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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Then Yehudah approached him and said, "If you please, my lord, may your servant speak a word in my lord's ears." (44:18)

The parsha begins with Yehudah approaching the viceroy, who was none other than his long lost brother, Yosef, and discussing the fate of their brother, Binyamin. As the leader of the brothers, Yehudah had a responsibility to return Binyamin safely to their father, Yaakov Avinu. He was also courageous, since he was in a strange land, surrounded by pagans who were certainly not inclined to favor Jews. Yet, he confronted Yosef, because that was the right thing to do. The Midrash Rabbah 98:6 says that the Jewish People are called Yehudim after Yehudah, rather than any of the other brothers. Apparently, his actions define his unique character, a character that each and every Jew is to emulate.

The most notable reason is that while the other brothers seemed to have been indecisive, Yehudah did not panic, he did not give up hope - he came forward and confronted Yosef. Giving up hope, and despairing from challenge are negative traits which should not be intrinsic to Jewish behavior. A Jew does not give up hope. Regardless of how daunting the challenge, we go forward with our trust and faith in Hashem intact. He will determine our success or failure - not our inaction. Yehudah's actions denote hope, a character trait by which the Jewish People have defined themselves.

In an alternative approach, Horav Aharon Soloveitchik, zl, explains that when Yehudah pled on behalf of Binyamin's release, he focused on two points: the anguish that Yaakov, their elderly father, would suffer when Binyamin would not return with them; the fact that Yehudah had become a guarantor for Binyamin. Upon analyzing these two points from the standpoint of secular law, the second point, Yehudah as the security for Binyamin, should have been mentioned first. The fact that Yehudah undertook a responsibility should play a greater role than Yaakov's discomfort if his youngest son were not to return. Herein lies Yehudah's uniqueness and the mandate for us as Yehudim to emulate.

In Bereishis 18:19, the Torah tells us that Avraham Avinu practiced tzedakah u'mishpat - first tzedakah, then mishpat. Targum Unkelos defines tzedek as k'shot, that which is right and just, and tzedakah as tzidkasa, charity, connoting aid without obligation, offered out of grace and benevolence, not out of duty. Mishpat is law. It implies certain inalienable rights to man as a member of society. Modern law is mishpat. The rights of man give way to the duty of other individuals not to trespass these rights. That is law. One must act accordingly, following the duties imposed upon him as a member of society. In other words, one is allowed to watch someone drown, and he has no obligation to save him unless he has entered into a contractual agreement whereby he is obligated to save him. In light of such an agreement, not saving him would connote a trespass of his rights and a lack of fulfillment of the individual's contractual duty.

Tzedakah implies the opposite of the modern concept of law. Tzedakah goes beyond contractual duty. Whereas in modern law rights give rise to duty, in Yahadus, Judaism, named for Yehudah, duty leads to the concept of rights. Indeed, from the point of view of secular law, the United States government had no obligation to save six million Jews during the European Holocaust. After all, no contractual obligation had been made. This is the fallacy and utter hypocrisy of secular law. Yahadus, however, leads with the aspect of duty and from there moves on to rights.

Upon confronting Yosef, Yehudah first addressed his aged father's pain at not seeing his son return. He was emphasizing the precedence of tzedakah over mishpat, charity with no obligation, mentchlichkeit, human decency and doing that which is right, over mishpat. True, he had accepted the role of Binyamin's surety, but that was secondary to tzedakah, Yaakov's pain. He showed us the way and, as Yehudim, we have followed throughout the millennia, doing what is right even when it extends beyond "duty."

One area in which I feel the concept of tzedakah took precedence over mishpat was during World War II, specifically the efforts of American Jews to save European Jewry. The Vaad Hatzalah was an organization comprised of Orthodox rabbis and lay leaders dedicated toward saving any Jew from the grips of Hitler. The secular Jewish organizations-- of which the Joint was the spokesman-- refused to do anything that was extralegal, including sending illegal cables. This does not diminish their outstanding record of saving Jews. The Vaad Hatzalah, however, maintained that the mitzvah of hatzalos nefashos, saving lives, took precedence over everything else, superseding even the Torah's other commandments and prohibitions. Since Jewish lives were at stake, they were prepared to do whatever was necessary. The Vaad, therefore, employed discretionary measures to funnel funds through Switzerland, Sweden and Uruguay. The Joint would never have adopted such a policy. Throughout the war, the Vaad took courageous-- and often non-orthodox-- measures to save Jewish lives, never fearing appearing as non-conformist. Mishpat is important, and it should never be compromised, but one must use seichal, common sense, to understand that a time and place exists for everything. When the fires are raging and Jews are dying, one does not whisper, "Fire! Fire!" He screams- even if it might disturb somebody. That is the idea of tzedakah.

And do not be angry with your servant, for you are like Pharaoh. (44:18)

Yehudah confronted his brother Yosef, the Egyptian viceroy, appearing to be flattering him by comparing him to Pharaoh. Rashi interprets, "For you are like Pharaoh," as a critique of Yosef: "Just as Pharaoh decrees and does not fulfill so, too, do you." In explanation of Rashi, the Sifsei Hachamim cites the Mizrachi who explains that one of Egypt's laws was a statute that permitted a slave neither to be elevated to royalty, nor to be dressed in clothes designated for a monarch. They wanted to keep their slaves in a position of servitude forever. By elevating Yosef to viceroy status, Pharaoh was essentially breaking Egyptian law. Why would Yehudah mention this? What difference did it make if Pharaoh had violated the laws or not? The Maharshal explains that Yehudah was rhetorically asking Yosef, "On whom do you rely for support - Pharaoh? He himself makes decrees and does not abide by them. It is written in Egyptian law that a slave may not become a king, and he has disregarded that law. How could you feel secure knowing that your source of support is himself unscrupulous?"

We wonder exactly what Yehudah was trying to convey to Yosef? He indicated to him that Pharaoh had broken some of Egypt's laws. So what? Pharaoh was acting on behalf of his country. The people were starving and needed someone with a plan to manage the country during this time of emergency. This was a one-time dispensation due to extenuating circumstances. What indicated that Pharaoh would suddenly betray Yosef at some later date when it would be convenient to do so? Yosef was Pharaoh's and Egypt's savior. He was the man of the hour. It is not as if Pharaoh had a reputation for being unsavory. He did what had to be done on behalf of his country.

Horav Henoch Leibowitz, zl, explains that Pharaoh's overt violation of Egyptian law demonstrated his blatant disregard for the middah, attribute, of emes, truth. He could have easily rescinded or amended the law, thereby indicating that he respected it, but was taking executive action to circumvent any issues in response to an unusual situation concerning the country's welfare. Pharaoh did not care about the law. He did what he wanted, and that was to show complete and total disregard for the law. He stepped over the line of truth, and, once a person has broken the barrier of emes, he is no longer a trustworthy person. I feel it is important to reiterate the Rosh Hayeshivah's words: Once one has breached the boundary of truth, he is not just conveying a falsehood. He is a changed person. He is now a liar and can no longer be trusted for anything. As affable as he may be, he is no longer a friend upon whom one can rely. At a moment's notice, when it is convenient for him, he can and will stab his friend in the back, because once he has overstepped the parameters of emes, he is no longer a scrupulous person. He has no morals with which to maintain his honesty.

We are not talking only about a major prevarication, an out-right lie. Our reference is to any act which involves dishonesty, such as: helping a classmate cheat on a test; showing someone how to get around the tax laws; assisting a friend in any transaction that is not totally legal. As long as it infringes on the limits of truthfulness, he has become an untrustworthy person. He might think that as a good friend it behooves him to help his friend in need. On the contrary, he is demonstrating a lack of friendship, because when he commits a breakdown in emes, he brings himself to the abyss whereby he is liable to betray his friend. A forbidden action, albeit on behalf of a friend, only serves to damage both parties and eventually undermine the very foundation of their relationship.

Having said this, the Rosh Yeshivah continues on to define friendship as going beyond always being present and a constant preparedness to assist in any way. The demonstration of true friendship is to help our fellow man in a manner of absolute integrity. Lying to protect a friend is not friendship. It is shortsighted and meaningless. A true friend is one who remains true not only to his friendship, but to the truth. A relationship fostered upon the ideals of emes is a lasting relationship. It is a bond that transcends simple fellowship. It is an allegiance that is cemented in unity, in which both parties are unified with the truth. Their common affinity to emes creates a relationship of brotherhood, a relationship that cannot be broken.

Thus, no one remained with him when Yosef made himself known to his brothers. (45:19)

Love conquers all. Love overrides the most logical course of action. People put their lives in danger, their finances at risk, all because of their love for their fellow man. Prior to revealing himself to his brothers, Yosef Hatzadik declared, "Remove every man from my presence." Chazal say that he was taking an overwhelming risk, by allowing himself to be alone without the protection of his security force. His brothers were powerful men and could easily have removed the "proof" of their previous indiscretion. Although cognizant of the danger to his life, he nevertheless assessed the situation and decided that, even if it resulted in serious injury or death, he was obligated to do everything to prevent any embarrassment to his brothers. He could not permit the Egyptians to become aware of his brothers' debacle.

Horav Leib Chasman, zl, explains that the fear of shaming his brothers was a more profound emotion than even his yearning for his father. It was all in his cry, "I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?" The pent-up feeling, the swirling emotions-- years of anxiety, fear and trepidation-- all came bursting forth with these words. Yet, he held back his cry until he had confirmed that every Egyptian had left the room. Emotions aside, he was not going to humiliate his brothers - even if they might have deserved it. He could no longer restrain himself; he had waited too long, but not at the expense of his brothers - regardless of their grievance to him. He would check his words and bridle his emotions, no matter the personal consequences. His brothers' dignity was more important.

In this manner, Rav Leib uses this example to explain Chazal's statement concerning shaming a fellow Jew. "It is better for a person to be thrown into a fiery furnace than to embarrass his fellow in public (Sotah 10b)."

This is not a halachah, "It is better." Rather, it is an attitude which must be cultivated and fostered within each and every one of us until it becomes a natural tendency on our part. The sentiment which should prevail is that to shame our fellow is a furnace of such intense heat that it supplants the ferocity of a physical fire. When the choice is presented to us and we must choose between the two "fires," we should select the physical fire. Why? Simply, the physical fire burns us, while shaming another Jew inflicts irreparable damage to him. It is essential that we feel that shaming another person is worse than the heat of a furnace.

The Mashgiach sums it up with a reflection on Yosef HaTzadik. We see that on Yosef's exalted spiritual level, it was easier for him to shatter all of his hopes and crush the aspirations that had motivated him until this point, rather than to embarrass his brothers in front of the Egyptians. Yosef pursued this course of action, despite the fact that he was placing his life in mortal danger - a criticism leveled at him by Chazal. Nonetheless, this was a quality about which he would not compromise. Why? Because love overrides the logical course of action. Even though he was acutely aware that it was not reciprocated, Yosef's love for his brothers superseded his thoughts concerning his personal security.

So Yaakov arose from Beer Sheva; the sons of Yisrael transported Yaakov their father. (46:5)

An apparent inconsistency exists in the pesukim. Here in pasuk 5, the Torah relates that "the sons of Yisrael transported Yaakov their father," implying that they brought him to Egypt. In pasuk 7, the Torah says, "And all his offspring he brought with him to Egypt." Did he bring them, or did they bring him? Horav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zl, explains that while Yaakov Avinu was aged and infirm, creating a situation whereby his children had to bring him to Egypt, they did not view it in this light. As far as they were concerned, he was their manhig, leader, their moreh derech, guide on the path of life, and-- even now as they carried him-- he was leading them along the way to Egypt. This is the type of relationship children should have with their parents. Regardless of the circumstances, children should view their parents as their guides for life.

When one peruses the history of German Jewry, he will note that a number of families followed a pattern set before them by their patriarchal ancestors. In studying the secret of their success, I think it may all be attributed to the relationship between parent and child. The legacy of such noble families as the Hirschs, the Bondis, the Lehmanns, the Munks, the Bambergers, the Carlebachs, are just a few that come to mind. These are legacies that have endured until this very day. Moreover, the descendants still feel inspired by the original patriarch of their respective family. How did they do it? What lesson can we learn from them which can be applied to our own lives and the manner in which we raise our children?

I will select one family as an example and suggest that the reason for their success applies to the others, as well. The patriarch of the Carlebach family was R' Shlomo Carlebach, Rav of Luebeck, a free Hanseatic city in Northern Germany. A talmid chacham, Torah scholar of note, he was a distinguished rav serving in the same position for nearly half a century, a prolific author of many homiletic and halachic treatises, and a dynamic orator. Yet, he remained in many ways a simple person, not prone to any fanfare, never seeking public acclaim. He fathered twelve children: five sons who became distinguished rabbanim; others who became leaders of their respective communities; his daughters married either rabbanim or men who maintained prominent positions in their communities.

Rav Carlebach is described by his grandson and namesake, Horav Shlomo Carlebach, Shlita, as having been both teacher and comrade to all of his children. He taught his sons Talmud and ethics, and they venerated him as the ideal of all that a Torah leader should be. His son, R' Joseph, rav of Hamburg until World War II, wrote: "I shall always be grateful to my father for: the calm and confident manner in which he helped me solve the problems that troubled me; and proving to me that the ideology of traditional Judaism was second to none in its truth and veracity.

Many years later, in his installation sermon as Chief Rabbi of Hamburg, R'Joseph paid tribute to his father's memory with the following words: "If, at this solemn hour, I recall the first impressions of my childhood, when first the rabbinical personality of my sainted father became my life's ideal, I see before me the picture of a simple man, good and pure, whose heart was receptive to the needs of all. He knew of no distinction between the exalted and lowly; to him the welfare of the prisoner behind bars was every bit as significant as the honor and satisfaction of the prominent men of his congregation. His benevolent eye opened my heart, imbuing all who knew him with trust, and with a thirst for knowledge and education."

When children grow up with such a perception of their parents, it is no wonder that they seek to emulate them. Clearly, they have cherished this image throughout their lives. Here was a father who sat down with his children as a friend, but who taught as a teacher. He demonstrated that children learn best from a person whom they trust, admire and love. He cultivated, bolstered, and constantly refined his relationship with each of his children. As the father grew, so did his son. The son felt that he was not only a part of his father's life - he was its most important component. He was his legacy, his future, his raison d'?tre. Is it any wonder that this family has bequeathed such a rich endowment that has sustained the test of time?

Va'ani Tefillah

Karov Hashem l'chol kor'av l'chol asher yikreuhu b'emes.

There is a Midrash in Eichah Rabbah which makes what seems to be an ambiguous statement. "Hashem is close to all who call upon Him." I might think that Hashem listens to all. This is why the pasuk concludes that He listens to those who call with sincerity. The Midrash is difficult to understand, because the pasuk clearly states that Hashem listens to all. What is the meaning of yikreuhu b'emes? The commentators, each in his own inimitable manner, explain this anomaly. Thus, they present to us some of the very foundations of the principles of Tefillah, prayer. We will cite a few of these explanations. Horav Yosef, zl, m'Slutzk, explains that Hashem listens to all - even if the individual is not worthy. Nonetheless, if one calls out with sincerity, Hashem listens to his plea. If the prayer originates in the deepest recesses of his heart, whereby his prayer is piv v'libo shavin, his mouth and heart coincide, what he says is a reflection of what he means. Hashem does not reply positively to the person who is putting on a show, pouring out his heart to Hashem from an unfeeling heart, from a heart that is insensitive to that for which he is asking.

The Haflaah explains that Hashem, in His infinite kindness, motivates a person to pray. He creates situations which inspire and impel prayer. In Egypt, Hashem intensified the Jews' labor, so that they would not have to remain in Egypt for the entire four-hundred year decree. The added misery catalyzed their prayer to Hashem, Who ultimately shortened their stay in Egypt. Hashem is close to all who call out to Him; He does not wait for them to call out. He inspires their prayer so that they will call out to Him with sincerity. He not only waits for our prayers, He catalyzes them.

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