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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Then Yisrael saw Yosef's sons and he said, "Who are these?" (48:8)

Rashi explains that when Yaakov Avinu turned to bless Yosef's sons the Shechinah departed from him because Yaakov saw through Ruach Ha'Kodesh, Divine Inspiration, that wicked kings would descend from them: Yoravam and Achav from Ephraim, and Yeihu and his sons from Menashe. This perception shocked Yaakov to the point that he asked Yosef, "Who are these?" He meant: From where did these sons, who are apparently unworthy for blessing, come? Yosef assured his father that while his sons would have descendants that would be evil, they themselves were virtuous, pure and worthy of his blessing.

Horav Yaakov Moshe Charlap, zl, notes a profound lesson to be derived herein. Yehoshua and Gideon also descended from Yosef's sons. Both of these men were Torah leaders for whom Hashem had wrought miracles. Yet, Yaakov did not observe these individuals through his prophetic vision. They were obscured by the overwhelming evil of Yoravam and Achav. The forces of evil are so overpowering that they manifest the ability to conceal the positive effects of good. Imagine, Yehoshua was the successor to Moshe Rabbeinu as leader of the Jewish People. He was a man who challenged the meraglim, spies, and exposed their lies about Eretz Yisrael. He was a tzaddik for whom Hashem stopped the sun. Yet, the evil of Yoravam, who also descended from Ephraim, albeit much later, was able to overshadow this image of good. What an incredible lesson for us all! For those of us who have thought the good that we do compensates for the bad, we have just learned otherwise.

But Yisrael extended his right hand and laid it on Ephraim's head though he was the younger and his left hand on Menashe's head...and Yosef said to his father, "Not so, Father, for this is the firstborn...But his father refused, saying, "I know, my son, I know."

(48:14, 18, 19)

The last pasuk, "I know, my son; I know," seems to be redundant. Yaakov could just as well have said, "I know." Why does he add "my son" and reiterate "I know"? Horav Yosef Siegel, zl, explains that when Yaakov heard the words, "Not so, Father," emanating from Yosef, he was slightly taken aback. It sounded like Yosef was reproving his father for his error. Halachically, this is wrong. A son may never challenge or correct his father. Even if the father is transgressing the Torah, the son is only supposed to "call attention" to the fact that the father's action is not consistent with the Torah! One is never, however, permitted to critique a parent.

Yaakov sensed this slight infringement upon his kavod, respect due from his son, and responded in turn, "I know, my son; I know,"

meaning: "I hear from your comment that you, like many of today's youth, think you know more and understand better than your elders. This is not true. You are mistaken. First of all, "I know, my son," - whatever you know, I also know. I am fully aware of who is the firstborn and who is not. Furthermore, "I know" - there are things of which you are not aware of that I have in my mind. Therefore, you have no reason to think that my behavior regarding the blessings is not well thought out."

Yaakov told Yosef two things: First, I know what you know. Second, I know things that even you do not know. Yaakov was aware that although Menashe preceded Ephraim in birth, he would supercede him in spiritual success. Regrettably, the attitude that many of us manifest towards our elders has not changed considerably.

By you shall Yisrael be blessed saying, "May Hashem make you like Ephraim and like Menashe." (48:20)

We must endeavor to understand the uniqueness of Ephraim and Menashe, which causes them to be considered the paradigm for blessing. While it is true that they remained virtuous and G-d fearing in the land of Egypt, are we to ignore Reuven, Shimon, Levi, etc.? I recently heard the following exposition: Klal Yisrael has been subjected to pain and suffering at the hands of our "host" nations. Indeed, many have said that the only way to avoid affliction is to acculturate, to assimilate our Torah way of life and become like "them." Suppose, one were to react to these people saying, "Repent! Raise your children according to the derech ha'Torah, Torah way of life; let them be like Yaakov's sons, Reuven, Shimon, or Levi. The likely response would be, "How can you expect us to raise such "frum," religious, children in contemporary society? We have to be out in the community. Ghettozation is a thing of the past. If we have to live with the gentiles, we have no recourse but to follow in their ways."

We cannot ignore this rationalization. Yaakov raised his sons in a utopian, spiritual environment. They were never exposed to the harmful effects of the "street." They were never compelled to live among people who were morally degenerate and spiritually deficient. How can we expect these people to raise a "Reuven" or "Shimon"?

It is specifically for this reason that Yaakov Avinu chose Ephraim and Menashe as his paradigms for blessing. They were two young men, raised in Egyptian society and culture. They probably dressed and spoke in contemporary style. Nevertheless, they were Bnei Torah, virtuous, pious and totally committed to the way of life of their grandfather. They demonstrated that one could be observant even in Egypt! Klal Yisrael can maintain a Torah lifestyle and adhere to mitzvah observance "b'mlo muvan ha'milah," "to the full meaning of the word." We observe this from Yosef's sons who virtually stood on the same spiritual plateau as Yaakov's sons. Ephraim and Menashe have given hope to parents throughout the millennia who have been challenged to raise children in the filth of galus, exile.

How did Yosef do it? How was he able to raise such G-d-fearing sons amidst the moral depravation that permeated Egypt? We suggest there is only one way: Yosef lived in Egypt; Egypt did not live within Yosef! While he was compelled to leave his home to "work" in the halls of Egyptian society, his home was rendered impervious to the street. Yosef's home was replete with the same kedushah and taharah, holiness and purity, that imbued Yaakov's home. The "old world" values and ideals that had been infused in him in his childhood were a critical factor in the manner in which he raised his children. The medium that was the vehicle for carrying Egyptian filth into the homes did not enter his home. Egypt ended at his doorway. We should realize that the blessing of "May Hashem make you like Ephraim and Menashe" could only take effect if we raise our children like Yosef did.

Although you intended me harm, G-d intended it for good: in order to accomplish...that a vast people be kept alive. (50:20)

Yosef attempted to calm his brothers' fears concerning his attitude towards them. We must endeavor to understand why Yosef feels he must allay his brothers' concerns so many times. He had reiterated a number of times in this parsha that he was not angry at them, that it had not really been their own initiative, but rather Hashem's Will, that he come down to Egypt; they were His agents. Why should they think that Yaakov's death might catalyze a resurgence of Yosef's anger? Furthermore, when Yosef spoke of the past to his brothers in an attempt to ease their fears, why did he add, "Although you intended me harm?" Is this statement supposed to produce a calming effect? If anything, Yosef inferred that he knew that they really had wished him harm. He was apparently opening up old wounds. Why?

Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, cites Targum Yonasan who has a completely different approach to understanding Yosef's dialogue with his brothers. In an attempt to assuage his brothers concerns, Yosef asked them, "Why do you think that I harbor enmity towards you? Is it because I am not sitting at the head of the table, eating together with you, as when our father was alive? My brothers, it is not because of you that I have changed my place. I sat there only out of respect for our father. Now that he is gone, I do not feel comfortable sitting "up front." You should know that G-d intended it for good, so that a vast people be kept alive. If I am to help others then I cannot accept kavod, honor, for myself." In order for an individual to serve as a conduit, as a vehicle for transmitting chesed, kindness, to others, he cannot be obsessed with his own personal glory!

Incredible! Yosef told his brothers that he had a goal in life; he had a G-d-given mission: to sustain a world. In order to accomplish this objective, he had to forget about his own glory. Personal kavod and chesed to others do not mix well together. To paraphrase Horav Schwadron: If one wants to help others, he should not seek glory for himself. Leave the mizrach vont, eastern wall (an inference to the place where people of stature usually sit in the synagogue). If you are to help Klal Yisrael, then you must not dwell upon your own glory.

Yosef died at the age of one hundred and ten years. (50:26)

So ends Sefer Bereishis. With the death of Yosef, the book devoted to creation, to the beginning of the world, the Avos, Patriarchs, and the various stages of the early families' development, comes to a close. Interestingly, in the beginning of Sefer Shemos, pasuk 6, the Torah repeats the fact that Yosef died. Why? He died once; why record it twice? Also, when Yosef brought his sons to Yaakov for his blessing, the Torah says, "Va'yevarech es Yosef," "He blessed Yosef." What was Yaakov's blessing to Yosef? The only blessing about which we read is the one Yaakov gave to Yosef's sons. Rabbi Yossi says that the word "es" denotes something extra, indicating that Yosef was also blessed together with his sons. What was this blessing?

Horav Mordechai Miller, Shlita, cites Chazal who say that when Yaakov blessed the shevatim, tribes, he also blessed Yosef. This blessing, however, was different in that Yosef was not included among the shevatim. There were two separate units: the shevatim and Yosef. Sefas Emes explains this in the following manner: When a father blesses his sons with the blessing, "May Hashem make you like Ephraim and Menashe," he refers to Yaakov's statement, "Ephraim and Menashe will be like Reuven and Shimon to me." In other words, the father hopes his son will grow up to be like the shevatim. Why, then, does he emphasize Ephraim and Menashe? Why does he not simply say, "May you be like the shevatim"? Sefas Emes explains that Ephraim and Menashe were of a different generation than the shevatim. Yaakov's blessing elevated their status to the "shevet" level. They, too, were now included among Bnei Yaakov, the sons of Yaakov. When a father blesses his son with the hope that he will become like Ephraim and Menashe, he is referring to the unique ability granted to them, the capacity to connect with the previous generation of Yaakov, to become part and parcel with the "Shivtei Koh." This is the hope of all Jewish parents for their sons.

Yosef's sons became shevatim. Hence, Yosef, their father, became an Av, Patriarch. Yosef achieved patriarchal status as a result of his sons' blessing. Thus, the blessing to Ephraim and Menashe also served as a blessing for Yosef - one that elevated him to a greater spiritual plateau. Yosef merited two designations: As Yaakov's son he was one of the "Shivtei Koh;" and as Ephraim and Menashe's father, he achieved the status of an "Av."

We now understand Yosef's blessing and the significance of his sons' blessing. We turn to explore why the Torah records Yosef's passing twice. In his preface to Sefer Shemos, the Ramban distinguishes between Sefer Bereishis, and Sefer Shemos. Sefer Bereishis is the Book of Creation, the book that addresses chidush haolam, the formation of the world and the creation of everything in it, such as the Avos, Patriarchs, founding fathers of our People. Sefer Shemos, on the other hand, addresses the future, the progeny of the Avos, including their trials, challenges and achievements. Sefer Bereishis is the book of the Avos, while Sefer Shemos is the book of the shevatim. Yosef's death is thus mentioned twice, since he functioned in two roles: that of shevet and that of Av. His "av-like" attributes earned him a position in closing Sefer Bereishis. His death is repeated in Sefer Shemos together with the deaths of his brothers. Their deaths marked the commencement of the Egyptian exile.

Horav Yitzchak Hutner, zl, addressed the individual persona and achievement of each of the Patriarchs. Avraham Avinu was the first "ger," convert to Judaism. He is, thus, called the "Av hamon goyim, " Father of Nations, as he was the one that initiated his own entry into Judaism. Yitzchak Avinu was the first Jew to be born into kedushas, holiness, of Yisrael. He was the first to be circumcised at the age of eight days old. Yaakov Avinu is characterized as "mitaso sheleimim;" his bed was perfect, meaning his children were all devout and committed to their father's religion. How was the first Jew to set the rigid parameters of Judaism? One who is born into the fold can never leave. To paraphrase Horav Hutner: Avraham is "der ershter gevorener," first to become. Yitzchak is "der ershter geboirener," first to be born; Yaakov is "der ershter farfaliner," first to be compelled with no way out.

Yosef completes the equation. Chazal tell us that Yaakov is compared to a fire and Yosef to a flame. Together, they have the ability to triumph over Eisav. Yosef is viewed as the hashlamah, completion, of Yaakov Avinu. Horav Hutner explains that while Yaakov symbolizes the concept of "once a Jew, always a Jew," the acute danger of extreme assimilation through intermarriage is to be noted. We turn to Yosef to stem the tide of assimilation, to ward off the attack against kedushas Yisrael. The Torah says that when Potifar's wife attempted to seduce Yosef, he ran out of the house. Chazal have thus described Yosef as one who runs away from sin. He imbued Bnei Yisrael with this quality: the ability to resist temptation, to overcome the challenges to our strong morality. As a flame carries the force of the fire beyond, so, too, does Yosef represent the ability to infuse the generations that have descended from Yaakov with the holiness and morality of Yisrael. He spreads the kedushah. He is, therefore, considered Patriarchal in nature and accomplishment.

Klal Yisrael did not assimilate in Egypt. They maintained their morality, language, Jewish names, and distinct manner of dress in accordance with the laws of tznius, modesty. This all stemmed from Yosef, who infused Klal Yisrael with the strength and virtue of morality. Yosef reaches out across the generations, inculcating the patriarchal values and ideals into their descendants. Let us hope that the flame, which represents the morality of our People, will never be extinguished.


1. What did Yaakov fear the Egyptians would do with him after his death?
2. Where is the Shechinah "situated" in the room of one who is ill?
3. Who was criticized for being too hasty?
4. Which tribe produced Klal Yisrael's scribes and teachers?
5. Which tribe produced two hundred heads of the Sanhedrin?


1. He feared they would make a pagan deity of him.
2. The Shechinah is present above the head of the one who is ill.
3. Reuven.
4. Shimon.
5. Yissaschar.

In honor of

Mrs. Rachel Massuda

May she have a speedy recovery
and be blessed with long life
filled with happiness and joy.


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