Vayigash-A Fact of Life in Child Rearing

This dvar Torah is based on a shmuz I heard from Rabbi Daniel Meister, Director of MAJOR, campus kiruv organization in the Milwaukee area.

Now for some food for thought:

After Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he brought his father and entire family down to the land of Egypt, and they settled in the city of Goshen. “Yosef settled his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best part of the land, in the area of Ramses, as Pharaoh ordered. Yosef provided for his father, his brothers, and his father’s entire household with bread according to the needs of the children. There was no bread in all the land, for the famine was very severe. The land of Egypt and Canaan were worn out because of famine” (Breishis/Genesis 47:11-13).
Rashi (verse 12) is bothered by why the Torah says Yosef gave “bread according to the children.” Were the adult members of the household not provided for? Rashi explains that Yosef gave according to the needs of all the members of the household. The implication here is that bread was providedeven for the children, who tend to crumble and waste bread (See Sifsei Chachamim note 30).
The Mizrachi, a commentary on Rashi, elaborates and says that Yosef gave out loaves of bread even according to the needs of the child, and that is normal of them to crumble and throw around their bread; which means he gave them more than what they actually needed in order to survive. Yosef therefore, must definitely have given exactly what the adults needed to sustain themselves. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
Imagine the scene; there was a severe famine for over two years, not only in the land of Egypt but elsewhere as well, including but not limited to the land of Canaan. People are starving, food must be rationed. A plan was hatched by Yosef to be sure no one would go hungry; everyone had to come to him to get food. He gained the respect and trust of Pharaoh and his people by taking care of their needs, at whatever cost. He must have stipend every piece of grain, every loaf of bread to its exactitude; if not, imagine the uproar.

Assuming this was true, how could more bread be stipend for the children then what was needed just to eat? Either teach the children to not waste food or the parents should be extra careful to be sure no food was wasted. Why should Yosef have had to take into account the fact that children waste food at the possible expense of a future food shortage?

Everyone can picture how a baby or infant eats his or her food. I clean up my baby’s high chair and floor around it daily. The floor is full of crumbs and globs of goop from food he spreads around. Even my older children wreak a certain degree of chaos when they eat, and many times can’t finish what is on their plates.

We see from here that even in extreme situations, like severe famine, we must take into account the nature of children to waste food. One should not overreact but plan accordingly and act with patience, because that is just the way children are. Granted, as they get older, they will learn to use their manners and to have more self-control, but in the meantime we, as parents, should strive to not overreact, even when food is being wasted. If Yosef, took into account the nature of how children eat even during a time of severe famine, giving them extra food to offset their wastefulness, certainly we must have this in mind with our children.
Enjoy your next meal!

Miketz-Regesh: Showing Emotion or Caring

This dvar Torah is taken from a shmuz I heard in Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim by Rav Moshe Chait of blessed memory.

Now, for some food for thought:

According to Rav Yisrael Salanter, one of the major foundations of mussar [character development] is the natural response of people to their surroundings. There are many mitzvos in the Torah that touch our souls, such as: “And you shall love the Lord your G-D” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

An excellent illustration of regesh [caring] is found in this week’s Torah portion of Miketz, in the confrontation between Yosef and his brothers. The Rambansays that the original argument between Yosef and his brothers was regarding a matter of Jewish Law. The brothers convened a bais din [rabbinic court] and concluded that Yosef was attempting to kill them spiritually. The brothers believed that Yosef was giving reports to their father Yaakov, telling him that the brothers didn’t deserve to continue the line of Torah, just as Yishmael and Esav lost that privilege. If this was the argument, then it must have been a very harsh claim; on the other hand, we see the sensitive feelings demonstrated by the brothers. They couldn’t bring themselves to physically kill him Yosef; rather, they threw him into a pit filled with snakes and scorpions. Only after they saw that he was not being touched by these lethal creatures did they decide he was not deserving of death, and instead sold him into slavery.

In Breishis [Genesis] Chapter 42, verse 3 it says: “Ten of the brothers of Yosef went down to Egypt to get provisions.” Rashi points out that it says the “brothers of Yosef” and not the “sons of Yaakov” to indicate that the brothers regretted selling Yosef, even after 22 years. They were prepared, as brothers, to find him and bring him home.

The Ramban observes that in verses 10-18 Yosef, in disguise, proclaims to his brothers that they are spies, and places them under arrest. He then says that he will only detain one of them, and that the rest can return home, with food, because “I fear G-D.” Yosef’s demonstration of fearing G-D was demonstrated in that people being accused of spying would normally be punished with the death penalty; but since he claimed to be G-D fearing, he shows that he cared about their family. That is why he sent them home with provisions; a true G-D fearing individual is willing to perform acts of kindness, even at his own expense.

Rashi again points out that Yosef jailed the one brother, Shimon, “in front of their face” to show his seriousness. But when they had departed he freed Shimon and treated him well, out of feelings of brotherhood.

When the brothers came back with Binyamin, Yosef asked: “Is this your little brother?” and proceeded to bless him. The Ramban says that Yosef was still ready to put them in jail, but was testing his brothers to see if they still had hatred for him due to the fact that he was not from the same mother as them. In this same scene he subsequently broke down and had to run to  another room to cry.

The Yalkut Shimone (paragraph 150) says that when Yosef blessed Binyamin he got close to him and asked him if he had a brother. Binyamin said: “I had a brother but I have missed him for 22 years.” Yosef asked: “Do you have a wife?” Binyamin replied: “Yes with ten children and all the children were named after the anguish of being without my brother.” That was why Yosef broke down crying; he saw the love that Binyamin had for his lost brother, even after 22 years.

We cannot develop our character without being in tune to our emotions. One must have feelings of caring and love for one’s fellow man. The true sign of love is sacrifice; the problem is that people are like logs: numb and without feeling.

Vayeshev- Blurred Gray or Clear Gray

After the brothers sold Yosef into slavery, tore his garments, dipped them in goat’s blood and told their father that Yosef was torn apart by a wild animal, Yaakov ripped his garments and was inconsolable. “All his sons and daughters got up to comfort him and he refused solace, he said ‘I will mourn for my son until I am buried’ and his father cried over him” (Breishis [Genesis] 37:35).
The Daas Zekeinim asks who these daughters were, for there was only one known daughter of Yaakov, Dinah. The Daas Zekeinim answers that, according to one opinion, each of Yaakov’s sons were born with a twin sister, and the twins married each other. The Daas Zekeinim askes an obvious question; doesn’t it say in Gemara [Talmud] tractate Yoma 28b that Avraham our forefather observed every single mitzvah, even eruv tavshilin (the rabbinic enactment which allows one to cook on Shabbos for Yom Tov when Yom Tov falls on Friday)? They even fulfilled the mitzvah of yibum [levirate marriage] as Yehuda told his son to do after his brother passed away without children. If this was the case, how did Yaakov’s sons marry there sisters? Also, how did Yaakov marry two sisters?

The Daas Zekeinim answers that since they were not commanded to follow the Torah, even though they knew it through Divine inspiration [ruach hakodesh], whatever they wanted to do they fulfilled and whatever they did not want to do they set aside.

Yet when it says in Gemara [tractate Pesachim 119b] that ‘in the World to Come at the Feast of the Righteous Yaakov will be given the cup of wine to lead the Grace after the Meal (bircas hamazon) but he will refuse it because he married two sister,’ this implies that it was an inappropriate thing to do. So why did he marry them?
The Daas Zekeinim say that one can answer that despite it not being forbidden at the time, never the less, since the Torah declared it forbidden in the future, he deserved a slight punishment. And despite knowing that he would receive a slight punishment for marrying them, he did so because he only wanted to marry righteous women and he was unable to find, in that generation, women as righteous as them. To marry one (just Leah or Rochel) would have been impossible, because one woman could not have given birth to all twelve tribes. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Taking this to a deeper level, we arrive at something very perplexing. Yaakov, and all the tribes for that matter, were on extremely high levels of belief and understanding of Hashem, of reward and punishment. They understood that the Torah is the blueprints of creation and they were divinely inspired to live their lives with this tool. They obviously, therefore, felt that the right decision was to observe what the Torah entails in order to  ensure they lived a healthy and moral life, and that they keep the world functioning in a healthy and moral manner. We can assume they wouldn’t do anything too negligent, which might compromise their belief system.

If so, something is not right here. If it was deserving of punishment, why did Yaakov marry two sisters? And if they were the ones he was supposed to marry, because they were the best candidates, why was he even slightly punished?
We must conclude, then, that not everything is black or white; rather, many things in life are shades of gray. It is possible that Yaakov had to marry two sisters even if the Torah said that it was  forbidden to do so, and that there would be automatic consequences to him, which would, to some degree, effects the whole entire world. It was still the right decision to make, as there was no one else in the world befitting to marry.

After the Torah was given to the Jews on Har Sinai [Mount Sinai] the mitzvos inside were no longer voluntary. However we can still learn a tremendous lesson; that one cannot assume every situation in life is black or white. We have to acknowledge there are many shades of gray. It is very likely that we won’t be able to make some decisions on our own, especially tough ones. But that is why it isimportant to seek advice, especially from a Torah authority, who has a stronger understanding of the intricacies of right and wrong.

Vayishlach-True Kindness

One of the purposes for G-D creating the world is in order for people to be nice to each other, which emulates Hashem who is constantly being kind to us by keeping the universe and everything inside it in existence (as well as running the world). Examples of kind deeds between a man and his fellow include making the bride and groom happy at a wedding, comforting a mourner, visiting the sick, burying the dead, and the like (see Ethics of Our Fathers [Pirkay Avos] 1:2 with the Bartenura in detail.)
This week’s parsha states: “Devora the nursemaid of Rivka passed away and she was buried [at the bottom of the mountain] of Beis El under the tree and they called it Alon Bachus” (Brieshis 35:8).The lesson the Ralbag learns from this verse is that it is appropriate for people to do kindness for those who passed on, who had done good for them in their lifetime. For this reason the Torah tells us that Yaakov called the tree which Devora, the nursemaid of Rivka [his mother], was buried under ‘Alon Bechus,’ (literally “tree of crying”), in order to publicize that they had cried over her there. Indeed, Yaakov also set up a monument on the burial plot of [his wife] Rachel in order that her memory would be remembered for a very long time. These are the examples of acts of kindness which will never disappear. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We often define chesed, or an act of kindness, as doing something for someone else which will be beneficial to that person and will make him or her feel good. It is understandable that burying the dead is such an act and one which benefits the person, as otherwise his body would be disgraced. It would be an indignity to the soul of a person to have his body, which served, clothed, and protected him for all the years of his life, to be put to waste. It is therefore a benefit to the soul for the body not to be put to shame, and to be buried properly. But what benefit is there in leaving an everlasting monument to a person, or to name something after them? He or she is dead; hopefully the soul is in a better place, basking in the Presence of Hashem, which the first chapter of Mesilas Yesharim (Path of the Just) describes as ‘the ultimate enjoyment.’ What more does an individual gain by having something erected that ensures a long lasting remembrance in this temporal world?It would seem, then, that the definition of an act of kindness is not just to provide a benefit to another. Rather, it is treating someone else with proper respect. Out of immense gratitude towards his mother’s nursemaid, Yaakov felt he had to honor Devora by naming the place in which she was buried. Kever Rochel is famous; jews from around the world flock to Rachel’s grave to pray to Hashem and beseech her assistance to speak to Hashem on their behalf. But the reason why Yaakov erected a monument over her grave was due to a feeling of immense respect for his wife, which was expressed through the perpetuation of her name, in the form of a monument.

Today many people donate money to name a building or institution after loved ones who have passed on, as a remembrance. It would seem from here that this is an incredible kindness to the dead because of the respect being shown; a kindness that cannot be paid back. Showing respect and honor to others in their lifetime and afterwards is one of the reasons the world exists.

Vayetzei-Sticky Fingers

Children love touching things when they go to  a store; picking things up, playing with them. Parents tend to get agitated, and they might tell their children: “Don’t touch!” or “Keep your hands in your pockets!” The parents start threatening; they are embarrassed; a scene ensues.
Towards the end of this week’s Torah portion of Vayetzei, Rachel takes her father Lavan’s magic idols from his house when she, Yaakov, and their family flee from Lavan. Lavan catches up with Yaakov and his family and accuses him of ‘stealing his heart’ by fleeing without saying goodbye and stealing his idols. Yaakov, not knowing that it was Rachel who had taken the idols, and not thinking that it was anyone else in his family, said that whomever had the idols did not deserve to live. The Torah then relates: “Lavan came into Yaakov’s tent and into Leah’s tent, and into the tents of the co-wives and did not find [what he was looking for]; he went out from Leah’s tent and came into Rachel’s tent. And Rachel took the idols and placed them in a saddle bag of her camel and she sat on it. Lavan searched the whole entire tent and could not find them” (Breishis 31:33, 34).
The Medrish Rabba (parsha 74, paragraph 9) point out that “Yaakov’s tent” refers to Rachel’s tent. The Medrish goes on to ask why Lavan went to Rachel’s tent twice? The Medrish answers that Lavan recognized in her that she is a woman who touches everything [i.e. a rummager, and he therefore suspected her]. The Medrish goes on to relate in the name of Rebbe Yochanan that when Lavan was searching through Rachel’s tents and found Rachel sitting on a camel, he in fact checked the saddle bag but did not find the idols. Indeed, Hashem performed a miracle and turned them into small jugs in order to not cause embarrassment to Rachel if she were to be discovered. (Click hereto see Rashi who quote the Medrish)

The Medrish Tanchuma (parshas Vayetzei paragraph 12, also mentioned in our Medrish Rabba) tells us that when Yaakov told Lavan ‘the person your idols are with shall not live,’ at that moment Rachel’s death was decreed.  The Etz Yosef explains that this decree was like an accidental statement coming from the mouth of the ruler, which is then fulfilled without his knowledge. Even though Yaakov only intended his statement to be referring to someone who actually stole for the sake of worshiping them or selling them (as opposed to Rachel who took them purely for the sake of Heaven, either to rid her father of idolatry or so that the idols which were made of black magic and were able to talk would not tell Lavan of their escape), in any event the cursed was fulfilled against her.

It would not seem becoming of Rachel, our matriarch, our role model, who stands for quietness and modesty, to be a rummager, something associated with pilfering. Even more so it would seem she had a reputation for this character trait since Lavan was cognizant of this flaw. One could understand that even our forefathers were human; but to have a fundamental flaw which is known seems not to be becoming of our matriarchs or patriarch. One would think people on the level of prophesy, who had to perfect all the rungs of Mesilas Yesharim (The Path of the Just) to reach this lofty level, would not be known to have a chronic problem with keeping their hands off of other people’s stuff. If so, how can the Medrish even entertain the notion that Lavan went into Rachel’s tent twice to find his stuff because she was known to be a woman who touches everything?

We must conclude that even though she was known for this habit she still channeled it for the sake of Heaven, with the purest intentions. In fact, this must have been one of the things which made her so deserving of being one of our Matriarchs and a role model for every Jew.

Hashem performed miracles for Rachel to stave off Lavan’s embarrassing onslaught, and she was only handed a death sentence because of a technicality, and not because she truly stole something. We learn from Rachel that it is possible to get entangled into habits which seem to be bad and, for many people, are indeed bad – but that can be channeled for the good. This could very well be the greatest test Hashem gives us.

Toldos-A Special Blessing for What Impacted a Blessing

Everyone flocks to great rabbis for blessings, whether the the rabbi is Chassidish, Sfardi, or Ashkinazi. For whatever reason, people feel more at ease after they receive a blessing from a righteous person.
The Medrish Tanchuma on parshas Toldos, paragraph 10 teaches what blessing to make on tasting oil. Our Rabbis taught that one who tastes oil makes a ‘boray pri ha’etz.’  Rebbi Yossi bar Zevid said that this is true about any liquid that comes from a fruit, (parenthetically, in practicality, we hold that the blessing made is ‘shehakol nihiyeh bidvaro.’), besides wine, for on wine we make a blessing of ‘boray pri hagafen.’ But why does wine have a different blessing from all other drinks? Because it was poured as a libation on the alter in the Beis Hamikdash [Holy Temple]. Not only that,  but it also caused Yaakov to receive the blessings, [as we see from this weeks parsha,] where Yitzchak sent Esav to hunt something for him to eat, and Rivka was informed of what was happening through ruach hakodesh [divine inspiration], as it says (27:5, 6): “And Rivka heard when Yitzhak was speaking with Esav etc. and Rivka said to Yaakov her son, ‘behold I heard etc., please go to the sheep [pen] and take for me from there two plump goats etc.’” Rebbe Berechya said in the name of Rebbi Chelbo: “She (Rivka) said to him (Yaakov): ‘They (the goats) are good for you for through them you will receive the blessings. They are good for your children for they will be atoned through them on Yom Kippur.’” He brought into his father wine and meat. He gave him to eat and drink and he started to bless him saying (27:28) “And Hashem should give to you from the dew of heaven etc. nations shall serve you etc.”

The Biur HaAmarim explains the reason why wine has a special blessing is because not only does it make “Hashem happy” with the wine libations, but it also makes people happy for it caused Yaakov to receive the blessings when he gladdened the heart of Yitzhak and the shechina [“G-D’s presence”] rested on him.
The Kol HaRamaz points out that the reason why meat doesn’t have its own unique blessing is because Esav also brought meat and in fact Yitzhak did not ask for wine, and neither did Rivka tell Yaakov to bring wine; rather, Yaakov brought it of his own volition. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

The question that could be asked is how did the wine make for a difference? Yitzhak was a great tzadik [a very righteous person], who was very close to Hashem, almost to the point of being sacrificed on the alter by his father; he was already considered very holy. Furthermore, he had been preparing to bless his son for a while, so he must have been very excited and overly joyous to do so, besides already having prepared  the blessing he was going to give. So what did the wine add to Yitzchak’s lofty status? Why did Yaakov think Yitzchak would need this extra, outside push to give a befitting blessing to him, especially as his father did not even ask for it? One can assume that Yitzchak felt he did not need it to be ready to give the blessings.

It is apparent that the wine did have a positive effect, and in fact helped with the Divine Presence resting on Yitzhak; and without it the blessings would not have been the same.

We learn from this that outside sources are acceptable to be used to help a person feel good. It is also suitable to take appropriate precautions to use these outside substances to help one feel happier. This is why Yaakov erred on the side of caution and added the wine, in addition to the meat, to ensure that Yitzchak’s heart was uplifted; even though Yitzchak was most likely elated to give the blessing to his offspring, which meant that, on his level, he was at least hovering around Divine Inspiration, even without the wine.

A caveat, however; the Orchos Tzadikim (chapter of The Gate of Joy)warns: “There is another kind of confusing joy which beclouds all of the mizvos and causes fear of Hashem to depart from the heart of men – that of the drinkers and revelers at bars. The end of this joy is sorrow, for many ills result from the frivolity of drinking.” Later theOrchos Tzadikim says: “Drinking wine, however, is very good when it is done properly in the manner of the wise, as King Shlomo writes (Mishlei/Proverbs 31:6, 7)… It is further said of wine (Shoftim/ Judges 9:13) that it ‘gladdens G-D and man…’ All of this teaches us the benefits of wine when it is drunk in moderation in the manner of the wise –in which case the mind rules over the wine and not the wine over the mind – who drink at set times with friends and acquaintances and with saintly and the righteous, and not with boors and empty-headed people. For wine will increase the wisdom of the deep…”

Wine when drunken appropriately has an uplifting effect on a person, even one who is holy and already very close to Hashem. It can even tip the scales to allow the Divine Presence to rest on him and inspire everlasting, impacting blessings in a way which would not have been possible without the wine. For this reason the Rabbis felt much gratitude towards wine, and gave it a special blessing, in return for helping the Jewish People receive such lofty blessings.