Miketz – Hats and Jackets

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 In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Miketz, Pharaoh had two dreams which he insisted needed interpretation. Eventually the Chamberlain of Butlers remembered that Yosef was in jail, and how he had rightfully interpreted his dream and the dream of the Chamberlain of the Butchers. The Torah then details, “So Pharaoh sent and summoned Yosef, and they rushed him from the dungeon. He shaved and changed his clothes, and he came to Pharaoh” (Breishis 41:14).
The Moshav Zekeinim, rightfully assuming that Yosef, like his forefathers, kept the entire Torah, asks a penetrating question. The gemara in Rosh Hashanah 11b says that Yosef got out of jail on Rosh Hashanah; if so, how could he have shaven on Yom Tov? The Moshav Zekeinim has two answers; either he shaved the next day or because of the life-threatening danger of the kingship, the circumstances were different, and he was allowed to shave that day [in order not to risk his life by coming in front of the king in a disrespectful manner]. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Ralbag learns from this episode “that it is proper for when one comes before a great person, that he should adorn himself with nice clothing and doing other things, as much as possible, to glorify the great people. In this fashion as well, one’s words will be more listened to. For this reason, Yosef shaved and changed his clothing when he came before the king. And for this reason, the great chasidim (righteous people) would adorn themselves [in their best clothing] when they davened before Hashem, in His honor. Just as Chaza”l interpret the pasuk, “This is my G-D and I will beautify him” (Shemos 15:2 in “az yashir”). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The great righteous people of yesteryear, who lived a thousand plus years ago, must have worn what is the equivalent today of a tuxedo when praying before Hashem. Because of their level and relationship with Hashem, the King Of All Kings, they realized that if Yosef was allowed to break Yom Tov to not risk his life in order to show respect to a worldly king, Pharaoh, then all the more so they should dress their very best whenever davening before The King Of All Kings, Master Of The Universe. Now a days people wear jackets and hats when davening for that very reason, but at the very least one should be put together, shirt tucked in, etc.

It would seem, according to the Ralbag, that Hashem would not listen to our prayers as closely if we weren’t put together and well dressed in front of Him. Why not? If a person prays very slowly, thinking of each word and has deep kavana,[proper intent], then why isn’t that enough? Hashem knows what’s in everyone’s heart and why should outward appearance be a deciding factor as to whether to acknowledge and listen to a person, like  human kings do? However, it would seem that not dressing appropriately in front of Hashem while praying shows a lack of dedication, respect, and honor towards Hashem. Wanting to dress in a way that feels comfortable to yourself, instead of in a formal respectful manner, is caring more for yourself than the honor and reverence of a leader and certainly of the ultimate leader, G-D, and Hashem of course calculates that in one’s intent.

Miketz – Fooling Themselves

Yosef’s brothers confront him in this week’s Torah portion of Miketz. The obvious question is: why hadn’t they figured out who he was? Yosef unintentionally dropped so many hints that it seemed obvious he was Yosef; how were they able to turn a blind eye?

The Torah states, “Now Yosef was the ruler over the land; it was he who sold grain to the entire populace of the land, and Yosef’s brothers came and prostrated themselves to him, with their faces to the ground. And Yosef saw his brothers, and he recognized them, but he made himself a stranger to them, and he spoke to them harshly, and he said to them, ‘Where do you come from?’ And they said, ‘From the land of Canaan to purchase food.’ Now Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him” (Breishis 42:6-8).

The Radak first quotes Rashi, that the reason why the brothers did not recognize Yosef but Yosef recognized the brothers was because he left them without a beard and now he had a beard; but they all had beards when he left so he recognized them but they did not recognize him. However, the Radak continues, “that it was really possible for them to recognize Yosef even though he now had a beard, except for the fact that they saw him in a high position of leadership and it was so farfetched in their eyes that this was Yosef who they sold as a slave and now he is master over all of Egypt. They said in their hearts that even though he looks like Yosef, there are many people that look a little bit similar to each other, therefore it left their hearts that this was Yosef.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The brothers were face to face with the viceroy of Egypt and he looked exactly like Yosef. Yet they literally could not believe their eyes; in reality they didn’t want to believe their eyes. Although they knew about Yosef’s dreams that they would bow down to him, and in fact they even came to Egypt looking for Yosef, they still were unable to put two and two together, whether consciously or unconsciously.

The Radak goes on to explain the end of pasuk 7, that Yosef purposefully estranged himself from his brothers by speaking to them harshly and calling them spies. This was in order to remove the possibility that he was Yosef from their hearts and minds. But they had many hints afterwards, which should have given away, the fact that the person in front of them was actually Yosef. Just to name a few, for example, when Yosef heard the brothers talking amongst themselves expressing their regrets for what they had done to him, Yosef, pasuk 24 based on the Radak says he started crying because he saw them admitting fault, and he had to run out of the room to compose himself. Afterwards, the pasuk says Yosef threw Shimon in jail right in front of the brothers; but the Radak quotes a medrish (Breishis Rabba 91:8) that says that after they left Yosef took Shimon out of jail, fed him, washed him up, and anointed him with oils to freshen up. Wouldn’t that tip off at least to Shimon that something strange was going on and allow him to consider that he might indeed be his brother Yosef? In fact, when Shimon was reunited with hos brothers, he could have told them this viceroy might actually be Yosef, but he never thought about that! (Click here for Hebrew text.)

When the brothers came back to Egypt with Binyamin, Yosef invited them to eat with him,  they still thought that he was up to no good, and that there was no way that he might actually be their brother, being nice to them. The Radak on perek 43, pasuk 18 says that the brothers were saying to each other that this viceroy of Egypt was trying to find excuses to take them as slaves by first contriving a plot to find them guilty on charges of stealing their own money that they paid with. He was being nasty to them from the start, so now by inviting them to eat with him he was setting up a trap to make them his slaves. They didn’t hear what Yosef had told his servants, to fill their bags with money as gifts to comfort them. He even told them in pasuk 23, “Peace shall be with you, you shall not be afraid, your G-D and the G-D of your fathers gave to you treasures in your bags. Your money came to me, and he brought out to them Shimon.” Even though Yosef attributed their good fortune of finding money in their bags to Hashem, still they didn’t get the hint. This wasn’t even the first time he had mentioned G-D. Before in perek 42 pasuk 18 Yosef said, “On the third day, Joseph said to them: “Do this and live I fear God.” The Radak there says Yosef is telling the brothers, I fear G-D and I would not keep all of you because there is a famine in your house, and it would be a travesty [to not allow you to feed your household], rather I would keep only one of you to interrogate. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Then, in pasuk 33, Yosef sits them at the table by age, youngest to oldest, and the pasuk says that they were of course shocked; how did he know? The Radak says the brothers were shocked that this viceroy was able to know their age order, for how was he able to recognize who was older from amongst people that were all born within 7 years of each other? This was astonishing in their eyes, yet still it wasn’t fishy enough for them to connect the dots that he must be Yosef. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We see from here how far the bias of denial can stretch. The brothers refused to acknowledge the possibility that Yosef became second in command in Egypt and his dreams came true. Therefore even though he looked like Yosef, and there were many hints that it might actually be Yosef, they still never put two and two together until he actually revealed himself as being Yosef, their brother.

Miketz – Security Systems

The bulk of this week’s Torah portion of Miketz depicts the confrontation between Yosef and his brothers once Yosef became viceroy of Egypt. One of the lessons the Ralbag learns from this episode is that it is inappropriate for a complete person to take revenge for the bad that was done to him, even if he has the chance. We therefore find that when the brothers of Yosef “fell into his lap” and he had the opportunity to do something bad to them for what they did to him, he didn’t, but rather he watched over them and sustained them. Indeed, even though he pained their hearts in the beginning, this was in order to find out how his father and brother, Binyamin, were doing. It was also to see how they treated Binyamin, for if they hated him and wanted to kill him, like they did Yosef, he would have figured out a way to separate Binyamin from them and save him. For this reason, if he would not have accused them of being spies or some other bad deed, then Yosef would not have been able to investigate and find out if they still had a father or brother, because they were not willing to be so open with him. And when Yosef knew his brother was alive, he put in the effort to at least bring him to Egypt. He made it difficult for the brothers in the beginning and easy in the end. He also said to them that he fears Hashem, for in this way they were appeased, and he removed their very apparent fear. Another reason for Yosef telling the brothers that he was G-D fearing was so that it would not pain their father Yaakov so much at sending Binyamin down to Egypt, since it was known that the master of the land feared Hashem. He jailed Shimon in front of the brothers’ eyes so that they would be forced to bring Binyamin along, and if they would kill Binyamin on the way out of hatred, Shimon would stay under the control of Yosef for the rest of his life, and he would have no means of escape from there. For this reason, Shimon was released from prison immediately upon seeing Binyamin, and he welcomed all of them into his house for them to eat bread with him, in order to appease their hearts even more and also so that he could accuse Binyamin of stealing the silver goblet. He also wanted to show them through this abundant pity for Binyamin and his pardoning of him when Yosef blessed Binyamin and gave him a bigger package more than all the other brothers, in order to appease their hearts so that they won’t be too petrified when he accuses them about this robbery, by entrusting them that the ruler of this land is a kind person, and they are innocent. If not for this Yosef would have been very fearful lest they kill themselves when all these accusations arose, out of much worry, guilt, and loss. Behold, Yosef put in much effort to direct accusations at Binyamin, in order to test his brothers and see how they would treat him; meaning if they hated him they would abandon Binyamin and go their merry way, and if they loved him, they would put all their efforts in to saving him as best as they could. For this reason, we find that when it was clear to Yosef that the brothers were treating Binyamin as a brother, only then did he reveal himself and put in efforts for all of them to move near him, for him to sustain them, so they would not go into poverty. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It would seem that Yosef, in disguise, really forgave the brothers, and in the end saw that they changed their ways, cared more about Binyamin and were dedicated to do the right thing. For this reason, Yosef was ready and did take care of them. Yet when Binyamin was caught with Yosef’s goblet in his bag and they were all brought back to Egypt, Yosef, it would seem seriously, and not just as a test, said to them, “What is this deed that you have done? Do you not realize that a man like me practices divination” (Breishis 44:15)?

 The lesson the Ralbag learns from this pasuk is that it is appropriate for a person to protect his household when any person enters his house and treat everyone in one’s eyes as if they are bandits and burglars. And if there are many people coming to the house, in a fashion that it becomes impossible to guard from each and every one of them, behold it is appropriate to test the one who is not trusted, and be careful of only him. For this reason, Yosef said to his brother ‘Don’t you know that I know divination and there is no one like me.’ (Click Here for Hebrew text.)
Yosef was teaching us a lesson to never trust guests that might come through your house, and to suspect them like thieves; but what happened to judging people favorably? Where is one’s emuna [faith] and bitachon [trust] in Hashem? Especially if a person has an opportunity to fulfill a mitzvah, as Hashem guarantees that one will not be hurt while fulfilling  a mitzvah (unless being flagrantly dangerous). Especially for this mitzvah of hospitality to guests which the gemara in Shabbos 127a (which we read every day after Birkas HaTorah) lists as a precept whose fruits a person enjoys in this world and whose principal remains intact for him in the World to Come; meaning though one is rewarded for these mitzvos in this world his reward is not diminished in the World to Come. If that’s the case, then why the nervousness and worry? Wouldn’t treating them as bandits and burglars diminish one’s will to properly perform such an important mitzvah?

It is true that the mitzvah of having guests is very important, and as we see in this Ralbag, even the number of guests does not have to be limited. There can be people going in and out of your house constantly if this is the lifestyle you live. However, Hashem expects you to use common sense when performing His mitzvos, and there must be a balance to ensure that one’s household is safe. Therefore, precautions must be taken, security systems set up to ensure nothing goes wrong in the house, or anything is taken. This shouldn’t diminish from the quality of taking care of one’s guests or the quantity of how many guests, but a balance can be made to take care of one’s household and treat their guests with the utmost respect at the same time. And even if one’s guest seems to be suspicious, that does not mean one has to limit his guests. It just means one must take extra precautions to ensure the safety of everyone and everything around him.

Performing mitzvos and protecting ourselves, possessions and our families could be a juggling act which Hashem expects us to master and excel in on all fronts.

Miketz – Unanimous Leadership

This year is very unique! It is rare that Shabbos Chanukah does not land on the Torah portion of Miketz and we don’t need to read the special haftorah for Chanukah. This week’s haftorah is taken from Melachim Alef and is the famous story of King Shlomo, the two women who laid claim to the baby and his advice to split the baby in half. This took place the next day after he woke up from his dream (which is a connection to the Torah portion where Pharaoh had his dreams of plenty and famine), where Hashem promised him He would grant him anything he asked for.  King Shlomo asked for wisdom in order to judge right from wrong. Hashem granted him intellect and wisdom to which there was no other, and there will never be another like it in the future.  

The next day  King Shlomo’s first test occurred when two ladies came into his court, each one claiming they were the mother of the living baby, and that the other’s baby had passed away. “And the king said, ‘Fetch me a sword.’ And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, ‘Divide the living child in two, and give half to  one, and half to the other.’ And the woman whose son (was) the live one, said to the king, for her compassion was aroused for her son, and she said, ‘O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means slay him.’ But the other said, ‘Let it be neither mine nor yours, divide (it).’ And the king answered and said, ‘Give her the living child, and by no means slay him: she (is) his mother.’ And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king; for they saw that the wisdom of God (was) in him to do judgment” (Melachim Alef 3:24-28).

The Yalkut Shimone says “in the name of Rebbe Shmuel bar Nachmani that King Shlomo’s lips started moving with wisdom and he said that Hashem really wanted this case to one day occur and that is why He created man in pairs, two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, two hands, and two legs. He began to decree that the child should be cut in half… when his advisors saw what was happening, they said, ‘Woe to you, O land whose king is a lad’ (Koheles 10:16), if he would not be a lad (between the age of 12-13 at the time) he would not have done this. When he said, ‘Give her the living child, and by no means slay him,’ they started to say, ‘Fortunate are you, O land, whose king is the son of nobles’ (Koheles 10:17).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Haftorah concludes with the very next pasuk, “And King Shlomo was king over all Israel” (Melachim Alef 4:1). The Radak says that when the nation heard the judgement the king had judged they were afraid to do anything wrong even in secret for they saw that with all his wisdom justice will come out just as what happened in this case. The reason why this pasuk states the obvious that King Shlomo was king over all of Israel is because Dovid, his father, did not rule over all of Israel at the beginning of his reign, therefore the pasuk says here that Shlomo ruled over all of Israel, no one questioned his reign since they saw the wisdom of Elokim (G-D) within him to exact proper judgement. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

What made King Shlomo more convincing than his father, King Dovid, to be accepted by all from the onset of his reign? King Dovid was appointed by Hashem through the prophet Shmuel, and surely he had Divine Revelation, Ruach HaKodesh, for Chaza”l say King Dovid’s whole work of Tehillim (Psalms) was written with Ruach HaKodesh. Furthermore, King Dovid proved to be a brave and powerful ruler who  defended his country against the onslaught of any enemy like when he killed the giant, Goliath, and victoriously battling the Plishtim. So why wasn’t he instantaneously accepted as king over Israel but his son, Shlomo, who was perceived, at least from the outside, as being appointed king by his father, not directly by Hashem, though it was in fact by Divine appointment, he was still pretty much immediately accepted by the entire nation?

The Radak is telling us that though G-D sent the prophet Shmuel to anoint King Dovid as king, King Dovid was a mighty warrior, who protected the nation from the enemy, and he even had Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Revelation. But even so, to be immediately accepted by everyone, the nation expects the king to rule by Divine wisdom, and because King Shlomo was able to prove that he could lead the people and enforce proper judgement using what people could perceive as being wisdom directly from Hashem, he was therefore unanimously accepted as the king of Israel.

In a similar vein we find in this week’s Torah portion that Yosef was accepted by Pharaoh and all of Egypt as Second in Command over the entire country because he proved he had Divine wisdom by interpreting Pharaohs dreams in a way which seemed palpable, to the degree that the Ramban says that Pharaoh and his advisors felt as if the dreams were already fulfilled. The Radak there says that Yosef suggested to Pharaoh that he should appoint a wise and insightful person over Egypt, and Pharaoh appointed him because his wisdom was greater than all of the magicians and advisor. This must have been, as Pharaoh attested, because of the Spirit of the Lord, Ruach Elokim, which Yosef possessed. Pharaoh therefore gave Yosef the leadership in order to lead according to his intellect. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We see from here that people are able to detect when a person has Divine Wisdom that he uses for the betterment of the country.  Everyone will be completely accepting to immediately subjugate themselves and trust the person who possesses and uses this type of intellect as their leader with unwavering awe and dedication. This defines a leader with unanimous leadership!

Miketz – Never Forget the Golden Years

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In this week’s Torah portion of Miketz, Yosef marries Osnas bas Potiphar. There are two sons born to them, Menashe and Ephraim. The Torah, when talking about Yosef naming Ephraim, says: “And the second one he named Ephraim, for ‘God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction’” וְאֵ֛ת שֵׁ֥ם הַשֵּׁנִ֖י קָרָ֣א אֶפְרָ֑יִם כִּֽי־הִפְרַ֥נִי אֱלֹהִ֖ים בְּאֶ֥רֶץ עָנְיִֽי: (Breishis 41:52).

However the Daas Zekeinim adds that Yosef also named Ephraim after his grandfather and great grandfather, Avraham and Yitzchok. For they were referred to as ashes, אפר. Avraham, as it says “…although I am dust and ashes” (Breishis 18:27). Yitzchok was like ashes on the alter [by the Binding of Isaac (Akeidas Yitzchok)]. For Ephraim sounds like two [sets] of ashes (plural). This is why the Jews are referred to as Ephraim, as it says, “Is Ephraim a son who is dear to Me” (Yirmiyahu 31:19). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
This pasuk in Yirmiyahu has not only become a famous kumzitz song, but we say it every year in our mussaf shemone esray on Rosh Hashana. It is also the last pasuk of one the haftorahs recited on Rosh Hashana:

“Is Ephraim a son who is dear to Me? Is he a child who is dandled? For whenever I speak of him, I still remember him: therefore, My very innards are agitated for him; I will surely have compassion on him,” says the Lord. יטהֲבֵן֩ יַקִּ֨יר לִ֜י אֶפְרַ֗יִם אִם יֶ֣לֶד שַֽׁעֲשׁוּעִ֔ים כִּֽי־מִדֵּ֚י דַבְּרִי֙ בּ֔וֹ זָכֹ֥ר אֶזְכְּרֶ֖נּוּ ע֑וֹד עַל־כֵּ֗ן הָמ֚וּ מֵעַי֙ ל֔וֹ רַחֵ֥ם אֲרַֽחֲמֶ֖נּוּ נְאֻם־יְהֹוָֽה:

The Radak on this pasuk in Yirmiyahu says that Hashem is saying: “The fact that I remember him constantly is as if he is a dear son to me who never sinned in my life just like a father who delights in his beloved son. At all times when I speak to the prophets I mention my love that precedes me [and so when they leave and they pass by He takes their affairs with Him at all times.] Therefore when I remember the earlier love My ‘innards’ are agitated for him in his terrible state in exile. I will have mercy upon him and I will take him out of exile.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Yirmiyahu is telling us how Hashem still loves his children even though they sinned, including the 3 cardinal sins of idolatry, adultery, and murder. For this they deserved to be exiled from their land and the first Beis Hamikdash destroyed. Indeed, they even intermarried in exile. Still, in all, Hashem did not stop loving them and eventually out of His own abundance of mercy redeemed them from exile into Israel and built the second Beis Hamikdash. However, in order to keep the abundance of love flowing, the Radak says that Hashem would frequently remind Himself of the early years, when the Jewish People were a delight, like a beloved son that didn’t do anything wrong. According to the Daas Zekeinim quoted above, this refers to the Jewish people in their infancy, in the times of Avraham and Yitzchok, which is why the Jewish people here are referred to as Ephraim.
But if Hashem is that naturally loving father, why does He need the reminder of the early years? His compassion and mercy for his precious son should always be there no matter what wrong the son does? It must be that because the son betrayed his father and did grievous sins which warranted a reprimand, or in this case a severe punishment, then a reminder of the early years is needed to arouse the original love for the child when they were just freshly born into this world; cute and innocent. For the love now is tainted by the fact that the son, Klal Yisrael, has betrayed and been sinful to Hashem.

Based on the fact that we should emulate Hashem, there is a very important lesson that comes from this pasuk. There are times when our children do things which are wrong and can get the parents upset, and which have repercussions, sometimes severe repercussions. An extreme example is if a child decides to intermarry. We see from here that we are not supposed to be overwhelmed by our natural love of our children and overlook the wrong they have done. Rather, steps must be taken to show your dislike towards their decisions. Yet, once that happens, it might become hard for the parents to love them the same way again, and, in severe circumstances like intermarriage, they might want to disown them. However we also see from here that it is fitting for the parents to look back on the early years, when their son or daughter was nice, cute, and innocent, beloved and cherished by their parents. The parents should constantly be reminding themselves of yesteryear, to arouse love and mercy upon their wayward children, as if they never sinned, while still punishing them for the wrong they have done. In this way they won’t completely disown them and are ready to invite them back, and even possibly try to help them back at any moment in order that they have the potential to return on the positive path of serving Hashem just as Hashem treated the Jewish people in Babylonian exile.