131109 – Parshat VaYeitzei



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

Leah and Rachelrebyosil@gmail.com


Bereishit (Genesis) 28:10 – 31:3

Haftarah – Hosea 12:13 – 14:10



In last week’s Parsha some commentators discussed the concept that both Ya’akov and Eisav were meant to continue and become the third generation of patriarchs. We continue with that theme in this week’s Parsha’s discussion of Ya’akov marrying the two sisters, Rachel and Layah. Rabbis Mendel Kessin and Azri’el Tauber both do an extensive analysis of this interesting chapter in the birth and future of the B’nei Yisra’el.

Rabbi Kessin teaches that in the original plan for mankind, the divine purpose for man was to bring holiness into the world. This is called in Hebrew HitPashtut HaKedushah (the spreading of holiness). However, when the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, was eaten, the Yetzer Hara – Evil Inclination entered into our beings and became part of us. Because of that act, an additional purpose was given to mankind, K’Fiyat Hara (the destruction of Evil). After both the generations of No’ach and Babel failed to fulfill these purposes, Avraham and his children were chosen to bring about these two objectives.

Avraham spread holiness in the world by going out and teaching the ways of HaShem, through his own example. Yitzchak was a solitary man who endeavored to perfect himself and thereby, destroy evil.

Remember that Eisav was a man of the field, and Ya’akov, a dweller of tents. If Eisav had been true to his fate, he would have conquered the physical and material world (Eisav was a man of the field), and accomplish the spreading of holiness by making the mundane holy. Ya’akov, like his father, tried to perfect his entire being, and disallow any evil to exist in his proximity (a dweller of tents).

Rabbi Azri’el Tauber gives us a parable to better understand Eisav. Imagine that a person was born into the home of a powerful Mafioso. The negative influence and pressure on this child would be tremendous. Nevertheless, if he grew up to be a good wholesome person, it would only be because of exerting colossal efforts of self-discipline. Rabbi Tauber says that Eisav was born with enormous impediments to holiness, a strong inclination to materialism, and powerful lusts that needed conquering, consequently – the challenge. Had he channeled and redirected those feelings, Eisav could have become a powerful spiritual force. Instead succumbed to the temptations of the material world and instead of spreading holiness; he spread evil itself. Because of his display of evil, his brother Ya’akov then attempted to take on Eisav’s duties (of HitPashtut HaKedushah) in addition to his own (K’Fiyat Hara).

Now Lavan had two daughters; the name of the older was Layah and the name of the younger was Rachel. Layah’s eyes were tender (Rakot), while Rachel was beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance” (Bereishit 29:16, 17). RaShI cites a Midrash (Rabba 70:15) that explains that Layah’s eyes were tender (from weeping during prayer) because it was decreed that she marry the now evil Eisav. “People used to say that Rivkah had two sons and Lavan had two daughters, the elder daughter would be married to the elder son, while the younger daughter was destined to marry the younger son.” When Layah heard of Eisav’s downfall, she wept in prayer, because instead of marrying a Tzaddik (a righteous man), she would have to marry a Rasha (an evil man). Layah prayed for an annulment of the decree (and her prayers were answered).

But the manner in which her prayers were answered is most interesting. Ya’akov made an arrangement to marry Rachel after he completed seven years of servitude for his uncle Lavan. Distrusting Lavan, he gave Rachel signals to use under the Chupah (the marriage canopy); so that he would know that the veiled bride was, in fact, Rachel. When Lavan substituted Layah for Rachel, Rachel gave her sister Ya’akov’s signals so that Layah would not be embarrassed. When Ya’akov discovered that he was married to Layah, he protested: “…So he said to Lavan, ‘What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I worked for you? Why have you deceived me?’ Lavan said, ‘Such is not done in our place, to give the younger before the elder. Complete the week of this one (seven days of Sheva Berachot) and we will give you the other one too, for the work that you will perform for me yet another seven years” (Bereishit 29:25-27).

The Lekutei Basar Lekutei brings a ChaZaL (a rabbinical teaching) that explains that when Ya’akov said to Lavan, “Why have you deceived me?” Layah replied; “But didn’t you deceive your father when you said, ‘I am Eisav your firstborn?’ ”

The Lekutei Basar Lekutei found it very strange that Layah would defend Eisav, whom she despised. Rather, her words should be understood this way: if your claim to the birth right is true, then Eisav’s claim for me, as his wife, has also been claimed by you. Do not deceive yourself, your father, or me, by taking only part of his birthright.

Layah became the mother of six son’s/tribes and a daughter Deena; and through her maidservant Zilpah, she was accredited with another two sons/tribes. Rachel, on the other hand, became the mother of only sons/two tribes; and through her maidservant Bilhah, with another two sons/tribes. Layah’s prayers were answered; she married a Tzaddik and become a significant partner in the birth of the nation of Israel.

Our Parsha began with Ya’akov leaving Eretz Yisra’el to find a wife. It ends after he becomes the father of a nation and returns home with two wives. Rachel and Layah also became the foundation of this future nation blending their strengths into the spiritual DNA of the B’nei Yisra’el in order to fulfill their true destiny.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

121117 – Parshat Toledot



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

E-mail: rebyosil@gmail.com

Parshat Toldot

Bereishit 25:19 – 28:9

Haftarah: Malachi 1:1 – 2:7



Of the three patriarchs, Yitzchak is the most cryptic. Much of his life is clouded in mystery, for in contrast with his father Avraham and his son Yitzchak, relatively little space in the Torah is dedicated to the details of his life. And even when the events of his life are described, he is usually not the main character in the episode. The Akeidah, for example, is recalled more commonly to dramatize the greatness of Avraham rather than that of Yitzchak.

One story the Torah does tell us can be found in this week’s Parsha and on the surface is seemingly insignificant. The event deals with when Yitzchak re–opens the wells that his father had once dug (Bereishit 26:15): “For all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Avraham, his father, the Pelishtim (Philistines) had stopped them and filled them with dust.” On the surface, this event gives us little insight into his personality; its relevance is somewhat questionable as to the necessity of its inclusion in the text.

Nonetheless, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of blessed memory argues that the amount of text dedicated to Yitzchak should be viewed not as a diminution of his greatness, but rather as an indication of his unique service to HaShem. Mystical tradition actually assigns one of HaShem’s attributes to each of the patriarchs: Avraham represents Chesed (kindness); Yitzchak represents Gevurah (strength); and Ya’acov represents Emet (truth).

Rav Soloveitchik points out that Avraham’s trait of kindness, expresses itself in expansion. Kindness is a movement away from oneself and towards others, and clearly Avraham succeeded in this regard. Yitzchak’s trait, that of strength, by contrast, is a retreat into a private world, with HaShem as his companion. Yitzchak remained in private communion with HaShem for much of his life. He was withdrawn, and because much of his life was concealed from the masses, the Torah tells us little about him. The shortage of text actually reflects the privacy of the man.

Then Yitzchak marries Rivkah. Yitzchak waited until after the Akeidah to marry, because until that moment he belonged exclusively to the Almighty. Once he was offered on the altar, his relationship with HaShem reached its peak, and the man of strength could expand outside his insular world. At this point, explains Rav Soloveitchik, Yitzchak begins to be less of a private individual. He still retains his strength, his sense of inner strength and staying power, but now an element of kindness, that particular trait which so defined his father, becomes apparent in his own person.

The Torah tells the story of the wells, the RaMBaN (acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman [Nachmanides] Gerona, Spain, Israel, 1194-1270) explains, that it appears to be of little benefit or value to the reader or to the honor of Yitzchak. And yet with deeper probing, the significance of this account becomes clearer and reflects an added dimension to Yitzchak’s personality. It speaks of his ability to mature and expand beyond the earlier confines of his character.

When Avraham lived among the Philistines, he had dug many wells, but the Philistines plugged up those wells. Yitzchak not only re–opened the wells, and restored a great good to his society, but he also restored their names according to the names which Avraham had originally given them. Yitzchak’s actions in this one instance signified his transition to a more public role and position, continuing the legacy of his father. Yitzchak moves from his focus on his inner spiritual self to a greater sense of his outward workings.

In addition, Yitzchak also dug three new wells, and the Philistines objected to the first two, and so he called them Eisek, meaning “contention,” and Sitnah, meaning “enmity.” But the third well caused no controversy, and he called it Rechovot, meaning “spacious” or “expansive.” These three names allude to the three Temples, explains the RaMBaN. The first two were destroyed by our enemies because of contention and enmity, but the third will be built with no opposition, and then HaShem will make our borders more spacious and more expansive. So the once–private Yitzchak not only reached out to a spouse, but he also offered hope to countless generations through his generous character and noble actions.

It was his expansiveness of character, something which he came to perhaps later in life, once he became a householder and fashioned a family with Rivkah, that allowed Yitzchak to see something special in Eisav (Esau) and to recognize the modicum of worth in his hunter son, where others had readily dismissed him out–of–hand and discounted his value. We can apply this message of expansiveness of character to the need for us to expand beyond the inner chambers and inner recesses of our private lives, to encompass and include others.

And so it wasn’t simply that Yitzchak opened up the wells and made three new ones, but that he thought of others. He combined his inner strength with the important ingredient for just living, the element of Chesed. He thought of the accomplishments of his father which he sought to restore to his day and age, and he thought of the need to give to others and to extend himself beyond his own personal purpose, and involve himself in the larger world – to correct and perfect the world under HaShem’s dominion.

This offers us an opportunity to reach for goals that are beyond our natural abilities, to involve ourselves in a projection of a greatness that appears larger than life and yet wholly attainable. This is the legacy of our ancestors, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah and Ya’acov and Rachel/Layah, this is our legacy to carry through to the rebuilding of the third Temple which will be built with no opposition, and whose borders HaShem will make more spacious and more expansive through our spacious and expansive outreach.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120616 – Parshat Shelach-Lecha



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



BaMidbar (Numbers) 13:1-14:41

Haftorah – Joshua 2:1-24



The episode of the 12 spies is very difficult to comprehend, and can only be understood when one grasps the Torah in its entirety. In Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:21-23 and in the Book of Joshua 2:1, references are made that shed light on the events leading to Moshe sending out the spies.

As the young nation of Israel approached Eretz Yisra’el (the land of Israel) they demanded that Moshe send spies/scouts to the land and report back regarding its quality and the nature of the population of the land. Though Moshe felt it inappropriate to send the spies, HaShem acquiesced to the people’s lack of faith because He enables us to practice free-will.

Moshe hand picked one representative from every tribe; each spy was a tribal prince in his own right, and prior to sending them out on their 40 day doomed mission, he renamed and blessed his faithful aide, Hoshei’a: “…Moshe called (renamed) Hoshei’a the son of Nun, Yehoshu’a (Joshua)” (BaMidbar 13:16).

The commentaries give various reasons for Moshe changing Hoshei’a’s name to Yehoshu’a. RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France 1040-1105) cites the Talmud in Tractate Sotah 34, informing us that Moshe was afraid that Hoshei’a would be influenced by the other spies. He changed his name from Hoshei’a to Yehoshu’a (HaShem will save), by adding the letter Yod (signifying HaShem’s name) so that HaShem will be Yehoshu’a’s strength and salvation during the 40 day venture into Eretz Yisra’el.

But one question remains. If Moshe wanted the 12 spies to return with a positive report about Eretz Yisra’el, why didn’t he need to also bless Kalev, who together with Yehoshu’a spoke encouragingly about the land?

The K’Tav Sofer (Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer of Pressburg, 1815-1897) teaches that the danger of being influenced by the other spies was not as great with Kalev as it was with Yehoshu’a. The MiDrash however gives a different reason. It suggests that the Meraglim (the spies) were confident that Kalev sided with them. Kalev was somewhat of a diplomat, he didn’t reveal his innermost thoughts. The Meraglim were reassured by Kalev’s behavior. To the Meraglim he said: “I am with you in your counsel.” But in his heart he sided with HaShem and Israel. This can be verified by the conversation between Yehoshu’a and Kalev 45 years later when he said: “…I brought back to Moshe a report that was in my heart” (Joshua 14:7).

Both Yehoshu’a and Kalev were men of strong character. Yehoshu’a’s personality tended to give way to peer pressure and could become influenced by others. Hence, Moshe gave him a name change and with an internal blessing, “May HaShem deliver you from the counsel of the Meraglim.” But Kalev’s was different, when he felt himself weakening to peer pressure Kalev left the Meraglim and prayed for help.

In verse 22 we see a strange syntax being used: “And THEY ascended in the south and HE arrived in Chevron (Hebron) and there were Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of the giant…” How strange, “THEY ascended and HE arrived!” The Talmud (Tractate Sotah 34) tells us that the other Meraglim were afraid to enter into Chevron because of the giants, but Kalev risked danger and went to the Machpelah cave and prayed at the tomb of the Patriarchs. There he called for the ancestors of his nation to give him the strength to withstand the pressure.

Moshe gave Yehoshu’a the extra strength that he would need to overcome his humility and take a stand against the Meraglim. It takes a very special mentor to be able to see and act upon this form of weakness and Moshe was such a mentor. He knew who he was sending and he knew the strengths and weaknesses of each individual. Kalev on the other hand had within himself the ability to find the strength necessary to do the same.

The other ten spies became so wrapped up in the overpowering nature of Eretz Yisra’el that they could not overcome their own natures regardless if they had a blessing or not. After such a prolonged slavery in Egypt, the slave mentality of the Israelites could not be overcome. The nation of Israel was destined to remain in the desert for 40 years, corresponding to the forty days of the spy mission (verse 34). Of course, the exceptions to this decree were Yehoshu’a, Kalev and the entire tribe of Levi, who did not accept the Meraglim’s report.

In a previous “VORTIFY“I wrote about how it was that Ya’akov and Eisav (Jacob and Esau), who grew up in such a highly spiritual home as Yitzchak and Rivkah’s (Jacob and Rebecca) was, turned out so differently. Rabbi Azri’el Tauber comments in his book, As In Heaven, So On Earth (page 133), “…according to RaShI there was a fundamental flaw in the education of Ya’akov and Eisav. When they were youngsters, not enough attention was paid to their differences; they were brought up by their father as if they shared similar personalities, whereas they should have been instructed as two unique personages.”

The cornerstone of Jewish education is in treating each child as an individual. ‘Educate the child according to his way…‘ (Proverbs 24:6). According to RaShI, Eisav was not educated properly! He notes that if their parents, Yitzchak and Rivkah made this mistake, each of us can easily do the same thing. That is the Torah’s purpose in teaching us this lesson; so that we can avoid this common pitfall.”

Moshe was careful not to make the same mistake that our Patriarch Yitzchak did. He understood the qualities of Yehoshu’a, Kalev and the other princes; he knew their strengths as well as their weaknesses and gave Yehoshu’a exactly what he needed. As parents, potential parents and as teachers, we must always look closely at our children/students and give them the individual teaching and instruction that corresponds to their unique characters.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

111203 – Parshat VaYeitzei



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



Bereishit (Genesis) 28:10 – 31:3

Haftarah – Hosea 12:13 – 14:10



According to some commentaries the breach between of Ya’akov and Eisav in last week’s Parsha had devastating results because BOTH Ya’akov and Eisav were meant to be patriarchs of the “Chosen People.” Eisav was originally destined to be a partner with his brother and together would bring redemption to the world. But on the day of their grandfather Avraham’s death, Eisav succumbed to great temptation and became unworthy to assume his special role in the world.

We continue with this theme in this week’s Parsha’s discussion of Ya’acov marrying the two sisters, Rachel and Layah. Rabbis Mendel Kessin and Azri’el Tauber both do extensive analyses of this interesting chapter in the lives of our patriarchs.

Rabbi Kessin teaches that the original Divine Purpose for mankind was to bring holiness into the world. This in Hebrew is called HitPashtut HaKedushah (the spreading of holiness). However, when Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they changed reality and internalized the Yetzer Hara (the evil inclination) which now entered into our beings and became an actual part of us. Because of that action, an additional purpose was imposed upon mankind, namely, K’Fiyat Hara (the destruction of Evil). After the generations of No’ach and the Tower of Babel failed to spread holiness and destroy evil, these two tasks were taken away from mankind and given to Avraham and his descendants. With these two objectives in play, our status as the “Chosen People” was given to this fledgling nation.

Avraham spread holiness in the world by going out and doing acts of kindness, teaching and by his example brought the ways of HaShem to the world. Yitzchak was a solitary man who endeavored to perfect himself and thereby, destroy the evil within himself (this is the true , meaning of Tikkun Olam – rectifying the world). In the next generation, this is depicted in the Torah by the description of the two brothers, Eisav was a “man of the field” (he went out into the world), Ya’akov was a “dweller of tents” (he privately delved within himself). Had Eisav been true to his destiny, he would have conquered the physical and material world, thereby spreading holiness, by making the mundane holy. Ya’akov, like his father, tried to perfect his entire being, and disallow evil to exist in his proximity. Bear in mind that in order to successfully go out into the world and affect change, one needs certain personality traits like being an extravert, having charisma and charm, being astute – all containing the very same ingredients that can cause one to fail.

Rabbi Azri’el Tauber gives us a parable to better understand Eisav. Imagine that a person was born into the home of a powerful Mafioso. The negative influence and pressure that this child would bear would be tremendous. If he grew up to be a good wholesome person, it could only be because of a colossal act of self-discipline. Rabbi Tauber says that Eisav was born with enormous impediments to holiness, a strong inclination to materialism, and powerful lusts. Had he channeled and redirected those feelings, Eisav would have become a powerful spiritual force. Eisav, however, succumbed to the temptations of the material world and instead of spreading holiness; he became the embodiment of Evil itself. Though Ya’akov then attempted to take on Eisav’s duties (of Hitpashtut HaKedushah) in addition to his own (of K’Fiyat Hara) he was unsuccessful. Only later after his son Yosef revealed himself was the role of Eisav finally fulfilled (the role of patriarch was shared by Yosef as he was the only son of Ya’akov whose children also became tribes).

These two Divine characteristics can be found in all of us. Some of us are given tools to go out into the world and influence people to become aware and cognizant of HaShem’s majesty. Others do not have that ability; they must strive for perfection, ever seeking to destroy the evil inherent in them. For a person with one trait to attempt to fulfill the other trait can be disastrous, each of us must search ourselves and find that spark that can guide us on our own individual path.

As fantastic as this hypothesis seems, it is the way of the world. In the medical profession some become doctors, going out into the world and healing people. Others go into research and perfect their knowledge until a new drug or treatment or piece of equipment is developed that betters mankind. In mathematics, some teach others discover. This is true for all disciplines, one characteristic is to bring it out into the world, the other is to develop and perfect that very same disciple.

Getting back to our Parsha, this same tension is happening between the sisters that marry Ya’akov. “Now Lavan had two daughters; the name of the older was Layah and the name of the younger was Rachel. Layah’s eyes were tender (Rakot), while Rachel was beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance” (Bereishit 29:16, 17). RaShI brings a Midrash (Rabba 70:15) that explains that “Layah’s eyes were tender” (from weeping) because it was decreed that she marry the evil Eisav. People used to say that Rivkah had two sons and Lavan had two daughters, the elder daughter would be married to the elder son, while the younger daughter was destined to marry the younger son.” Combined, they would mother a nation that would bring light to the world.

When Layah heard of Eisav’s downfall, she wept, because instead of marrying a Tzaddik (a righteous man), she would be forced to marry a Rasha (an evil man). Layah prayed (and her prayers were answered) for an annulment of the decree.

Destiny ordained that the nation of Israel will emerge from Rachel and Layah. Though Eisav was removed from the process, these two sisters still managed to give birth to the nation that will incorporate both outreach and in-reach and bring redemption to the world. Our responsibility is to find the characteristic that we must assume to fulfill the destiny of the descendants of Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, and Ya’akov, Rachel and Layah.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

101218 – Parshat VaYichi

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
Parshat VaYichi
Torah Reading Bereishit (Genesis) 47:28-50:26
Haftorah – 1 Kings 2:1-12

Parshat VaYichi is the last Parsha in Bereishit, bringing us to stage two of the Biblical narrative: Israel’s exodus from Egypt. To review, the book of Bereishit began with the origins of humanity and traced the battle, which takes places when choosing between good and evil. It then dealt with the role of Israel as “G-d revealers,” a role that was originally given to all humanity, but man failed three times:
1. In the Garden of Eden
2. Ten generations later, at the time of No’ach
3. Ten generations later, at the Tower of Babel.

Avraham and his descendants were “chosen” to reveal HaShem’s goodness and that His holiness is accessible to all. They were also “chosen” to obliterate evil, both from within and without. The reward for fulfilling this role was twofold:
1. They would inherit Eretz Yisra’el – the Land of Israel
2. They would forever be HaShem’s “chosen” people.

The Or HaChaim states in Parshat Lech Lecha, that in order to establish any dominion over an object, territory or “nation,” one must acquire Chazaka (authority) over the possession through a three-fold or three-time control. Even the establishment of a national identity needs the Chazaka of three generations to be realized. Before Avraham could be established as the first of the patriarchs, there had to be a distinct separation from his previous generations. That is why Avraham could not have Yitzchak until he could no longer naturally father children. In addition, in each of the next two generations, there was an active power struggle to obtain control.

Avraham and Sarah went into the world and successfully revealed HaShem to hundreds of thousands of pagans. They had two sons, Yitzchak and Yishma’el, but Yishma’el is rejected (Bereishit 21:10) and only Yitzchak was retained as the second patriarch. Yitzchak receives only territory for his inheritance, for the status of “chosen people” could only be obtained in the third generation.

Yitzchak, dedicated as a holy offering to HaShem (Bereishit 22) spent his life destroying the evil that was around him. He and Rivkah also had two sons, Ya’akov and Eisav. Once again, there is a struggle in this third generation. This time, Eisav is rejected (but he was entitled to receive the territory of Se’ir from his father), while Ya’akov received both territory and people-hood. (As a footnote, is it not interesting that the modern descendants of Yishma’el and Eisav still are battling with Israel over inheritance? The Arab nation, descendants of Yishma’el, claim that Eretz Yisra’el is rightfully theirs. The Christian communities, descendants of Eisav also known as Edom, and always associated with the Roman Empire and later the Holy Roman Empire, claim that they are the chosen people and not the Jews).

Ya’akov, of course, has 12 sons and a daughter, and even though there are conflicts, no child was rejected. Therefore, the children of Ya’akov are called the B’nei Yisra’el (the children of Israel), a unified group – a nation, who have resolved their dissension and their differences and have joined their brother and their father in Egypt. Our Parsha begins with their tranquil life in Egypt. However, before we begin looking at our Parsha, one more piece of information is necessary.

The Torah is written without designated chapters and verses. Each of the five books contains a series of major and minor paragraphs; some paragraphs are separated by nine character spaces and others by the text beginning a new line. The beginning of a Parsha usually begins at one of the two forms of a designated new paragraph. Sentences and phrasing are inferred from the “trop” (musical notes) that appear with the vowels in the printed versions of the Torah. Parshat VaYichi is unique in that it is “Sa’tum” (closed); there is no separation between the beginning of this Parsha and the end of the last Parsha.

Let us begin. RaShI tells us two reasons why the Parsha is Sa’tum:
1. Since this is the last Parsha in Bereishit, and Ya’akov dies in this Parsha, “…the eyes and the hearts of Israel were “closed” from the expectation of the suffering of the bondage (RaShI assumes that we know that as long as the sons of Ya’akov were alive, the physical bondage would not begin).
2. Ya’akov wanted to reveal the final redemption of Israel (Bereishit 49:1), but that revelation was “closed off” from him.

As long as we keep the memory of Ya’akov alive through our actions (by continuing with his sacred mission), VaYichi Ya’akov – and Ya’akov lives. The Egyptian bondage passes, yet, the final redemption may take thousands of years to occur: that is of no concern, it is the mission that is all-important. RaShI teaches us that the Torah alludes to the vision of our national purpose by making this Parsha closed off from the others.

In fact, in chapter 49 prior to Yaakov’s death, he desired to inform his sons of the time of the final redemption. He gathered his children around his bed and suddenly his memory failed. Ya’akov was despondent, he thought that it was his son’s unworthiness that caused HaShem to take away the memory of the redemption. The 12 sons of Ya’akov knew what their father was thinking and tried to reassure him that they fully believed in HaShem. They said in unison:
Shema Yisra’el – Hear us our father Israel,
HaShem Elokeinu – HaShem is our G-d,
HaShem Echad – and HaShem is One.
When Ya’akov heard the response of his sons to his doubts, he knew that his lapse of memory had nothing to do with their worthiness, but, rather, it was HaShem who did not want this information to be revealed. With this realization, Ya’akov replied:
Baruch Sheim K’vod Malchuto L’Olam VaEd –
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom, forever and ever.

These well-known phrases became the mainstay of our daily morning and evening prayers.

The Zohar, on the other hand, sees a different reason for the Parsha being Sa’tum. It explains that in last week’s Parsha Ya’akov was despondent. He had suffered greatly: the struggle with Eisav his brother; the conflict with Lavan his father-in-law; the episode with his daughter Dinah’s rape; and of course Rachel’s premature death had not disheartened the life of our greatest patriarch. At each of his trials not only did he succeed, he was able to see the good that came out of the experience for the future benefit of his family. That is – until the disappearance of Yosef. Then Ya’akov became despondent and lost his power of prophecy, which was not returned to him until joy was restored when he and Yosef were reunited.

Now in Egypt, Ya’akov experienced the seventeen happiest years of his life. As he watched his children and grandchildren grow in both material and spiritual wealth, Ya’akov experiences M’ein Olam HaBah (a taste of paradise). The Zohar explains that this direct connection with “real life,” which Ya’akov had the privilege of experiencing in Egypt, is why the two Parshi’ot of VaYigash and VaYichi are linked together.

This Parsha, which tells of the death of our namesake, is called VaYichi (and he lived). As we know, the material aspect of man is temporal while the spiritual is eternal. The body of Ya’akov can die and be buried, but the soul of Ya’akov lives on forever in the bodies and souls of his descendants, Israel. Though we may endure the bondage of Egypt, or Babylonia, or Greece or Rome, our spirit will never collapse, but will endure forever.

Just as Ya’akov knew that the final redemption would occur and though he could not reveal it to his sons, they also knew that there would one day be a final redemption. May we always be cognizant of our role in the final days and may we always find strength from our declaration of faith:
Shema Yisra’el – Hear O’ [nation of]Israel,
HaShem Elokeinu – HaShem (the Merciful) is (a Just) G-d,
HaShem Echad – HaShem, He is One.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

Parshat Miketz

We continue with the saga of Joseph and his brothers but this week we focus on the amends necessary to bury all the hatchets. After successfully interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Yosef is elevated to the position of Viceroy of Egypt, a position of immense power. Now known by his Egyptian name, Tzafnas Panayach, Yosef becomes the architect and chief administrator of a plan that not only rescues Egypt from the great famine, but also results in the subservience of all other countries suffering from the same famine. The seven bountiful years produced a tremendous yield that was stored safely by Yosef, and now we see how the seven meager years bring about the reuniting of Yosef with his family.

Ya’akov sends his ten oldest sons to Egypt to bring back provisions; but his youngest son, Binyamin, the last remaining child of his beloved Rachel; he keeps at home with him.

Yosef accuses the brothers of being spies:

“Now Yosef was the ruler over the land and he provided for all the people of the land. Yosef’s brothers came [to Egypt] and they bowed down to him, faces to the ground. And Yosef saw his brothers and he recognized them, but he acted like a stranger toward them and spoke with them harshly. He said to them, ‘from where do you come?’ And they said, “From the land of Canaan to buy food.” Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Yosef recalled the dreams that he dreamed about them, and he said to them, ‘You are spies! To see the land’s nakedness have you come!’ (Bereishit 42:6-9).”

The sons of Jacob arrive in Egypt and are immediately recognized by Yosef, but they do not recognize him. RaShI tells us that when Yosef was last with his brothers, he was beardless but now that 22 years have elapsed, his beard made him unrecognizable to his brothers.

Let us look closely at these verses and see where they lead us.

The Midrash Tanchuma (8) and the Midrash Rabba (91:6) elaborates on the meeting between Yosef and his brothers.

“…and they bowed down to him, faces to the ground.” (Bereishit 42:7)

Yosef had ordered all border guards to report any aliens entering into Egypt. He received a report that his ten brothers had arrived in Egypt from ten different border crossings. He had them rounded up and brought to him. As soon as Yosef saw his brothers bow down to him he thought, “Today the dreams of my youth have become actualized.”

Yosef took a goblet, tapped on it and looked into it and said to his brothers, “My goblet tells me that you are spies.” They replied, “Our father commanded us not to enter together, through one gate.” Yosef asked, “And what were you doing in the market?” They answered, “We lost something and we were looking for it there.”

Yosef then said,

“My goblet also tells me that two of you murdered the entire town of Shechem (Bereishit 34:25).”

They became terrified and said, “We are twelve brothers. Our father sent the ten of us for wheat, because of the famine there are many thieves on the road. If we were so strong, two of us would have been sufficient to make the journey.”

In verses 13 and 14, the brothers identify themselves:

“…We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; the youngest is with our father and one is gone.” However, Yosef said to them, “This is what I have been saying to you: You are [in fact] spies.”

RaShI again quotes the Midrash and offers the following exchange between Yosef and his brothers. “Yosef said to them, “Had you found him [your lost brother], and his captors set an exorbitant price for him, would you have ransomed him?” They said to him: “Yes.” He said to them: “And if they would have said to you that they would not give him back for any price, what would you do?” They said to him: “This is what we came for: to kill or to be killed.” [This only reinforced Yosef’s argument that the sons of Ya’akov were spies.] So Yosef said to them; “This is what I have been saying to you: You have come to kill the people of the city. If two of you murdered the entire town of Shechem, then the ten of you are a danger to Egypt, you are [in fact] spies.”

In verse three it says; “And Yosef’s ten brothers went down to buy grain.”

RaShI comments that the fact that the verse did not say “and Ya’akov’s ten sons,” but “and Yosef’s ten brothers went down,” indicates that they regretted their sale of Yosef and wanted to ransom their brother at any price. However, in order to erase the terrible sin that the brothers had done both to Yosef and to their father, Yosef had to put them into a similar situation, so that a Tikkun (a rectification) could be made.

Yosef treats his brothers harshly. Logic would tell us that it is payback time. Yet Yosef is referred to in rabbinic literature as Yosef HaTzaddik (Joseph the Righteous), so revenge could not have motivated him to treat his brothers harshly. So, what could have been Yosef’s motivation? The answer is Teshuvah (repentance). When the brothers said, “We lost something and we were looking for it there.” Yosef knew that they were searching for him. They thought that possibly he was working as a slave in one of the market stalls, and could not have imagined that Yosef was the second most powerful man in Egypt. However, they came to make amends, to bring back Yosef at any price.

Remember, Yosef had two dreams (in the first, his brother’s sheaves bowed to his, and in the second the sun, moon and eleven stars bowed to him). The first had come true, but the second, bringing his father to Egypt, was still in the making. RaShI informs us (verse 8) that when Yosef recognized his brothers, he held great power over them, and yet, he had mercy upon them, contrary to the way he was treated while under their power.

Though it appeared as harsh treatment, Yosef was in fact forcing them into a situation where they would act benevolently to ransom their younger brother (who was also a son of Rachel and was held dearly by Ya’akov), thereby rectifying their earlier transgression. First Binyamin, his brother, had to be brought to Egypt and taken from the control of the brothers.

The freeing of Binyamin from the clutches of the evil Egyptian ruler would set the stage for the Tikkun (the rectification) of their former deed and for the revelation of who Tzafnas Panayach really was. Only then could Ya’akov and his entire household come to Egypt to fulfill Yosef’s second dream.

This entire drama of Yosef and his brothers also prepares the way for the fulfillment Avraham’s covenant with HaShem at the Brit Bain HaBitarim (the covenant between the pieces – Bereishit 15:13-20) when Avraham was told that his descendants would be “strangers in a strange land” there to be forged into a great nation.

Our Parsha is the bridge between three different dreams or prophesies. Its intrigue is enhanced greatly when we see the different levels that the players are performing on.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
Torah Readings: Bereishit (Genesis) 41:1-44:17
Maftir: BaMidbar (Numbers) 7:34-41
Haftorah – Zachariah 2:14-4:7

Parshat Vayeishev

Rabbi Mendel Kessin in Flatbush, New York teaches a great mystical lesson about the patriarchs. In the three generations that are necessary to bring about the birth of our nation, we find rivalry between the sons of the patriarchs. These struggles or tensions are part of an essential design to create a spiritual DNA so to speak, that will energize and empower the destiny of future generations to complete their task, namely, to be “a light unto the nations” and bring G-d’s presence into the pagan world.

To establish this potency, the nation must employ two traits: first, they must be capable of HitPashtut HaKedushah – to spread holiness; second, they must be capable of Kefi’at HaRa – to destroy evil. Rarely is one person capable of doing both, therefore combinations of individuals must be employed.

Avraham’s role as the founder of the nation was to go out in the world and spread holiness. He did this by exemplifying the trait of Chesed – loving-kindness. His hospitality and concern for his fellow man is unequaled among the other monotheists.

His son Yitzchak, considered to be G-d’s “Korban – offering” needed to destroy evil. He did not do so by going out into the world and righting wrongs. He went inside himself, he utilized “Gevurah – inner strength” to purify himself and create a person of virtue and integrity, this is called “Tikkun Olam – rectifying the world.”

However, in the third generation, the generation that will finalize the character of this “chosen nation,” both Ya’akov and Eisav were to jointly combine both of these traits and complete the “spiritual DNA.” Between the two brothers, they were to marry two sisters and each would produce six personalities that would complete and bring this two-fold potential into reality. Eisav the “man of the field” was to go out into the world and follow his grandfather Avraham’s example and spread holiness. Ya’akov the “dweller of tents” was to follow the example of his father Yitzchak and perfect himself. This combination would finally complete the “genetic” configuration of the Jewish soul needed to accomplish G-d’s plan. However, as we know, Eisav fell from grace and polluted himself with sinful indulgences, thus disqualifying himself from the equation.

Another powerful individual was needed to complete this task and Ya’akov saw that his first-born son from his true love Rachel, was that replacement. Yosef the dreamer, the bearer of a cloak of title, was being groomed to attain a special rank of “Av – patriarch.” Yet, Yosef appears to us as a spoiled child, deserving of the wrath of his brothers. Nothing could be further from the truth. They knew their father’s plan and accepted it, however Yosef appeared to be self-indulgent, haughty and vain, traits that would lead to failure, just as Eisav failed.

The ten sons of Ya’akov were men of highest character and integrity. Could Yosef’s brothers, who were “Tzaddikim – righteous men” in their own right, succumb to such a base emotion as common jealousy?

According to the Midrash, Yosef acted like a prima donna. He dressed himself lavishly and acted in a haughty manner. The commentaries say that he spent an excessive amount of time in front of a mirror combing his hair. He told half-truths (or his version of the truth) about his brothers to his father. He was so full of potential, but his brothers worried that he would succumb to life’s temptations and delay or even worse fail to complete the task of spreading of holiness.

The brothers were impatient, they did not realize that the spoiled child with status above their own, would actually grow and mature into “Yosef HaTzaddik – Yosef the righteous” and complete his objective pave the way to salvation.

Our Parsha begins with dreams and ends with dreams. In chapter 37 verses 5 – 11, Yosef reports two dreams that related to his family. In the first, his brothers were all binding sheaves during the harvest and his brothers’ sheaves bowed down to Yosef’s sheaf. In the second, he dreamt that the sun, the moon and the stars which represented his parents and his eleven brothers all bowed down to him (these dreams would become reality when the family reunites in Egypt, 22 years in the future).

At the end of our Parsha, after repeatedly being traded and sold, Yosef arrives in Egypt and begins his transformation. When Yosef refuses the temptations of Potiphar’s wife, he is thrown into prison and remains there until he successfully interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and baker, the former is executed and the later reinstated. This sets the stage for the real purpose of Yosef’s suffering and slavery – the preparation for the intended Israelite sojourn in the land of Egypt.

Seforno (1470-1550, Rabbi Ovadia Seforno of Rome and Bologna, Italy, classic commentator on the Torah) teaches us that Yosef being sold into slavery was, in fact, a case of Midah K’Neged Midah – measure for measure. The brothers felt that just as Yosef saw himself as a master over them (in his dreams the sheaves and the stars represented his brothers bowing down to him), now it would be he who would become a slave. Little did they know that they would all bow down to this man who bore the mantel of power over their very lives.

Ya’akov saw special qualities in his son Yosef. In Parshat VaYichi (chapter 48), we will see that the sons of Yosef were actually given equal status to the sons of Jacob. Yosef’s fulfillment of his potential while he lived in Egypt gave him the rank of an “Av – a patriarch.” This concluded with Yosef being the only son of Jacob whose two sons (Menasha and Efra’im) actually became heads of their own tribes.

On the festival of Sukkot, we welcome the Ushpizin (the 7 major patriarchs of the Jewish nation) into our Sukkot. They are Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef and David, each a pillar of strength and stability for future generations. Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov are the original patriarchs; Moshe, the lawgiver is the greatest of all prophets; Aharon was the forbearer of the Priestly tribe. Finally, Yosef and David, are the foundation stones of the two “Mashichim – Messiahs” the Davidic Messiah and the Yosef Messiah.

With all this information, the one question that we must ask ourselves is, who is in control? Do we control our lives or does G-d? Each stage (and I have only given a very brief review of the complex saga of Yosef and his brothers) is rife with questions of predestination versus free will. This is a real story and in our lives, our communities, our nation and our planet, with forces that propel and compel us to make choices. Each choice is real and has its own consequences, sometimes they turn out for the good and sometimes they do not.

The brothers did what they did to Yosef because they thought Yosef would follow his uncle Eisav and bring destruction not only to future nation, but also to all of humanity. They chose to sell Yosef into slavery and change what they believed was Yosef’s path to self-destruction. Only after Yosef reveals himself do they comprehend that they were pawns in a much larger scheme. Long before, at the “Brit Bein HaBitarim – the covenant between the pieces” (Bereishit 15:13-20) their grandfather Avraham, had been foretold that his descendants would be “strangers in a strange land” there to be forged into a great nation.

This is the theme of the upcoming festival of Chanukah: HaShem’s hand is in everything that happens to us. Sometimes we live in contentment, peace and security, and sometimes our reality is extremely bleak. 2,500 years ago, a small band of Maccabees without any military training found themselves in a bleak reality. They choose to go against all odds, they opposed the mighty Greek culture and military machine and succeeded in keeping the flame of Judaism alive.

Today, we also face our own bleak realities. The world appears to oppose Israel and her very existence. Still, we say in the blessings over the Chanukah candles, “Sh’Asah Nisim La’Avotaynu BaYamim HaHeim U’baZeman HaZeh – for the miracles that You did for our ancestors in those days and at this time.” HaShem is constantly directing us into decision-making. Let us choose life, let us choose light and fulfill our destiny, to spread holiness in the world and destroy the evil within us and become “a light unto the nations.”

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Samei’ach,

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
Bereishit (Genesis) 37:1-40:23
Haftorah ‑ Amos 2:6-3:8

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