their way of eternalizing themselves.

Yaakov Avinu left his imprimatur on Yosef. He was his hope for the future. They shared a great deal together. Yaakov taught Yosef Torah. They looked alike, and their life story was similar. This teaches us that one should do everything in his power to assure that his children follow in his path. What greater remembrance is there of a person than that his children continue along the path which he has forged for them.

And Yisrael loved Yosef more than all his sons since he was a child of his old age. (37:3)

Yosef was a ben zekunim, born to Yaakov Avinu when the latter had advanced in age. Is this a reason for Yaakov to love Yosef more than Binyamin, who was the "baby" of the family? The Chizkuni responds that since Rachel died during Binyamin's birth, Yaakov Avinu did not love him as much. While we can understand that Binyamin brought back memories of the tragic death of his beloved Rachel, one would think that the Patriarch was beyond such emotions. Indeed, one would think that the memory of the mother of his orphaned son would enhance his love towards his son. Moreover, Binyamin was the last fruit of Rachel's life. Is there a greater reason to love Binyamin?

Horav Mordechai Gifter, Shlita, explains that a child is the product of the harmony that exists between a man and wife. Marriage is a partnership in which two people are unified; a child is the fruit of this relationship. Thus, the epitome of love for a child is attained only when both parents are sharing together in raising this child. Binyamin's birth, which was the fruit of Yaakov's partnership with Rachel, was regrettably the precursor of Rachel's death and the consequent demise of their partnership. Hence, the happiness and love Yaakov developed with his youngest child was stunted. It could never reach its full expression without his life-long partner, the child's mother. At Yosef's birth, on the other hand, both parents were together, sharing in the joy, jointly experiencing the fruit of their relationship. Although Rachel passed away later on, Yaakov retained the level of love that he had attained in Yosef.

Yehudah said to his brothers, "What gain will there be if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?" (37:26)

Simply, Yehudah interceded on Yosef's behalf, asserting that the brothers would not benefit from killing him. Pituchei Chosam cites the pasuk in Yeshaya 1:15 wherein the Navi laments, "Even when you pray very much I (Hashem) do not listen to you because your hands are full of blood." We infer from here that the tefillos, prayers, of one who "spills blood," i.e., a murderer, are of no value. Ostensibly, the Shevatim, tribes, brothers, prayed three times each day since the tefillos had been introduced by the Patriarchs. The word "betza", bais, tzaddik, ayin, is an acronym for the three tefillos of the day: boker, Shacharis; tzaharayim, Minchah; erev, Arvis. Yehudah was implying something else to his brothers. "Ma betza? What do we gain from davening three times a day, if we kill Yosef?" Hashem does not listen to one who spills blood!

There is a story told about Horav Yechiel Meir Lipshutz, zl, who was a student of the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, who once rebuked a wealthy Jew in his town who was notorious for lending money for interest. This usurer would "suck the blood" out of the poor people whose misfortune it was to borrow money from him. This same person never missed a tefillah b'tzibur, coming to shul three times a day to daven. He told him, "What betza do you gain by going to shul three times a day if you spill the blood of poor people?"

While this is undoubtedly a good "vort", it should bear greater significance for us. All too often we attempt to absolve our lack of mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro, relationship between our fellow man, by expanding or emphasizing our mitzvos bein adam l'Makom, relationship with the Almighty. This is not effective. One cannot take advantage of his fellow man, regardless of the method or reason, and expect Hashem to look upon his avodah, service to Him, favorably. This is the epitome of a double-standard. Regrettably, many of us still view this as only a good vort, while we have a difficult time practicing the concept in our everyday lives.

Hashem was with Yosef, and he became a successful man. (39:2)

Horav Bunim M'Peshischa notes the Torah's emphasis on Yosef's "remembering" the source of his success. He realized that the success he had achieved was only because "Hashem was with Yosef." All too often we pray to Hashem for various favors. Shortly after Hashem grants us His good will, we seem to forget the source of our beneficience.

Along these same lines, the Chofetz Chaim explains that in the tefillah that we say on the Shabbos prior to Rosh Chodesh, we implore Hashem to grant us a life replete with yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, and yiraas cheit, fear of sin. Once again, at the end of the tefillah, we ask for ahavas Torah u'yiraas Shomayim, love of Torah and fear of Heaven. Why do we ask Hashem to grant us yiraas Shomayim twice?

The Chofetz Chaim relates that after our first request for yiraas Shomayim, we ask for a life of osher v'kavod, wealth and honor. Once a person has "tasted" a life of wealth and honor, he seldom retains the yiraas Shomayim he once had developed. Consequently, it is necessary to request yiraas Shomayim a second time.

There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has denied me nothing but you, since you are his wife, how then can I perpetrate this great evil? (39:9)

The yetzer hora, evil inclination dressed in the guise of Potifar's wife, sought every avenue to ensnare Yosef Ha'Tzaddik in its trap. Chazal characterize Yosef's battle with Potifar's wife as more difficult than fighting with a large bear. Every day she attempted to coerce him through her blandishments. She tried to arouse him by changing clothes twice a day, beautifying herself constantly. She hoped that at one point his guard would be down and he would capitulate. When she saw that her cajoling did not work, she began to threaten Yosef, all to no avail. How did Yosef do it? How was he able to overcome the various challenges that the yetzer hora presented him with?

Horav Mordechai Kukis, Shlita, attributes Yosef's success to two things: First, Yosef's yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, reigned paramount in his life. The boundaries of right and wrong were clearly defined by his fear and awe of Heaven. The image of his father confirmed and encouraged his yiraas Shomayim. To paraphrase Horav Chaim Volozhiner, zl, "The best and most effective agent for overcoming the challenges of the yetzer hora is to envision in one's mind that the entire world is enveloped with Hashem's Glory. He sees and takes note of every movement that he makes; and He hears every sound. Nothing one does goes unnoticed." This should serve as a successful deterrent to sin.

This, however, does not always work. Indeed, when one is embroiled in the passion of sin, he "seems" to forget Hashem's Presence. What else protects him? What was the second factor which guaranteed Yosef's success in battling the yetzer hara? Yosef told Potifar's wife, "Look - with me, my master concerns himself about nothing in his house, and whatever he has he placed in my custody. There is no one greater in this house than I- How can I perpetrate this great evil?" This thinking reflects one specific virtue - hakoras ha'tov, appreciation. Yosef was literally given the keys to the entire household. His master had placed his utmost trust in him. How could he pay him back by performing such a terrible act? The only "possession" that was off limits was his master's wife. How could he manifest such a lack of appreciation? How could he stoop so low as to take his wife from him? Yiraas Shomayim, coupled with hakoras ha'tov, were the contributing factors that saved Yosef from spiritual doom.

Another instance of hakoras ha'tov in this parsha demonstrates how far one should go in order to repay his debt of appreciation to someone from whom he benefitted, even indirectly. Reuven was an equal participant in the Bais Din that convened to decide Yosef's fate. Yet, when it came to final deliberation, he took a stand on Yosef's behalf and protested against killing him. He suggested they throw him into a pit, thinking to himself that he would return later and rescue him. What motivated this change of heart? Why did Reuven stand up against his brothers to save Yosef? Chazal tell us that when Reuven heard Yosef saying that in his dream eleven stars bowed down to him, together with the sun and the moon, he said, "I thought that because of my actions regarding Bilhah's bed, I would be censured from the family. Now that I hear that Yosef includes me among the tribes, how could I not save him?" In other words, Reuven was driven to save Yosef as the result of a sense of appreciation for including him in the "family." Reuven's remarkable act of valor is commensurate with his incredible virtue in recognizing the benefits one receives from others and reciprocating in turn. Recognizing the good that one does for us is equally as important as the original action that stimulates this recognition. It seems, however, to be more difficult for some.

In three days Pharaoh will lift your head from you and hang you on a tree; birds will eat your flesh from you. (40:19)

Why did Yosef interpret the bakers' dream in this manner? What clue did he have that the baker would die? Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, responded by citing a story. Once, at an art festival, the organizers hung up a picture that was drawn by a world-famous artist. It was a picture of a man holding a basket of fruit in his hands. The illustration was so realistic that birds would fly over the picture and attempt to eat the fruit! This picture amazed everyone, to the point that a prize was offered to anyone who could find an error in this picture. A wise man came along and said, "Although the fruits truly appear to be realistic, the man does not. If the man really appeared to be alive, the birds would be afraid to go near him. The birds' bold approach indicates that they know the person is not real." The man received the prize.

Similarly, when the baker said that in his dream the birds ate from the basket that was on his head, Yosef knew that he was a dead man. Otherwise, why would the birds not be afraid to approach him?

1. A. Who does the Torah consider to be Yaakov Avinu's main offspring? B. Why is this?

2. Who eventually sold Yosef to the Egyptians?

3. Were the brothers the only ones who knew that Yosef was really alive?

4. How was Tamar related to Noach?

5. What did Potifar's wife have in common with Tamar?

6. How long were the butler and the baker in prison?

7. What caused the butler and baker to turn to Yosef for assistance in interpreting their dreams?


1. A. Yosef

B. 1. He was the son of Rachel, Yaakov's primary wife. 2. He looked exactly like Yaakov. 3. They both experienced similar occurrences during their lives.

2. A group of Midyanim.

3. No - Yitzchak Avinu also knew that Yosef lived.

4. She was his granddaughter - his son, Shem's, daughter.

5. Just as Tamar acted l'shem Shomayim, so did Potifar's wife act, initially.

6. Twelve months.

7. Actually, Yosef came to them when he saw that they looked depressed. He asked them what was bothering them.

Sponsored by
Israel Herskowitz and Children
Sol, Moishe and Isaac
In loving memory of wife and mother
Mrs. Judith Herskowitz
and in honor of the birth of their grandson
In memory of our beloved parents and grandparents:
Rabbi Louis Engelberg k"z
Mrs. Hannah Engelberg k"z
Etzmond and Abigail Rozen and Family


Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first three years have been published in book form.

The third 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.
Jerusalem, Israel