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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And the sons of Yissacher were Tola…and the sons of Zevulun were Sered…(46:13, 14)

The genesis of the unique partnership between Yissacher and Zevulun was in Egypt, at a time when Torah study and material sustenance were equally difficult to accomplish. Yet, as Chazal imply, even in Egypt Zevulun would take from his meager portion and share with Yissacher, who - after a day of back-breaking debilitating work - found the time to delve into the profundities of Torah. This defines the paradigmatic partnership: for better or for worse, under all circumstances, regardless of the situation, one is obligated to study Torah and, concomitantly, one must support and sustain those who do.

Nachlas Tzvi cites the following story which emphasizes this idea. Horav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, zl, the distinguished rav of Kovno, had grown up in abject poverty. His poverty was to the extent that one winter his shoes became so worn out that he could not possibly wear them. He decided to go to the local shoe factory, which happened to be owned by a wealthy Jew, to ask if he could have a pair of irregular or not- saleable shoes. He borrowed a pair of shoes from a friend in order to make the cold trek to the factory. He met the owner who, after taking one look at the strong, healthy yeshivah student, said, "Under no uncertain terms will I give you a pair of shoes. You seem to be quite healthy. Go out and get a job to earn a living so that you can buy yourself a pair of shoes. I am not prepared to support lazy people!" Rav Yitzchak Elchanan had no choice but to leave, dejected and humiliated. He returned home and prayed to Hashem to help him, to enable him to continue his Torah study uninterrupted.

A few days later, one of the students in the yeshiva came to Rav Yitzchak Elchanan with a complete outfit of used clothing, which included a pair of shoes. "You know that I am getting married," the student told him, "and I purchased a new outfit for the wedding. Please take this, so that you can continue your Torah studies."

A number of years went by, and Rav Yitzchak Elchanan achieved fame for his brilliance in Torah erudition and his leadership abilities. He was asked to become Kovnor Rav, a position which he accepted. In a short time he became one of the gedolei Yisrael, Torah luminaries of his generation. During his tenure as rav in Kovno, Czar Nikolai issued a terrible decree against the Jews. The communities decided to send two distinguished representatives to intercede on their behalf before the Czar: the Kovnor Rav and the wealthy owner of the shoe factory.

When they arrived in Moscow, they had to wait a few days for the Czar to give them an appointment. When their meeting finally took place, the Czar was so impressed by Rav Yitzchak Elchanan's holy countenance and demeanor that he nullified the decree. He then asked the wealthy Jew to leave the room, so that he could converse with the rav in private. The Jew had no alternative but to leave. After a few hours the doors opened, and the rav came out accompanied by the Czar. As the rav was walking down the steps of the palace, the wealthy Jew turned to the Czar and queried, "What impressed the Czar most about our rav?" The Czar responded, "I sense that his wisdom is that of a Heavenly Angel, and everything he says is as if it emanates from a holy source."

As they were returning back home, the wealthy man requested of Rav Yitzchak Elchanan, "Rebbe, let us make a Yissacher/Zevulun partnership. I will give you half my assets, and you will grant me half of your Torah." "I am sorry," the rav responded, "you are too late. I cannot make a business deal for what has already occurred. It must be arranged prior to the Torah study. I must tell you, furthermore, that you could have accumulated much more years ago in exchange for a simple pair of shoes than you can today with all of your wealth. Regrettably, now it is too late."

If those of us who have the wherewithal to sustain the Torah study of potential gedolei Yisrael would only use foresight, instead of hindsight, the material situation in the yeshivah world would be considerably improved.

While "Zevulun" has incredible merit for his actions on behalf of "Yissacher," it goes without saying that Torah study is still the greater option - if it is at all possible. Charity, kindness, and good deeds are of noble worth, but, as the Tanna says in Meseches Shabbos Peah 127a, "V'Talmud Torah K'neged Kulam." "And the study of Torah is equivalent to all of them." Nachlas Tzvi cites another meaningful story that demonstrates the remarkable merit to be obtained by supporting an individual, availing him the opportunity to learn Torah. A distinguished rav once came upon a poor, elderly street vendor who was selling sandwiches and drinks from his little stand. The rav was moved by this sight, and he went over to purchase something, just to enable the elderly gentleman to earn some money. The seller noted that before him stood a venerable Torah scholar. He began to pour out his heart, sharing with the rav the vicissitudes of his life. Suddenly, in middle of their conversation, the old man interrupted himself to tell the rav about a young boy, his age, in a small village in Lithuania, who was so poor that his parents had not been able to gather sufficient funds to send him to yeshivah. The boy wept and wept, begging his parents to find some way to send him to yeshivah.

"One day," said the old man, "I overheard the boy entreating his father to please let him go. The father looked into his son's pleading eyes and said, 'My child, I would give everything I have so that you could go on to yeshivah, but I have nothing.' The boy could not accept this answer, and he began to cry with such bitter tears that I also began to cry with him.

"I resolved that night that I had to do something to help another boy who wanted so badly to go study Torah in a yeshivah. I was fortunate to have a job. The hours were long, the physical labor was difficult, and the pay was less than sufficient. Nevertheless, I decided that I was going to set aside a portion of my earnings so that I could send that young boy to yeshivah. Imagine the excitement in his eyes when I knocked on his door and gave his parents the necessary sum for their son to go to yeshivah."

The man finished his story and looked at the rav, asking, "Perhaps you know whatever became of that young boy?" The rav asked him, "What was his name?" "Aharon Kotler," the man responded. When the rav heard this, he took hold of the man with both hands and exclaimed, "Do you know who he is? He is the gadol hador, the Torah leader of our generation. Your selfless act of charity gave the world its gadol hador!"

He sent Yehudah before him to Yosef, to instruct ahead of him in Goshen. (46:28)

The Midrash explains that Yaakov Avinu sent Yehudah ahead of the family to fulfill a specific mission: to build a house for Torah-study from which instruction will go forth. The Midrash elaborates on this theme. It substantiates its exegesis by noting that when Yosef left his father, he was well versed in that day's lesson, chapter and verse. In fact, when the brothers returned to Yaakov and related to him the wonderful news that Yosef was still alive, he remembered with excitement that last lesson, the laws of eglah arufah, decapitated heifer, which they had learned together. He immediately responded to his sons, saying, "If you can tell me the last halachah I studied with Yosef, I will believe you that he is alive. Otherwise, I have no reason to accept what you are saying," Implied in this statement, says the Midrash, is the fact that Yaakov studied Torah constantly, as did his father and grandfather, Yitzchak and Avraham, before him. He expected the same of his children. Thus, he was sure that if Yosef was alive, he would have acknowledged and shared the last dvar Torah, Torah thoughts, with them. We must endeavor to understand what the Midrash is teaching us. How was he so certain that Yosef would tell the brothers the last Torah lesson he had heard from his father? It is as if it was an understood assumption that Yosef, upon meeting his brothers, would immediately share the dvar Torah with them. Why is this?

Horav Eliyakim Shlesinger, Shlita, derives a number of important lessons in regard to Torah study from this Midrash. Yaakov was certain that Yosef would remember the halachos they had studied together twenty-two years ago. Otherwise, it could not have been his son, Yosef. Moreover, he had no doubt that when he met his brothers, he would have told them the halachah. Why? Precisely because this is the underlying motif of Torah study. It is well-known that any incident which makes an impression upon a person will remain with him his entire life. On the other hand, those episodes in life that have little or no meaning leave a similar impression. People just tend to forget them. For the individual who is osek baTorah, whose primary involvement and endeavor is in the field of Torah, it is his life. Every chiddush, novel interpretation, every dvar Torah, has unique meaning and infinite value. It is priceless and, hence, leaves a lasting impression. The first item of conversation is to share the dvar Torah with whomever he meets. After all, it is his most precious commodity. Who would not share it with his close friends?

With this thought in mind, we can develop a deeper understanding of the mitzvah of limud haTorah. Inherent in the mitzvah of limud haTorah is the imperative that we teach it/share it with others. Le'lamed, to teach, is an intrinsic component of lilmod, to study. We pray for this daily during Shacharis. We supplicate Hashem to "V'sein b'libeinu binah l'havin u'lehaskil, lishmoa, lilmod u'lelamed, lishmor v'laasos u'lekayim." "Instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all Your Torah's teaching." Just as with no understanding or listening no learning can take place, if there is no performance or fulfillment, the Torah study is meaningless. Likewise, if there is no teaching, there is no learning. The two go hand-in-hand.

Yaakov was acutely aware that one who has learned a novel interpretation - or is in possession of a penetrating halachic treatise - is enthusiastic and filled with excitement. He just cannot wait for the opportunity to share this thought with someone. Why should Yosef be different? He was taught in the proper manner. Why should he not share his halachah, with the first person he encounters after twenty-two years, who would appreciate a Torah thought? This was Torah learning the way it was then, as well as the way it should continue to be taught. Torah is life - and without it one cannot live. This should be the attitude towards Torah study. When this is the case, the eisak b'Torah, involvement in Torah, is not surprising. It is life!

Then Yisrael said to Yosef, "I can die this time, after my having seen your face." (46:30)

After twenty-two years of yearning, of hoping, of clinging to faith, Yaakov finally met his long-lost son, Yosef. How joyous and emotionally charged must have been that moment.

Interestingly, Yaakov never discovered how Yosef became viceroy of Egypt. Indeed, this is one of the great mysteries of Sefer Bereishis. Upon perusing the sources, it seems that Yaakov never questioned Yosef about the sequence of events. The Midrash teaches us: "We can learn the righteousness of Yosef, for he did not want to be secluded with his father, to prevent him from asking him what had transpired with the brothers. He might then curse them." Yosef knew that his father was a tzaddik. Thus, his every word became a decree. This means that the curse would take effect.

We derive from the Midrash that Yosef was a caring and sensitive brother who set up every obstacle to keep his father from asking him to fill in the "blanks" for the last twenty-two years. It does not, however, explain what prevented Yaakov from summoning Yosef to a private father-and-son meeting in order to ask him this penetrating question.

We may ask a related question. Why did Yosef not notify his father of his whereabouts during these twenty-two years? He must have sensed that his father was mourning his loss. Why did he put him through this? Were his father's feelings any less significant than those of his brothers? The Shem Mishmuel responds to this question with the idea that Yosef sensed that he was part of a Divine plan. Consequently, he chose not to divulge his whereabouts. If Hashem had chosen not to reveal to Yaakov that Yosef was alive, then Yosef was going to honor this secret. After all, Yitzchak was aware that Yosef was alive, but, nevertheless, chose not to impart this knowledge to Yaakov. Why should Yosef choose a different approach?

The Shem Mishmuel elaborates on this concept. By accepting the Divine plan, Yosef was able to correct a past problem that had been gnawing at him: the misuse of his speech. He had spoken ill of his brothers, something to which the Torah in Parashas Vayeishav (Bereishis 37:2) attests, "And Yosef would bring evil reports about them to his father." Yosef clearly spoke lashon hara, evil speech, about his brothers. While he had a cheshbon, justifiable reason, for doing what he felt was the right thing, he nonetheless spoke disparagingly against them. He misused his G-d-given power of speech. As a form of teshuvah, penance, he was determined to remain alert whenever possible, speaking only when he was certain that he was carrying out the Divine will. Hence, Yosef would not carry on any conversation with Yaakov that did not adhere to the Divine will.

In contrast, Yaakov exemplified control in regard to his speech. Chazal tell us that he never said anything unnecessary except for the statement: "Why did you do me evil to tell the man (Yosef) that you had another brother?" (Bereishis 43:6). This statement, on some spiritual plane, catalyzed the need for Yaakov's personal exile. This might be the meaning of the phrase in the Haggadah, "Anus al pi hadibur" which is usually translated as, "compelled by Divine decree," referring to Yaakov's being compelled to go down to Egypt, as, "forced by the word." In this alternate approach, Hashem was not the force that compelled Yaakov to go to Egypt. Rather, Yaakov's own speech necessitated the exile. Under normal circumstances, Yaakov would have had no reason to experience the exile. He was sufficiently holy. It was this one slip of the tongue that required an individual of his impeccable virtue to be forced to go down to Egypt.

Yosef took great pains to ensure that what exited his mouth was holy, pure and necessary. In this one instance, something went wrong - by Divine will. Hashem "made" him speak disparagingly of his brothers in order to create the excuse for the ensuing exile.

Now that Yaakov and Yosef were both in Egypt, their "errors" had to be rectified. What better way than not to speak unless their speech was a direct manifestation of the will of Hashem? We now have an idea why Yaakov could never ask Yosef to fill in the gaps in his life. It was not G-d's will. Ostensibly, Yosef had no idea about Yaakov's speech and its consequent exile. Thus, as far as he knew, his father's speech was not impeded by an external restraint. We now appreciate why Yaakov would never ask Yosef. The Midrash explains that Yosef avoided being alone with his father, lest he be questioned in regard to the past.

Questions and Answers

1) Why was Pharaoh pleased to hear that Yaakov and the rest of Yosef's family were emigrating to Egypt?

2) In what way was Yaakov's spiritual state affected by the news that Yosef was alive and well?

3) Did any of Yaakov's wives go down with him to Egypt?

4) How many years did the famine last in Egypt?


1) Pharaoh felt that once Yosef's family was in Egypt, Yosef would feel more like a citizen, and he would exert greater care in administering the land (Sforno).

2) The Divine Spirit, which had left Yaakov for the 22 years that he had mourned Yosef, returned to him, as he was no longer depressed (Midrash Tanchuma).

3) In Yosef's dream he depicted the sun, the moon and the stars bowing down to him. The sun represented Yaakov, while the moon symbolized Bilhah, who raised Yosef, as a mother (Rashi). The Torah does not mention that Yaakov went down with a wife, implying that by now they had all passed away. Accordingly, the moon in Yosef's dream did not symbolize his wife, but rather represented Yaakov's seventy descendants as a whole (Ramban).

4) The famine lasted untill Yaakov arrived in Egypt or for only two years (Rashi citing Tosefta Sotah 10:9). Alternatively, the famine was put "on hold" for the seventeen years that Yaakov lived in Egypt and resumed after his death (Ramban citing the opinion of Rabbi Yossi in the Tosefta).

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