Wednesday, December 27, 2006

who sent the wagons

Parshat Va'Yigash

In 45:27 the pasuk tells us, "וירא את העגלות אשר שלח יוסף" - Yaakov saw the wagons that Yosef had sent for him. Rashi explains that Yosef sent the wagons as a sign to Yaakov. They had been learning together the topic of Eglah Arufa when the incident in which Yosef disappeared had occurred. The wagons, agalah in Hebrew, was a play on words to show Yaakov that his son remained faithful and learned.

But I think Yosef did not send the wagons. And if he did, they were only on the command of Pharoah, so he could not have sent them as a sign.

Why do I say that? Because in 45:19 we see very clearly Pharoah telling the brothers of Yosef to take wagons and bring back their father to Egypt. Furthermore, in 45:21 it says Yosef gave them wagons on Pharoahs word. Furthermore, in 46:5 it says that the children brought Yaakov from Beer Sheva in the wagons that Pharoah had sent to carry him.

So how could Yaakov have understood anything from the wagons?

It is possible that once wagons were being sent on Pharoahs command that Yosef made some alteration to the wagons or some sign on the wagons to indicate the message to Yaakov, but that is not clear from the Midrash. The Midrash quoted by Rashi seems to say that simply by the fact of the wagons being sent the message was conveyed. The Midrash is based on the fact that the passuk in 45:27 says, "The wagons that Yosef sent" rather than associating them with Pharoah as it does elsewhere (in the other pessukim I quoted), yet I still find it difficult to accept that answer. Yaakov would not have known who sent the wagons and could only have assumed they came from Pharoah.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

who is this man?

Parshat Miketz

The question just came to me: Who is this man? In Miketz 41:45 Wee see Yosef given to marry Osnat the daughter of Poti Phera the priest of On. In the earlier reference to Potiphar in Parshat Va'Yeishev in 39:1, Potiphar is referenced as a minister of Pharoah, the Chief Chef (Sar Hatabachim).

Is this the same man?

According to Rashi it seems to be. Rashi brings a midrash that says Yosef saw with Ruah Hakodesh he would have children from Potiphar. So when he married Osnat daughter of Poti Phera, that would imply it is the same person.

Is it the same man? Did Potiphar receive a promotion to priest of On? Were they two different people? Was it the same man? Why was he referenced as a minister and chief steward/btcher/chef earlier and later as a priest?

Monday, December 18, 2006

A marriage of convenience

Parshat Miketz

We read about Yosef's meteoric rise to power and wealth. His interpretation of Pharoah's dreams and following advice finds favor in Pharoah's eyes and he appoints Yosef to the position of the minister responsible for averting the coming famine and implementing the ideas and policies they had discussed.
In 41:45 Pharoah changes Yosef's name to Tzafnas Pane'ah and gives him Osnat the daughter of Potiphar as a wife.

Yosef just got out of jail. He was sitting in jail for a few years after having been out there by Potiphar. He was accused of attempting to rape Mrs. Potiphar, after her really having attempted to seduce him (and failed) and therefore put in jail. Why would Yosef agree to marry Osnat, the daughter of the people who caused him so much pain?

This is not such a difficult question. Yosef saw with Ruah Ha'Kodesh that Osnat was the woman for him to marry, so he ignored all the side issues because he knew she was his bashert. It is like Yaakov marrying Lavan's daughters and Yitzhak marrying Lavan's sister. Despite knowing how evil the family was, they knew that these were the women meant to be the mothers of the Jewish Nation, so they ignored the family history and did what they had to do. So Yosef married Osnat.

But, my question is, what was wrong with Pharoah, Mr. Potiphar and Mrs. Potiphar?

Pharoah must have checked why Yosef was in jail (for sure after he took such a liking to Yosef befor he would be willing to appoint him as a minister he would want to know why he had been in jail). He must have been given the reports on the attempted rape of the wife of one of his top men. Why would Pharoah offer the daughter of Potiphar as Yosef's wife? Was there nobody else available for Pharoah to offer in marriage?

And Mr. and Mrs. Potiphar - how did they get involved in this? Mrs. Potiphar was a schemer and she knew Yosef did no worng, but Mr. Potiphar thought Yosef had tried to rape his wife and Mrs. Potiphar at least had to continue putting on the show. How could they agree to let Yosef marry their daughter?

The answer I can suggest is that they were very greedy people. Morals and all that did not make a difference. They saw Yosef was on the rise and they wanted part of the action. They could tell he was moving into a position of power and wealth so they forgot aout all the history and offered their daughter Osnat to be his wife (I would guess they suggested to Pharoah that he offer their daughter to Yosef).

If anybody has a better answer, post it in the comments.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

telling a parent what his kid is doing

Parshat Va'Yeishev

"ויבא יוסף את דבתם רעה אל אביהם" In 37:2 we start reading about the growing rift between Yosef and his brothers. Yosef woul dtell his father all the "bad" things they were involved in.

Why is this such a problem? As a parent, when one of my kids does something bad, I would like to be told so I could take corrective action. If my kid runs in the street or is seen doing something to hurt another child, etc. I would like to be told. So what was wrong with Yosef telling his father what they were doing? He wanted his father to be aware and take corrective action!

The reason it was considered bad of Yosef was because of his intentions. There is a way to tell over information for beneficial purposes in order to improve a situation and there is a way to tell over information when you are gloating or trying to undermine somebody.
Sometimes a parent will call up and say I saw your kid do this or that. If they have the intention of trying to help then their comments are appreciated and accepted. When their comments are in that gloating tone, so as to say your kid is wild or nasty or hurtful or you don't know how to raise your kids (and you can usually tell by the tone), etc, then the informations is resented.

That is what happened with Yosef. Yes the information was important and beneficial so yaakov could attempt to correct things. However his tone was one that indicated he was not doing it 100% with good intentions.

Friday, December 08, 2006

taking a stand

Parshat Va'Yishlah

There is a curious debate as to whether the sons of Yaakov were involved in a plan of deception or not. Shchem and Hamor come to Yaakov and his sons and request that they allow the families to intermarry. The children respond that they cannot marry with uncircumcised people. They make a deal that the people of Shchem will circumcise themselves and then they will allow marriage (or consideration of it). Then, on the 3rd day after the circumcisions when they were in the most pain, Shimon and Levi killed everyone out.

It looks like the whole deal was a plot to weaken them and set them up as easy prey in a way that they would not be able to fight back effectively.

I would like to suggest that there was no plot here and no deception. The brothers were really making a deal. If it was a plot, why were Shimon and Levi the only ones who went and killed everyone? Where were the others?

There was no plot. They really were making a deal. I think that as the deal was panning out and the people of Shchem were fulfilling their end of it, Shimon and Levi woke up and asked themselves how they could let this happen. They realized that the whole deal was wrong and corrupt and only harms their interests. So they got up and reacted.

This is similar to what we see happening by the story of Chushim Ben Dan, when Yaakov dies. We know the stroy that they were bringing Yaakov for burial and Esau stopped them claiming the plot in Hebron was rightfully his, not Yaakov's. Naftali ran back to Egypt to retrieve the document of sale as proof. In the meantime, Chushim, who was deaf and not clear as to what was happening and holding up the funeral, killed Esau and the funeral proceeded. The brothers entered negotiations and Chushim realized that just the delay itself, the negotiating itself was a desecration fo Yaakov. Sure, we can prove our point by bringing the documents, but just responding to Esau was a desecration of Yaakov's honor, so he stood up and took action.

Shimon and Levi realised that the negotiations between the brothers and Shchem were harmful to their interests and a continued desecration of Dina's honor and their honor. They stood up and took action. And that is why it was only them. There was no plot and deception taking place.

vindicating 2, indicting 9

Parshat Va'Yishlah

In response to Shchem having his way with Dina, Yaakov's sons make a deal with Shchem that all the people of the town should be circumcised. On the 3rd day after the circumcision, the passuk tells us in 34:25 the two sons of Yaakov, Shimon and Levi, the brothers of Dina came to the city and destroyed..

There is a general criticism of their actions, though it is unclear as to the nature of the criticism. Some meforshim say they were wrong in taking such harsh action, others say they were right. Did Yaakov agree, or did he not. It is all very unclear.

I heard a dvar Torah on the topic yesterday in which it was brought down from some meforshim that the criticism was based on the fact that after they killed everybody in town it then says that they looted the city of its possessions. The fact that they looted the city indicated that their reaction might not have been completely lshem shamayim, but might have had a tinge of intent for personal gain. That lack of 100% clarity is what made Yaakov criticize them.

I was looking the section over again today and I noticed something in the way the story is written.

In passuk 25 it tells us specifically that the two sons of Yaakov, Shimon and Levi, went and killed everyone, etc..
In passuk 26 it concludes by saying they took Dina and left.
In passuk 27 it says the children of Yaakov came and looted the city.

I would like to suggest that Shimon and Levi came and destroyed the city killing all the inhabitants. They then retrieved Dina from her captivity and left. They took her home. Then the other brothers, having seen that the city was destroyed, came and looted the town.

Shimon and Levi were not the ones looting the town. I think the common perception that the whole story here was Shimon and Levi is incorrect. I think based on the text that Shimon and Levi only retrieved Dina, destroying the city in the process. The loot was taken by the others.

That would vindicate Shimon and Levi from any suggestions that there kavanos were improper. They were lshem shamayim, and that is whay Yaakov only criticized their anger and haste, and not the actions.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A simple answer

Parshat Va'Yishlah

We read about the story in which Shchem takes Dina and has his way with her. He and his father Hamor approach Yaakov and family and request her hand in marriage along with a general approval of their communities intermarrying.

Yaakov and family are not impressed, to say the least. They come up with a plan and suggest that they cannot marry uncircumcised people. if they would circumcise themselves, they could marry each other.

Shchem and Hamor have all the males in the community get circumcised and when they are at their weakest point (the third day), Levi and Shimon say they cannot let this happen and they wipe out the whole town to no resistance.

Yaakov is upset at his sons. He tells them off that this is not the way to act and they have put him in a precarious position.

Levi and Shimon offer a very simple response to their fathers scathing discipline. In 34:31 they respond with just four words. הכזונה יעשה את אחותינו. Should we let our sister be treated like a harlot?

Four simple words to deflect their fathers wrath. Four words that did not even answer the issues Yaakov had raised.

Sometimes the answer is clear. Sometimes the method of action is clear. No beating around the bush. Yaakov was worried about diplomacy and how it would affect his relationships with the various other natives and clans around the country.
But Levi and Shimon had a clear and simple equation. We cannot let our sister be treated like that. Nothing more. Nothing less. The time to act was upon us and we had to defend Dina. The rest does not matter.

And Yaakov accepted the answer.

quality blessing

Parshat Va'Yishlah

Yaakov meets up with the angel of Esau and battles with him. The angel requests to end the battle so he can depart and Yaakov refuses. In 32:37 we see Yaakov's response, in which he says, "I will not send you, unless you bless me."

Rashi says this is referring to showing that he accepts the fact that Yaakov has the brachos from Yitzhak and will retain no further claims on them.

While I would not dispute that and disagree with Rashi, I would like to offer an alternate pshat, one based on the simple reading of the text.

In the next response of the angel we see that the angel actually blessed Yaakov ("ויברך אותו שם"). That would indicate to me that Yaakov was simply requesting a blessing from this angel.

I would like to point out a thought that came to me when reading this:

We see from here that even people who we might consider evil have the ability to bless, and that, as the gemara says, is something we should take seriously. Do not scoff and reject the blessing of anybody, even if you think they might not be worthy. Yaakov actively sought out the blessing of the angel of Esau who had just tried to kill him and maimed him in the process! Who could represent greater evil than that!!

  1. 2.