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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

Rashi comments that the Torah records the offspring of Eisav in a perfunctory manner, because Hashem did not hold them in high esteem. It would, therefore, be unnecessary to detail how they settled or to give accounts of their battles. The offspring of Yaakov Avinu are a different story. They are important enough for Hashem to dwell at length about their settlings. Alternatively, Va'yeishav Yaakov, Yaakov settled, can be explained by the following parable. A certain flax merchant entered a town with his camels heavily laden with flax. The blacksmith who observed this entrance wondered, "Where can all this flax be stored?" A clever fellow noticed his consternation and replied, "One spark can go forth from your bellows which will burn it all up." Likewise, Yaakov saw all the chiefs of Eisav, whose names are mentioned at the end of the last Parsha. He voiced concern, "Who could conquer all of them?" The response comes in the way of the following pasuk (37:2), "These are the offspring of Yaakov: Yosef." This pasuk implies that Yosef provides the solution to the threat of Eisav's numbers. As it is written (Ovadiah 1:18), "The house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Eisav for straw," a spark shall go forth from Yosef which will annihilate and burn all of them.

The Baalei Mussar, Ethicists, have a profound understanding of the above analogy. They view it as a fundamental lesson concerning the Jewish People in their age-old battle against the forces of Eisav, manifest in the various external forces which are dedicated to seeing us become an extinct nation. Eisav and his cohorts are represented by straw. The value of straw can be measured in one way: quantity. The more straw one possesses, the greater its value. Small quantities of straw are basically without value. Only in numbers does it achieve significance. Its mass determines its value. This is the salient characteristic of Eisav and his minions. These nations value the material and negate the spiritual. Thus, he who has more has greater significance. He who has less has diminished worth. When Eisav met Yaakov, he ignored Yaakov's gift, declaring, Yeish li rav, "I have much." His value system was based upon mass and volume. Eisav was materially wealthy. There was nothing Yaakov could give to the man who had everything. Indeed, the nations who live by the barometer of material wealth would deluge our People, if they could. They would establish a system whereby he who has - is, and he who does not have - is not. It would be a world unencumbered by moral and spiritual values, by ethics and humanness. It would be a world of who has and who has not. They would use their mass to overwhelm Yaakov. This is what the blacksmith saw. How could the village survive with all of this straw?

Yaakov had the answer illustrated by the way of life he had chosen for himself and his offspring. When he met Eisav, he said, Yeish li kol, "I have everything." He lived on a spiritual moral plateau in which values are not measured by size, bulk or mass. Quantity has no relevance. Quality determines value and significance. Yaakov had everything. He achieved shleimus, completeness/perfection, an impossible accomplishment in the realm of the physical, since, regardless of what one possesses, he wants and can obtain more. Harmony, peace, completion and wholesomeness are words which define measurement in the spiritual realm.

Let us compare Eisav's bulk of straw to Yaakov's spark. This little spark is a complete unit of energy, regardless of its size. One tiny spark has the power to inflame and incinerate all of Eisav's straw. In the battle of physical might against genuine spirit, the authentic quality will prevail over the quantitative substance, which is nothing more than an external covering, a fa?ade. One tiny spark of true Judaism can enlighten a world of darkness, a world built upon the foundations of shallow superficiality.

The spark, however, has power only as long as the tiniest flame burns with it. Once the fire is gone, the spark is extinguished and worthless. Indeed, an extinguished spark is worth less than a bulk of straw. What a powerful lesson for us to absorb and integrate into our lives. As long as the flame burns within the Jew, in his heart and mind, Eisav can have no mastery over him. He has nothing to fear. If the ember cools, if the fire dies out, he falls prey to Eisav's blandishments of materialism, superficiality and one-dimensional perspective. How fortunate are we that the spark of the Jew, his neshamah, soul, is of a Divine origin - one that burns eternally.

But he was a youth with the sons of Bilhah and with the sons of Zilpah. (37:2)

Sforno posits that due to his immaturity, Yosef sinned by telling tales about his brothers. He was inexperienced and, thus, could not foresee the consequences of his actions. This does not negate the fact that he was very intelligent and was later able to counsel the Egyptian hierarchy. Intelligence and wisdom are independent of maturity. Yosef had the ability to offer sound advice based upon his brilliance. Yet, his puerile attitude precluded his ability to envision the sequel to the stories he was telling his father about his brothers. It would seem from Sforno's explanation that Yosef's age played a negative role in his debacle. I think that we might be able to view his attitude in a positive light. After all, we find that Yehoshua, successor to Moshe Rabbeinu as Klal Yisrael's leader, was referred to as a naar.

All too often a leader is confronted with a dilemma: an infraction occurs to which he must respond. Yet, he procrastinates, because he feels that he must study all of the political ramifications. Usually, he ends up either responding poorly or not responding at all. Why? Because he fears the consequences. This is where naar, the ability to maintain a certain level of immaturity, to see an infraction and respond immediately - regardless of the backlash - plays a pivotal role. Otherwise, while he dabbles around looking for excuses to either act or not act, Hashem's Name is being publicly profaned. At times, a leader must step forward and take action, blind to the potential consequences.

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

Chazal teach us that Yaakov Avinu wished to settle down in tranquility, but the anguish of Yosef's kidnapping came to haunt him. Although the righteous seek tranquility, Hashem says, "Are the righteous not satisfied with what is in store for them in the World to Come, such that they expect to live at ease in This World also?" Understandably, the commentators offer various approaches to explain Yaakov's desire to live in tranquility. The question that confronts us, however, is whether we can understand the nature of a request for tranquility from an individual who is used to such a life. Yaakov's life actually had been filled with anguish from the beginning. From birth, he had to contend with Eisav, followed by Lavan and the incident of Dinah; he was always running from Eisav. In reality, the episode with Yosef was typical of Yaakov's previous life experiences. Regrettably, it fit perfectly into the scheme of the tzaros, miseries, he had sustained throughout his life. What was there about the anguish concerning Yosef that consumed Yaakov?

The Brisker Rav, zl, explains that the tzaros that Yaakov Avinu experienced became the foundation for building Klal Yisrael. Whatever Yaakov sustained comprised the building blocks for the future nation that would descend from him. Yaakov's dispute with Eisav concerning the rights of the first-born was a portent of Klal Yisrael's sojourn in Egypt. Hashem refers to His People as Beni b'chori Yisrael, "My son, My first-born, Yisrael." The misery and trials that he experienced in Lavan's home, Rachel and Leah's travail, and Yaakov's ultimate descent to the land of Egypt, all were pieces of Hashem's Divine Plan for His nation. Thus, Yaakov accepted these tzaros as aspects of a collective harbinger of what was in store for his offspring. He withstood the trials and acquiesced to the pain. They served a purpose.

The torment concerning Yosef, however, was completely different. It was personal. Everybody else knew that Yosef was alive. Yosef's status had been concealed from only one individual: Yaakov. This vexed Yaakov to no end. He was acutely aware that every consequence has an origin, every result has its source, every torment has it precursor in sin. When Yaakov noted that he was being visited with personal trauma, he realized that he must have sinned. He sought to understand the reason for his personal anguish. Yaakov signifies the individual, while Yisrael represents the collective nation. Yaakov, the man, sought to pinpoint the sin that was disrupting his personal "tranquility." What did he do to deserve this retribution?

Furthermore, with regard to the actual request to settle in tranquility, is it improper for the righteous to request the opportunity to serve Hashem in a calm, undistracted venue? After all, it is not as if they are asking for a vacation. They simply want to serve Hashem without the constraints of anguish. Is that so inappropriate? The Brisker Rav teaches us a powerful lesson: One is not to entreat Hashem to alter his circumstances, so that he can serve Him better. On the contrary, one is to rise above the challenges presented by his current situation to serve Hashem, regardless of the impediments.

He would often cite the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, whose practice it was to daven in a small room on the side of the shul, while his chassidim davened in the bais hamedrash. One Rosh Hashanah, the Kotzker opened his door and said, "I know for what you are praying, and I also know Hashem's reply." The Rebbe immediately closed his door and continued praying in private. One of his close chassidim knocked on the door and asked, "Rebbe, what is it that we are requesting?"

The Rebbe replied, "You are requesting less difficulty in earning a livelihood, so that you will have more time to study Torah. And Hashem's reply is, 'This is what I want, and this is how it should be.'" In summation, we are to serve Hashem in our current situation without excuses.

He saw them and behold! They were aggrieved. And he asked Pharaoh's courtiers who were with him in the ward… "Why do you appear downcast today?" (40:6,7)

This is how it all started. Yosef took notice of his cellmates' sad appearance. He inquired as to the reason for their downcast demeanor. The rest is history. Yosef was ultimately freed and elevated from lowly prisoner to viceroy of all Egypt, a position which led to Yaakov Avinu's finding refuge in Egypt during the terrible famine. Yosef was in jail, in a dungeon where no one cares about anybody other than himself. Indeed, it is a place where everybody feels sorry for themselves. The last thing a person would do is to notice his cellmate's downcast countenance, let alone ask him what is wrong. Not so, Yosef Hatzaddik. He saw a change in a person's appearance and immediately inquired about the source of his sadness.

The other day, one of the mispalelim, worshippers, in shul, had occasion to be the shliach tzibbur, lead the service. When he recited the brachah of refaeinu, the blessing dealing with health, it seemed that he placed greater emphasis on this brachah. While I may not be the individual's greatest confidante, I nonetheless approached him after davening and asked if everything was all right. He said no. He did not want to talk about it - but appreciated the fact that someone cared.

This is what being a human being is all about. I recently read an inspiring thesis that viewed this trait as the characteristic which distinguished Yosef. As a young seventeen-year old, he noticed that the children of the maidservants were not being treated well by his brothers. He immediately responded to this problem. Yosef had the qualities essential in a leader: he saw; he cared; he acted. He did not distinguish between another person's feelings and his own feelings. He did not sit around with his hands folded. When he saw a miscarriage of justice, he acted. His concern for the welfare of others changed the course of history.

The first step is to look. Next, one should take note. Third, he should act. If one is obsessed with himself, however, he does not have the ability to see others. The Noda BeYehudah was once walking down the streets of Prague, and he noticed a ten-year old gentile boy sitting on the street crying. Many people would ignore a young gentile child crying in the street. The Noda BeYehudah was not "many people." He bent down and asked the boy what was wrong. The boy replied that his father was a baker. Every day the boy would sell rolls and give the proceeds to his stepmother. Today, he had been mugged and his rolls were stolen. Now, his family would have nothing to eat. He cried, because he was afraid to face his stepmother and relay the truth.

The Noda BeYehudah did not skip a beat as he reached into his pocket and gave the boy the amount of money he would have earned. The boy just stood there in a state of wonderment. Such things did not just happen.

Eight years passed. The Noda BeYehudah was sitting in his home late at night studying Torah, when he heard a loud knock at his door. He rose to see who could be coming by at such a late hour.

A tall young man stood at the door. He said, "I know that your Passover holiday ends on Monday. The non-Jewish bakers in Prague have all banded together to avenge their god who was killed by the Jews. They have decided to poison the bread. Rabbi, I have come to warn you. Tell your people not to purchase the bread. Please do not tell anyone why, or I will be killed."

The rav looked at the young man in a state of shock. "Why? Why are you telling me this?" he asked.

"Rabbi, do you remember, eight years ago you found a little boy crying on the street? Do you remember how you helped him? That little boy was me, and I never forgot that favor. You Jews are a compassionate people. You do not deserve any harm. This is my way of repaying the favor. Thank you."

The Noda BeYehudah issued a decree the next day that, due to an error in the calendar, Pesach must be observed for one more day and no one should eat any bread. The Prague bakers lost money, because they could not sell their poisoned bread to anyone else. After complaining to the local authorities that the rav had undermined their business and caused them a financial loss, an investigation was initiated and the poisoned bread was discovered. The Jewish community was spared a tragedy, because eight years earlier someone had taken notice of the tears of a little non-Jewish boy.

Yosef is referred to as Yosef Hatzaddik. According to the above, he exemplified the middah, attribute, of chesed, kindness, as well. Noach was also referred to as a tzaddik. In addition, he spent an entire year immersed in the middah of chesed as he saw to the needs of the many creatures on the Ark. Apparently, these two virtues go in tandem with one another. The tzaddik is righteous in his relationships both with Hashem and with his fellow man. Chesed is the power of acknowledging and recognizing the people around us - and responding to their needs. The true baal-chesed does not need to be asked to help; he notices the need on his own. The next chance we get, we should look around, take note, and do something about it. Who knows? While we might not alter the course of history, we will certainly affect the status quo.

If only you would think of me with yourself… and you will do me a kindness, if you please, and mention me to Pharaoh. (40:14)

Chazal tell us that because Yosef placed his trust in the sar ha'mashkim, Chamberlain of Cupbearers, instead of Hashem Himself, he was punished with a two-year extension of his sentence. What did Yosef really do wrong? There is such a thing as hishtadlus, endeavoring. Part of hishtadlus is to ask the chamberlain to intercede on his behalf. This does not diminish his trust in Hashem. The commentators, each in his own way, offer explanations for Yosef's actions and, thereby, teach us lessons in the meaning of faith and trust in Hashem. Horav Nosson Wachtfogel, zl, the venerable Mashgiach of Beth Medrash Govohah, underscores this question by citing the fact that in preparing for his confrontation with Eisav, Yaakov Avinu employed three forms of hishtadlus: doron, he sent a gift; tefillah, he prayed to Hashem; milchamah, he prepared for war. Why then are Yosef's actions discountenanced?

The Mashgiach cites Horav Chaim Vital, zl, who distinguishes between Yaakov's hishtadlus that was carried out together with tefillah and Yosef's hishtadlus that was exclusive of tefillah. While Yosef certainly prayed to Hashem, it was not together with the hishtadlus. Every act of hishtadlus must be accompanied by prayer, supplicating Hashem that this act of hishtadlus be successful. Likewise, when one goes to the doctor, he should entreat Hashem with a kapital, chapter, of Tehillim, that this visit should be therapeutic. Thus, one realizes that the physician is only a shliach, Hashem's agent. It is Hashem who dispenses the cure. He chooses to deliver it through His various emissaries.

Va'ani Tefillah

Gezeirah Shavah - Similar words in various contexts serve to shed light on each other.

In certain cases, we find that two laws that have similar expressions serve to clarify one another. For example, the term b'moado, in its proper time, is used in connection with the Korban Tamid, Daily offering. This word is also repeated concerning the Korban Pesach. This prompts Chazal to derive that both korbanos are docheh Shabbos u'tumah, supersede (literally "push away") both Shabbos and spiritual contamination. These korbanos must be offered at their prescribed times, regardless of the fact that it is Shabbos or even if one is tamei meis, has come in contact with a corpse, the highest level of spiritual impurity. Another form of comparison is the hekesh, in which in a particular case two different topics are juxtaposed, so that we derive crucial laws from their interconnection with one another. For example, in the technical processes of marriage and divorce, there are similarities in halachah. This is derived from the fact that divorce and betrothal are both mentioned in the same pasuk: V'yatzah v'ha'ysah l'ish acheir (Devarim 24:2), "She shall depart (through divorce) and she shall be (betrothed) to another man." Chazal derive that these two legal processes have halachic similarities.

l'zechor nishmas
R' Noach ben Yehuda Aryeh z"l
niftar 22 Kislev 5726
by his family

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