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Vayigash
Which of Yaakov’s wives should be listed first? Print E-mail
Wednesday, 20 December 2017

In Parshat Vayigash, Breisheet 46:8-27 we read the list of B’nai Yisrael (Yaakov’s descendents) who went down to Egypt, seventy people in total.

First Leah’s children and grandchildren are listed followed by Zilpah’s, Rachel’s and Bilha’s.

Why did the Torah choose to list Yaakov’s wives and their children in this order? If Rachel was Yaakov’s first choice for a wife, why is she sandwiched in between Zilpa and Bilha, the secondary wives?

According to Ramban since they were being counted in descending order, the wife with the most children was mentioned first. This is different from the listing in Breisheet 35:23-26 (right after Binyamin was born) and the opening of the Book of Shmot which list Leah’s children followed by Rachel’s, Bilha’s and Zilpa’s.

In order to ensure that Rachel would be honored and not be thought of as a concubine in any way it says specifically in Breisheet 46:19: “The sons of Rachel, Yaakov’s wife were Yosef and Binyamin.”

Ramban explains in Breisheet 44:27 that Rachel is called Yaakov’s wife since she is the one that he actually chose to marry.

When Yaakov was ready to leave Lavan’s house (Breisheet 31:4) it says: “Yaakov sent and called Rachel and Leah to come to the field, to his flock.”

Rashi comments that first Rachel is mentioned and then Leah for Rachel was the principal wife. It was for her that Yaakov accepted to be related to Lavan. Even Leah’s descendents place Rachel before Leah (Boaz and his court were from the tribe of Yehuda, Leah’s son) when they say (Ruth 4:11) “…May God make the woman who is coming into your house (Ruth) like Rachel and like Leah, both of whom built up the house of Israel. May you prosper in Efrat and be famous in Bethlehem…’”

Even today, on Friday night when parents bless their daughters, they say: “May God make you like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.”

Rachel was Yaakov’s chosen wife. However, there is no denying that Leah was the first one to marry Yaakov, she gave birth to six of his children and merited being buried next to him in Maarat HaMachpela (The Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs).

No matter what order you list them in, Leah and Rachel as well as Bilha and Zilpa all deserve our honor as without them the twelve tribes would not have been born and B’nei Yisrael would not have come into existence.

 
Is Yaakov Avinu (our forefather) still alive? Print E-mail
Thursday, 05 January 2017

When Yosef revealed his true identity to his brothers in Parshat Vayigash, he said (Breisheet 45:3): “I am Yosef (ha-od avi chai) is my father (Yaakov) still alive?”

In the Talmud, Taanit 5b, Rabbi Yitzchak quoted Rabbi Yochanan, stating that Yaakov Avinu never died.

This idea comes from the fact that when Yaakov’s death is described in Parshat Vayechi, Breisheet 49:33, the word death is not used: “Yaakov concluded his commands to his sons and he gathered up his feet, to the bed. He expired and was gathered to his people.”

The statement by Rabbi Yitzchak can be looked at as an allusion- the righteous are alive even in death- for their name, memory and deeds live on forever.

Why is Yaakov still considered to be alive as opposed to Avraham and Yitzchak who were also righteous, yet their deaths are specifically listed in the Torah?

Rashba points out that Avraham had Yishmael and Yitzchak had Esav, children who did not follow their father’s direction. Yaakov’s children all continued in his path and became the twelve tribes, therefore Yaakov’s legacy lives on forever.

Abravanel states that the fact that the Jewish people are named after Yaakov whose name was changed to Yisrael, makes Yaakov eternal.

Dudi Lapid of Yeshivat Kiryat Shmoneh explains that Yaakov Avinu lives on within each and every Jew. That would explain the song “Od Avinu Chai, Am Yisrael Chai”, “Our father is still alive, the Jewish nation is alive.”

The fact that the Land of Israel, and now the modern State of Israel are named after Yaakov keeps him in the consciousness of the Jewish people every single day.

Am Yisrael Chai! Od Avinu Chai!

 
Who was Osnat? Print E-mail
Thursday, 17 December 2015


In Parshat Miketz, after Pharaoh put Yosef in charge of all of Egypt we read (Breisheet 41:45): “Pharaoh gave Yosef the name Tzafnat Paneiach, and he gave him Osnat, the daughter of Poti Phera, Kohen On as a wife.”

 

In Breishhet 41:50-52 we read about the births of Yosef’s children: “Two sons were born to Yosef before the years of famine came. They were born to him by Osnat, the daughter of Poti Phera, Kohen On. Yosef named the first born, Menashe, ‘For God has made me forget all my trouble, and all that was in my father’s house.’ He named the second one Ephraim, ‘Because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.’”

 

In Parshat Vayigash (46:20), the genealogy of Yaakov lists Yosef’s descendents as follows: “In the land of Egypt, sons were born to Yosef, which were born to him by Osnat, daughter of Poti Phera, Kohen On; they were Menashe and Ephraim.

 

From looking at the different quotes, all that we know about Osnat is that she is the daughter of Poti Phera, Kohen On, she married Yosef and had two sons, Ephraim and Menashe.

 

Why was Yosef comfortable marrying Poti Phera’s daughter?

 

Rabbeinu Bechaya, quoting the midrash, Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer tries to fill in the blanks as to who Osnat really was: According to the midrash, Osnat was actually the daughter that Dinah (Yaakov’s daughter) gave birth to after she was raped by Shchem, the son of Chamor. Yaakov sent her away from his home and she hid behind a bush (the name Osnat comes from the same root as sneh- bush). Chizkuni quotes the midrash in Torah Shlema which says that Yaakov hid her because his sons wanted to kill her. Yaakov tied a locket around her neck which said that she is Yaakov’s granddaughter. The angel Gavriel brought her down to Egypt. Potiphar’s wife took her in and raised her. The young women would throw their jewelry at Yosef as he walked past them. When Yosef saw Osnat’s locket, he knew that she was the right match for him. When Yaakov came down to Egypt and asked who the children were (Breisheet 48:8-9), Yosef showed him the words that he had written in the locket so many years before.

 

After reading these midrashim, we can now understand why Osnat is called the daughter of Poti Phera. Sine Potiphar and his wife raised her it is as if she was their own child.

 

We can also see why Yosef didn’t have any hesitations about marrying Osnat as he knew that she was part of Yaakov’s family.

 

 
Why Yosef and Binyamin Wept and Why We Should Weep Too Print E-mail
Friday, 26 December 2014

In Parshat Vayigash, when Yosef and Binyamin are reunited we read (Breisheet 45:14) “He (Yosef) then fell upon his brother Binyamin’s neck and wept and Binyamin wept upon his neck.”

It is understandable that Yosef and Binyamin, Rachel’s only children would cry after not seeing each other for so many years.

However, Rashi believes that there is a deeper reason for why they were crying.

According to Rashi, Yosef wept for the two Temples which were destined to be in Binyamin’s territory and in the end will be destroyed. Binyamin wept for the Tabernacle of Shiloh which was destined to be in Yosef’s territory and in the end will be destroyed.

Living in Jerusalem, one is reminded of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples on a regular basis. In the old city of Jerusalem, archeologists are constantly finding remnants from both the First and Second Temple periods. When one prays at the Kotel (Western Wall), they are reminded that they are standing in front of the last remaining wall that surrounded the Temple, yet we don’t have the Beit HaMikdash to pray at. If a Jewish person has the opportunity to ascend the Temple Mount, they are not given permission to pray there. Rather, they will see a Mosque standing where the Temple stood and they will see children playing soccer on our holiest site.

This Thursday, we will commemorate the Tenth of Tevet, the fast day which marks the beginning of the siege around Jerusalem which ultimately led to the destruction of the First Temple.

Those living in Jerusalem don’t only think of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash when a fast day comes along or when they are praying. The destruction is an integral part of our lives. This morning two border policemen were stabbed near the Lion’s Gate in the old city of Jerusalem. Earlier this week two cars of Israelis were attacked on their way to a funeral on Har HaZeitim (Mount of Olives). Last month, Yeshiva students were ambushed on their way to Friday night dinner near Har HaTsofim (Mount Scopus). The images of the destruction are unfortunately still very real today.

We can’t just sit back and accept the destruction that is taking place. We must cry out and demand more security and safer access to our holiest city.

The difference today is that we have a State of Israel. The Israelis are the one’s who should be in control. We must not tolerate violence from our enemies.

 

 
Yaakov Made Spirituality his Priority Print E-mail
Friday, 06 December 2013

In Parshat Vayigash, Breisheet 46:5-6 we read: “Yaakov rose up from Beer Sheva. B’nai Yisrael transported their father Yaakov, their children and their wives in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. They took the livestock and their possessions that they had acquired in the Land of Cnaan and they came to Egypt, Yaakov and all of his descendents with him.”

 

Why does sentence 6 only mention the possessions that they acquired in the Land of Cnaan? What happened to the possessions that they acquired in Padan Aram (when he worked for Lavan)?

 

According to Rashi, whatever Yaakov acquired in Padan Aram he gave entirely to Esav for his share in Maarat HaMachpela (The burial cave in Chevron). He said, “Possessions acquired outside of the Land of Israel have no value for me.”

 

Yaakov took all of the gold and silver that he had brought from Lavan’s house and made a piled heap (kri) for Esav, and he said to him, “Take this for your share of Maarat HaMachpela.”

 

This is what Yaakov meant by (Breisheet 50:5) “Behold I am dying. The grave that I acquired (kariti) for myself in the Land of Cnaan, there you shall bury me.”

 

The Gemara in Sotah 13a explains that even though Yaakov did buy the rights from Esav to be buried in the cave, when B’nai Yisrael came to bury Yaakov, Esav wasn’t willing to give up his place.

 

Esav’s first argument was that Yaakov used up his own space (which Yaakov acquired when he bought the birthright) by burying Leah there. Esav argued that the last space should belong to him (Esav) since he was still the son of Yitzchak and Rivka.

 

B’nai Yisrael told Esav that he did in fact sell his portion of the cave to Yaakov and Yaakov even mentioned that he acquired it (Breisheet 50:5) when he was on his deathbed.

 

Esav then asked for a letter of proof that Yaakov did buy the extra burial plot.

 

B’nai Yisrael explained that the letter was still in Egypt and they were willing to send Naftali all the way back to Egypt to get the letter.

 

In the mean time, Chushim, the son of Dan who was hard of hearing, couldn’t understand exactly what was happening. He asked what was going on and was told that Esav was holding up Yaakov’s burial. At that point, Chushim took his staff, smashed Esav in the head and killed him.

 

The Midrash in Sefer HaYashar (1552, Naples) Chapter 57 explains that Esav’s sons fought with B’nai Yisrael while Esav was still lying dead and not buried. B’nai Yisrael won the war and Eliphaz, Esav’s son took Esav’s body to be buried on Mt. Seir. However, Esav’s head remained in Chevron and was buried there.

 

Esav was more interested in materialism than spirituality while Yaakov was focused on spirituality and willing to give up his material wealth. In both the sale of the birthright which Yaakov bought with a bowl of lentil soup and the sale of the burial plot in the cave which Yaakov bought with gold and silver, Yaakov planned ahead while Esav could only think “in the moment” of what material wealth he could gain. It was only later that Esav realized that he shortchanged himself spiritually but by then it was too late.

 

 
The Concept of Aliya Goes Back to the Parsha Print E-mail
Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Concept of Aliya Goes Back to the Parsha

 

In Parshat Vayigash, we encounter the concept of Aliya- going up to the Land of Israel-twice. Aliya was also mentioned in the last pasuk of last week’s Parsha, Parshat Miketz.

 

At the end of Parshat Miketz (Breisheet 44:17), Yosef said to his brothers: “It would be degrading for me to do such a thing (make all of you slaves). The man (Binyamin) in whose hand the goblet was found, he shall be my slave, and the rest of you ‘alu lishalom’, ‘go up’ in peace to your father.”

 

At the beginning of Parshat Vayigash, Yehuda approaches Yosef and explains the story of why it is so important to let Binyamin go back to his father. In 44:33 Yehuda actually offers to stay in Egypt in place of Binyamin: “And now, let your servant remain as a slave to my master instead of the lad. Let the lad ‘go up’ with his brothers.”

 

Once Yosef admits that he is really their brother he says (45:9): “Hurry, ‘go up’ to my father and tell him: this is what your son, Yosef says, God has made me master of all Egypt. Come down to me, do not delay.”

 

Geographically, when a person is in Israel, they go down to Egypt and when they are in Egypt, they go up to Israel. Spiritually as well, when a person is in Israel, they are on a higher level then when they are in Egypt. This concept has been expanded beyond Egypt and no matter what country people are from, if they move to Israel we call it making Aliya- literally going up.

 

Living in Jerusalem, we have the opportunity to see people who made Aliya from almost every country in the world.

 

Visiting a Jerusalem nursing home is a true experience of Kibbutz Galuyot, ingathering of the exiles, where one can meet senior citizens who were born in Israel a hundred years ago, Olim who just arrived from France this past year as well as those that came from countries throughout the world every year in between. Taking time to hear their stories is fascinating. Even more fascinating is the fact that they all seem to get along- a lesson that we could all learn from them!

 

 

 
Unity in My Backyard Print E-mail
Friday, 30 December 2011

In Parshat Vayigash, Breisheet 46:27, we read “…All the “nefesh” (soul) of the house of Yaakov that came to Egypt were seventy.”

 

Rashi points out that the Jewish people were not called “nefashot”, souls. Rather they were called “nefesh”, a soul, since B’nai Yisrael all worshipped one God. In Vayikra Raba we see that in the case of Esav’s sons (Breisheet 36:3-5) they are called six “nefashot”, souls, since Esav’s descendents worshipped many gods.

 

The Jewish people are meant to be one soul, nefesh, united. We all believe in the same God. There is no reason for us to be divided. Unfortunately, there are neighborhoods in Israel and abroad where the Jewish communities are divided. There are also many Jewish communities which are united.

 

The Baka and Talpiot neighborhoods of Jerusalem are a good example of united Jewish communities.

 

In Baka and Talpiot, there are different types of synagogues- Ashkenazic and Sephardic, Modern Orthodox, National Religious, Conservative, Reform, Halachic Egalitarian and Chabad. Everybody attends the synagogue(s) that they are most comfortable with and nobody judges or criticizes anybody else.

 

The National Religious public school is called Efrata. The school is a mixed community of Hebrew speakers, French speakers and English speakers. There are students who are native Israelis as well as families who made Aliya from Ethiopia, the US, Canada, England, France, South Africa, Australia and South America. No matter what their background is, the students all get along and treat each other with respect. There is also a track for students with special needs. Students do not look down on each other.

 

The Matnas, community center, in Baka provides extra curricular activities for all residents of the neighborhood. On the soccer teams for students as young as four years old one will find boys with and without kippot as well as girls.

 

In the local nursing homes and senior centers, Torat Reva Yerushalayim provides classes for senior citizens of all ages and backgrounds. Even those who are not observant take part in our Torah discussions and even those who challenge some of what we teach always do so with the utmost respect.

 

The Baka and Talpiot neighborhoods should be seen as model communities that Jews in Israel and abroad should seek to emulate.

 

I am honored to live in such a wonderful community.

 

 
The Importance of Keeping a Positive Attitude Print E-mail
Friday, 10 December 2010

 Dedicated to the memory of the 42 people who perished in the Carmel fires

 

In Breisheet  47:8, When Yaakov arrives in Egypt, looking like a very old man, Pharaoh asks him: “How many are the days of the years of your life?”

 

Yaakov’s response in the next pasuk is: “The days of the years of my sojourns have been a hundred and thirty years. Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the life spans of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns.”

 

Chizkuni comments that Yaakov’s answer was that I have lived a short life so far, however since the days of my life were so bad, I look older.

 

Chizkuni brings a Midrash from Torah Shlema of why Yaakov lived 33 years less than his father, Yitzchak: God said to Yaakov: “I saved you from Lavan, Esav and Shechem, I returned Dena and Yoseph to you and you say that your life is short and bad! I will take a year off of your life for each of your word of complaint to Pharaoh (in sentence 9)!”

 

We can learn from here that even in the toughest of times we should be thankful for what we have and try to look on the bright side.

 

Amidst last week’s disaster in the Carmel, we saw many people go out of their way to help others see the light during such a dark time. Natan Sharansky and the Jewish Agency brought many children who are now homeless due to the fire to Jerusalem to enjoy fun Chanuka activities. I was happy to see the children smiling in a picture in the newspaper.

 

College students throughout Israel have been helping clean up kindergartens on Kibbutzim as well as collecting school supplies, toys, books and clothing for children who lost all of their material possessions.

 

It is very easy to sit around and complain about whose fault the fire was but at this time we need to keep a positive outlook and see how we can rebuild and move forward.

 
 
Everything Happens for a Reason Print E-mail
Friday, 25 December 2009

In Parshat Vayigash we find that after all that Yosef has been through- as a 17 year old he was treated unfairly by his brothers, sold as a slave, accused of rape, sent to prison- he came out on top, as Pharaoh’s viceroy- and he saw that all of those events happened for a reason.

 

When Yosef finally revealed his identity to his brothers, he said: (Breisheet 45:4-5, 7) “I am Yosef your brother whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth and to save your lives by great deliverance.”

 

Although Yosef did not have an easy life, he felt that whatever happened was in the hands of God. That didn’t stop Yosef from giving his brothers some pain and suffering before he revealed who he really was. However, once he explained who he was he no longer held a grudge.

 

After making his brothers feel guilty about selling him (machartem oti), Yosef explains that the reason he was in Egypt was because he was fulfilling God’s mission (vayishlecheni Elokim).

 

As we go through life we have our ups and downs. Some days can be great, others can be depressing. Yet knowing that everything has a reason and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel can help us get through the dark times. Yosef didn’t sit and mope, he worked his way up whether it was in Potiphar’s house, in prison or in the royal palace. Since Yosef had never really worked (aside from helping take care of his father) his brothers thought that he would not have survived as a slave and therefore they spoke about him as being dead. They didn’t realize the tremendous amount of drive and energy that Yosef had to get ahead.

 

Lets each look at our own lives and find ways to turn the darkness into light the way that Yosef did.

 
The Significance of Be’er Sheva Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 January 2009

In Parshat Vayigash, Yaakov’s sons return to the Land of Israel in order to bring the entire family down to Egypt.

 

When they arrive at the Southern most point of the Biblical Land of Israel, Be’er Sheva, Yaakov offers sacrifices to God. In a dream, God promises Yaakov that He will protect him (Breisheet 45:1-4).

 

Be’er Sheva literally means the “Well of the Oath” since that is the place where Avraham made an oath with Avimelech, King of Grar (today’s Gaza strip) (Breisheet 21:32). According to Rashi (Breisheet 21:34), Avraham actually spent more time, “yamim rabim” living in Be’er Sheva (26 years) than anywhere else (he lived in Chevron for 25 years). Avraham  planted an eshel tree and called out in the name of God.

 

Yitzchak also lived in Be’er Sheva and God blessed him in a dream (Breisheet 26:24) affirming that He is with him and that he should not be afraid.Yitzchak built an alter there and made a covenant of peace with Avimelech.

 

In the Book of Breisheet we see that Be’er Sheva has always been a place of prophecy, prayer and peace agreements.

 

Over the last few days, Be’er Sheva has been in the news for being the farthest target that has been hit so far by Hamas. This past Wednesday, a rocket directly hit a high school (school was not in session due to the war). Rockets were launched into Be’er Sheva all day Wednesday as well as on Thursday morning and evening where rockets landed in open areas.

 

During this difficult time we pray for the safety of the Israelis living closest to the Gaza strip (Sderot is 10 km away) as well as for those who live as far as Be’er Sheva (40 km away).

 

May the city of Be’er Sheva (and the surrounding cities) be restored to peace, prayer and prophecy as Be’er Sheva was in the days of the Avot (Patriarchs).

 
 
Was Yaakov Afraid to Go Down to Egypt? Print E-mail
Thursday, 13 December 2007

When Yaakov heard that Yosef was still alive he said (Breisheet 45:28) “It is too much! My son Yosef still lives. I will go and see him before I die”. The next pasuk explains how Yaakov immediately traveled to Be’er Sheva and offered sacrifices to “the God of his father, Yitzchak.” God then appeared to Yaakov in a night vision where He said “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt for there I will make you into a great nation. I will go down with you to Egypt and I will bring you up again.”

Abravanel asks why God is telling Yaakov not to be afraid. We don’t see in the text that Yaakov was afraid. Rather, we see that Yaakov prepares to go down to Egypt.

Radak explains that Yaakov offered sacrifices in Be’er Sheva, right before leaving the Land of Israel to the “God of His father Yitzchak” because he wanted to inquire if God wanted him to go down to Egypt or if he wanted him to remain in the Land of Israel the way that Yitzchak was asked to remain.

Chizkuni points out that Yaakov was afraid that by going down to Egypt he would be fulfilling the prophecy that God gave Avraham. God said: Don’t be afraid, although the days of bondage and affliction are at hand, so is the blessing that I will make you a great nation.

Rashi says that that Yaakov was distressed because he didn’t want to leave the Land of Israel.

Nechama Leibowitz comments that Yaakov was worried that his descendents would become too comfortable in Egypt and would not want to leave and return to the Land of C’naan (Israel) even though it was the land that had been promised to their forefathers.

Although Yaakov wanted to see Yosef and was anxious to go to Egypt, he was worried about the nation as a whole and if they would indeed return to the land of Israel after the exile.

As we have seen throughout Jewish history, over and over again the Jewish people have been exiled, yet each time they have returned to the Land of Israel. We are fortunate to have the State of Israel today, a place where many Jews continue to return, fulfilling God’s blessing which was originally given to Avraham “I will make you a great nation”.

 

 

 

 

 
Did Binyamin Have Two Necks? Print E-mail
Thursday, 28 December 2006

In Parshat Vayigash, Yosef surprises his brothers and reveals his true identity. In Breisheet 45:14 we read "Yosef fell upon his brother Binyamin.s necks and wept, and Binyamin wept upon his neck."

Why is the word tzavar (neck) in the plural form (tzavarei)? How many necks did Binyamin have?

According to Rashi,Yosef wept for the two batei mikdash (temples) which were destined to be in Binyamin.s territory and in the end were destined to be destroyed. Binyamin wept for the mishkan (tabernacle) in Shilo which was destined to be in Yosef.s territory and in the end was destined to be destroyed.

The midrash in Shir HaShirim Raba 4:11 explains that the neck is compared to the Beit HaMikdash. Just as most jewels are worn around the neck, so too most of the jewels of Israel were in the Beit HaMikdash.

Why did Binyamin receive the honor of having the Beit HaMikdash built in his territory?

  1. Binyamin was the only son who did not bow down to Esav (In fact, he wasn.t even born when his brothers bowed down to Esav!)
  2. Sifri points out that all of the other tribes were born outside of the land of Israel and there is a special holiness to the fact that Binyamin was born in the land of Israel.

According to HaRav Nissenboim a child born in Israel has an added inner strength that those born outside of Israel may not possess.