Vayeishev -Two Dimensions

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The classic debate of how to understand Hashem as all-knowing, with the ability to see what was, is, and will be, because He runs the world, while balancing it with the concept of free choice, and the question of man’s ability to make decisions or not, is discussed in a Medrish Tanchuma (4) on this week’s Torah portion of Veyeishev. The quickest way to resolve the dilemma is to say that Hashem exists on a different dimensional plane from us, can see into our dimension, in fact created it and interacts with it constantly, at every moment, and without His interaction we would cease to exist. When Chaza”l says He is everywhere, and a name for G-D is Hamakom, The Place, but also that his Shechina, Holy Presence, rests in certain places, what that means is that G-D in fact is everywhere from the viewpoint of His dimension interacting with ours, and He is The Place because He created everything, but He focuses His Holy Presence in certain places more than others into our world, and even at different strengths, depending on our time, place, and what we deserve. But from within our dimension, with our limited viewpoint of time and space, we have the ability to make choices between good and bad and everything in between. Hashem created it purposefully in this way because He is by definition good and wants us to earn the best state of spiritual bliss and closeness, basking in His glory, that we can possibly attain. This is basically how to understand and believe that there is a G-D who is all powerful and all knowing, who created the world and is in constant control of the upkeep of its existence, and yet we also have free will.
 However, there is an added insight that can be gleaned from this medrish, for it states: “’And Yosef was brought down to Egypt’ This is analogous with the pasuk in Tehillim (66:5), ‘Go and see the deeds of G-D, awesome in His excuses toward mankind.’ Rebbe Yehoshua ben Karcha says, that even the awesome wonders that You bring upon us are brought through an excuse. Come and see, for when Hashem created the world, from the first day He created the Angel of Death. How do we know this? Rebbe Brechiya says because it says in the Torah, ‘and darkness upon the surface of the deep’ (Breishis 2:1). This refers to the Angel of Death who darkens the faces of creation. Man was created on the sixth, and an excuse was hung upon him that he brought death onto the world, as it says, ‘on the day you eat from it you shall surely die’ (Breishis 2:17). This is compared to one who wanted to divorce his wife. When he was planning on going back home he wrote a get (divorce bill). He entered the house with the get in his hand. He needed some excuse to give it to her. He said to her, pour me a hot drink I can drink. She poured for him. He said to her, get out of my house for you poured me a lukewarm drink instead of a hot drink. She said to him, you already knew I would pour you a lukewarm drink, for you wrote a get and brought it with you in your hand! So to Adam said to Hashem, “Master Of The World, 2000 years before you created the world, the Torah was already a nursling by you, as it’s written, “And I was then His nursling, and I was then a precious delight day, day” (Mishley 8:30) which equals 2000 years (for a day is like a thousand years for Hashem. Not that Hashem is bound by time, G-d forbid, for thousands of years is like one second by Him because He’s beyond time, rather Hashem just said this in a language that people would understand-Etz Yosef). It is written inside the Torah, ‘This is the Torah, a person who died in the tent’ (Bamidbar 19:14). If you would not have enacted death to people, would you have written that? Rather you blamed the excuse on me.” This is what it means ‘awesome is the excuse on people.’” The Etz Yosef explains this means that what Hashem decreed in His wisdom that whatever should be in this world, is not brought upon man in a forceful manner, to the point that a person’s actions are controlled, but rather it’s unfolded into reality through the actions of mankind without controlling people to do their actions. Like this woman who was not forced to pour lukewarm or cold water as her husband thought she would do, intending to divorce her. The matter of lukewarm water being poured was only an excuse, if it had not happened that way, there would have been some other reason.
The medrish goes onto to give a second example, about how Moshe was never meant to bring the Jews into Israel, but Hashem orchestrated the excuse of Moshe sinning by the hitting of the rock for that to happen.
The medrish brings a third example from this week’s parsha, “And so too we find by Yosef it says, ‘and his brothers saw that their father loved him [more] because of the scarlet stripe that he made on his striped coat. For this there were four tragedies done to him…. because of this, the coat of stripes caused all the tribes to go down to Egypt. Rebbe Yudan said Hashem wanted to fulfill the promise to Avraham that his descendants will go into exile and be redeemed with wealth, and He brought an excuse to ensure all of it comes about in that Yaakov loved Yosef and his brothers hated him, sold him to the Yishmaelites, who brought him down to Egypt, eventually Yaakov heard that Yosef was alive in Egypt and went down with the tribes there and were subjugated there. This is what ‘And Yosef went down to Egypt’ is referring to but don’t read it ‘as he went down’ but rather that ‘he brought down’ his father and family to Egypt. Rebbe Tanchuna says, what is this comparable to? To someone who wants to put a yoke onto a cow’s neck and it refuses the yoke. What does he do? He takes her calf from in back of her and drags it to the place he wants the cow to plow. The calf moos. The cow hears her calf moo and not for her own good she walks to her son. So to Hashem wanted to fulfill the promise He made to Avraham and He brought an excuse for all these events to happen so that they can go down to Egypt and He pays up his document. That is why it says ‘and Yosef went down to Egypt’ and this is the awesomeness of an excuse etc.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 The medrish wanted to prove that Hashem doesn’t control us like preprogrammed robots, forcing us to do things, but rather He set into nature a chain of events that will lead to the end result of what He desires. Yet the means are through individuals being manipulated, but making choices which lead to the end, desired result.

The medrish gives 3 examples. One is that people were destined to be mortal, yet it only came to be out of the choice made by Adam and Chava to eat from the Tree Of Knowledge. Two, Moshe was never destined to enter the land of Israel, but it only came into fruition because of his decision to hit the rock. And three, the promise made to Avraham was destined to be fulfilled but only came about through the means of Yaakov choosing to favor Yosef, which had a domino effect which landed Yaakov and his family in Egypt. The first example was explained based on a parable of a man wanting to divorce his wife and manipulating events for that to happen. The second example did not have or need a parable, and the third example had the parable of manipulating the stubborn cow to get into the yoke to plow. Why were two parables needed to explain the concept, and what were they emphasizing?

The first parable showed that the wife really had a choice, and yet she chose to serve her husband lukewarm water which resulted in a divorce, because she clearly didn’t treat him nicely. He knew what was going to happen, anticipated it, and was of course right, so he was prepared with the bill of divorce; yet technically he could have and would have found another excuse to hand it to her. So too, Hashem knew Adam perfectly, and knew this was going to happen, but left it up to him to choose to do what he did, and if he hadn’t done it, there would have been some other incident that would have justified making humans into mere mortals.

The second example is along the same lines as the first; however the third example is a bit different than the first two. The first two showed that Hashem knows the way people think, so He manipulated the circumstances in order that they would choose the destined end game. The third example showed that Hashem orchestrated a chain of events to happen in order to get the destined result; not necessarily because of the way one thinks, but through multiple, multifaceted events and characters coming together through free will, to create the desired effect. That is what both parables are teaching us. We see from here that G-D runs and directs the world, but we have free choice to choose whether we will be part of the destiny of Hashem’s master plan or someone else will, or even if it will involve us, the question is how we will be involved.

One might ask: which is harder to comprehend, that there is a G-d running the world or that we have free choice? One might think I can understand we have free choice because we make decisions every day, but who says there is really a G-D? However we see from here, from the fact that the medrish had to give two parables explaining how we have free choice in these situations, without proving that G-D exists, it must be it’s obvious and easier to believe in Hashem once one has come to the realization there is an All Mighty, All Powerful Master of the Universe, but it’s still difficult to then come to grips with the fact that we are not simply puppets controlled by Him. Therefore the medrish gave to parables to explain how we still have free will.

Vayeishev – Not All Tests Are Passable

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The beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Vayeishev tells of the story of Yosef being sold down to Egypt. The Medrish Pirkei DiRebbe Eliezer (perek 38) adds some interesting insights into the storyline: “Rebbe Yishmael says that every youngest son is most beloved by his father, as it says, “And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of his old age” (Breishis 37:3). But was Yosef really the youngest wasn’t Binyamin? Rather because [Yaakov] saw through prophecy that he will in the future be a ruler he therefore loved [Yosef] more than all the other brothers and they had great jealousy over him.” The Bayis Hagadol, (a commentary on this medrish and also known as the Beur Maspik,) adds that since Yosef will be a ruler in the future and will support and take care of Yaakov in his old age, that is why he was considered “a son of his old age.”

When Yosef’s brothers convened a court to deliberate whether it was halachically right to kill Yosef for either trying to kill them or, at the very worst, for destroying their Olam Haba, “Reuvain said to them, ‘Don’t murder him, rather throw him into this pit in the desert and he will die there.’ They listened to him, snatched Yosef and threw him into the pit…” What did Reuvain do? He went and sat on top of a hill with the intent to go down by night and take Yosef out of the pit. The nine brothers were sitting around in one place, united with one heart and one idea, and then a caravan of Yishmaelites passed by them and they said, “Why don’t we sell him to the Yishmaelites”. They took him to the edge of the desert and Yaakov, his father, did not hear from him again. They sold him to the Yishmaelites for 20 silvers and each one of them, (including Reuvain) bought shoes for themselves for two silvers each… They said we should make a pact that no one should tell Yaakov Avinu what happened until everyone agrees unanimously to divulge what happened, and anyone who breaks the pact would be excommunicated. Yehuda said to them, ‘Reuvain isn’t here and a pact with excommunication can only go into effect if there are ten.’ What did they do? They had Hashem join the group to make up ten and they declared the pact of excommunication. Reuvain came that night to take Yosef out of the pit and did not find him there. His initial reaction was telling them ‘You killed Yosef, and I was going to come back!’ They told him about what happened and about the pact of excommunication and Reuvain fell silent. Hashem also was silent because of the pact and did not tell a thing to Yaakov, though it writes (in the last pasuk of perek 147 in Tehillim,) ‘He relates His Word to Yaakov,’ but this matter He did not relate to Yaakov, therefore Yaakov did not know what happened to Yosef and he said Yosef must have been torn apart.”

The Bayis HaGadol says that to understand on a simple level why Hashem participated in such a thing, the Mizrachi explains that there was a tradition from the brothers’ forefathers that in the future they would go down to Egypt through the sale of one of the tribes. For this reason, Hashem didn’t want to reveal this secret, for if He would have revealed this to Yaakov, Yaakov would have sent people after him to redeem Yosef, and the decree of the bris bein habisarim would not have been fulfilled. And since all the brothers’ actions were to fulfill the decree of Hashem then Hashem ‘was not able to’ reveal what they did. Once they saw that Hashem agreed to what they were doing and that this was His Will, there was no better partner in these circumstances. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It would seem that the brothers realized selling Yosef was part of the destiny of the Jewish People as Hashem told Avraham by the bris bein habisarim, as it says, “And He said to Avram, “You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them, for four hundred years. And also the nation that they will serve will I judge, and afterwards they will go forth with great possessions” (Breishis 15:13, 14). Since this was part of the destiny of Jews, Hashem went along with the plan and Yaakov thought Yosef was killed by a wild animal, because Yaakov would have foiled the destined plans if he would have found out what had happened.
Why couldn’t Hashem tell Yaakov what actually happened, instead of Yaakov living through the misery of thinking his most beloved son was killed? Where is Yaakov’s belief and trust in Hashem? He surely also knew the tradition stemming from his grandfather, Avraham, of what was destined to happen and he also knew through prophesy that Yosef would one day become a leader. So why couldn’t he at least put two and two together and believe that this was all part of Hashem’s master plan, decreed by Hashem Himself to Avraham, and possibly Yosef would wind up becoming viceroy in Egypt and they would eventually leave with much wealth as promised by Hashem?

It would seem that Yaakov’s love for Yosef was so strong that he would not have been able to accept that this was a decree from Heaven and he would have redeemed Yosef, as the quality of natural choice in the world, which would have thwarted the plans of Jewish destiny. But since Hashem does not give a test which is impossible for a person to pass, and Yaakov, based on a miniscule level of emotional sensitivity would not have been able to pass this test of his faith in Hashem, verses his love for his son, therefore Hashem kept it secret from Yaakov to let destiny unfold.

Vayeishev – Four Cup of Wine at the Seder: Appreciating the Process of Salvation

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ישועת ד’ כהרף עין is a saying posted on the wall of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim’s main office in Queens, NY. It means “Salvation of Hashem is like the blink of an eye.” This does not mean we can expect or, G-D forbid, demand that Hashem rescue us from our calamities instantaneously, like in the blink of the eye; rather, it can happen and we must believe it is possible. When it does happen there is much to be thankful for at its realization. However, as we will see from a medrish in this week’s Torah portion of Vayeishev, there is more of an appreciation of Hashem’s salvation when it happens through an extended process.

The Torah portion relates that the chief butler of Pharaoh was thrown in jail over a fly found in Pharaoh’s goblet. The chief butler had a dream in jail which Yosef explained to him. The Torah describes the dream, saying: “So the chief cupbearer related his dream to Joseph, and he said to him, ‘In my dream, behold, a vine is before me. And on the vine are three tendrils and it seemed to be blossoming, and its buds came out; [then] its clusters ripened into grapes. And Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I placed the cup on Pharaoh’s palm.’ And Joseph said to him, “This is its meaning: the three tendrils are three days. In another three days, Pharaoh will number you [with the other officers], and he will restore you to your position, and you will place Pharaoh’s cup into his hand, according to [your] previous custom, when you were his cupbearer” (Breishis 40:9-13).

However the Medrish Rabba (Vayeishev 88:5) relates that there was actually a deeper meaning behind the dream. “’So the chief cupbearer related his dream to Joseph, and he said to him, ‘In my dream, behold, a vine is before me.’ This refers to the Jewish people as it says, ‘You uprooted a vine from Egypt’ (Tehillim 80:9). The vine had 3 tendrils [representing] Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam. ‘And it seemed to be blossoming’ [refers to] the blossoming of the Jewish redemption. ‘And its buds came out’ [refers] to the budding of the Jewish redemption. ‘Its clusters ripened into grapes’ represents that a vine which blossoms immediately buds and grapes that are budding immediately ripen. ‘And the cup of Pharaoh was in my hand.’ From where did the Rabbis enact four cups on the night of the seder? Rav Huna said in the name of Binayah in accordance with the four types of redemptions that were mentioned by Egypt, ‘And I took you out,’ ‘And I saved you,’ ‘And I redeemed you,’ and I took you.’ Rebbe Shmuel bar Nachman said, in accordance to the four cups mentioned here… Rebbe Levi said in accordance with the four kingdoms. Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi said in accordance with the four cups of poison that Hashem will serve the non-Jews… And in accordance with those Hashem will give the Jews four cups of salvation in the future to come as it says, ‘The Lord is my allotted portion and my cup’ (Tehillim 16:5), I shall lift up a cup of salvations, and I shall call out in the name of the Lord, (Tehillim 116:13)…”

The Yefe Toar, bothered by the fact that it seems clear from the pesukim that Yosef interpreted the dreams differently, points out “the truth is that it was known that Hashem did not want to show [the butler and baker] what would become of them after 3 days. Only because what transpired as a result was [Yosef] was released from prison which eventually led to the redemption of the Jewish people, therefore Hashem orchestrated all these causes, and therefore it makes sense to attribute everything to the Jews who were the ultimate purpose of these dreams… ‘The vine that budded immediately ripened,’ this is coming to hint to 3 types of redemptions: buds, clusters, and grapes. The buds hinted to the beginning of the redemption when Moshe revealed himself to them as the progenitor of their redemption. The clusters refer to going out of Egypt, for then they started to see the fruits of redemption. The Grapes refers to the splitting of the sea, which completed their redemption. ‘From where did the Rabbi enact four cups?’ The Medrish answered that we learn from here that on Pesach we drink the cups because of freedom as it says, ‘I shall lift up a cup of salvations’… this is why we relied on this Torah portion for the amount of cups, for it hints to the redemption and Yosef went free because of this.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
Hashem could have redeemed us in the blink of an eye, as soon as Moshe came back to Egypt, but there was a whole process to our freedom. Why was the redemption drawn out at the cost of the extra pain and suffering, until they were completely free?
Rav Yisrael Salanter in his 7th letter of Ohr Yisrael begins: “Everything in the world is brought into existence through the process of cause and effect. The harvest of produce is the result of many preceding causes, such as planting seeds and plowing. The acquisition of money results from causes such as commercial transaction and leasing. Each cause is the effect of a preceding one. For example, seeding a field is the initial cause of grain sprouting. The seeding itself is the result of the person who plants the seeds, and the planting of the seeds is the result of his desire either to utilize the grain or to earn money through his labor. In the final analysis, there is no effect without a preceding cause that generates it. Likewise, there is no cause that is not generated by a preceding one. Ultimately, this chain of cause and effect traces back to the first, essential Cause – The Almighty.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We see from this Medrish that the Sages, when enacting the four cups of wine in appreciation of Hashem saving us from the clutches of Pharaoh and Egyptian bondage, recognized the cause and effect that ultimately led back to Hashem. Indeed, going all the way back to when Yosef interpreted the dreams for the butler and baker and how everything ultimately connected, piece by piece, until the final redemption at the sea.

This very enactment proves that one will appreciate seeing a process of salvation at work and in this way will have more of an appreciation of the way Hashem runs this world then if he would be saved in the blink of an eye, though more flashy, and possibly less strenuous, but lacking in the clear appreciation that one could potentially have by looking back and seeing a whole process unfolding.