Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Vayeishev 6 - Random Thoughts

1) Why did the brothers feel sin'ah for Yosef after he was favored and after his first dream, but kin'ah after his second dream? To the contrary, it would seem more logical that they should be jealous of his father's favoritism and hate him after he shows his desire to rule over them.

The ba'al Parsha Potpourri noted on his blog that the Beis HaLevi gives an answer to this question. He explains that the first dream was a dream about physical domination and wealth, aspects that are external to a person (as seen by the fact that it was their bundles that bowed to Yosef's bundle, not they to him). The brothers hated him for desiring to rule over them and for foreseeing their future reliance on him, but were not jealous of him. The second dream, though, symbolized spiritual superiority - and this, indeed, is a proper type of jealousy.

2) Rashi comments that the Baker and Butler each dreamed their own dreams and their colleague's interpretation. Why did HaShem do this?

We see from the story of Bar Hedya the dream interpreter in the last perek of Brachos that dreams follow their interpretation. Therefore, the fact that Yosef's interpretations came true would not necessarily have been a basis to say that there was anything special about him. Hence, perhaps the Butler was also shown a vision of the Baker's interpretation, so as to indicate that Yosef's interpretation was Divinely sanctioned.

3) Why did the Baker first say that the three baskets cointained in them "Chori" and then said that the top basket had in it "Kol ma'achal Par'o ma'aseih ofeh"? I would understand if it were the reverse, since the former is more specific than the latter.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Vayeishev 5 - The Controversy of Judah and Joseph

A d'var torah that I wrote for this week's issue of the UPenn d'var torah newsletter. I also handed in a condensed version, in the event that space constraints are an issue, but this is the full version.

In this week’s sedra, the two parshiyos describing Judah’s family and Joseph in the house of Potiphar are treated as one unit, being separated from each other by a minor break and being separated from the preceding and following parshiyos by major breaks. A close examination reveals that the two stories are eerily similar to one another: In both stories, one of the brothers is separated from his family and becomes attached to a new family; meets with a measure of success; has his world turned upside down by a woman; attempts to resist the woman; and continues to be pursued by the woman. Ultimately, Joseph successfully resists the woman, while Judah acquiesces to her temptation. Given the stunning parallelisms between these two stories, why do they have different results? Why did Joseph pass his test with full marks, while Judah stumbled?

Rachel, Joseph’s mother, is described by her complete physical beauty, representing engagement with the world. Judah’s mother, Leah, was described by her beautiful eyes, emphasizing her focus on the hidden intellectual and spiritual realms. It was the active Rachel who watered her father’s sheep, who asserted herself in demanding that her husband pray for her and that her sister share her love-fruits with her, who struggled with God’s decrees, and who had the foresight to steal her father’s teraphim. The retiring Leah calmly accepted everything she received. When she left her tent to speak to Jacob, Midrash Tanchuma (7) finds it so shocking that it compares it to Dinah’s going forth that resulted in her being assaulted. Once Rachel bore Jacob a child, he was ready to confront Esau, as he now possessed physicality to fight physicality.

Judah is named after “Hoda’ah”, thanksgiving. The word hoda’ah in a more general sense means admission or concession. One who concedes a point reciprocates exactly what is set before him, no more and no less. Joseph is named after “Asifah”, after the reduction of Rachel’s shame, and “Hosafah”, after Rachel’s desire for an additional child. Judah is associated with repetition and stability, Joseph with addition and subtraction.

R’ Joseph B. Soloveitchik in his address “And Joseph Dreamt a Dream” (included in Chameish Derashot) notes that Joseph realized that the time of the prophecy that Abraham’s descendants would be strangers in a strange land was very near, and that his family would then be forced to adapt to a new environment. Hence, he told his brothers his dreams in preparation for the time when his skills of engagement and reaction to change would be needed. His brothers, though, did not accept his arguments that a change from their current lifestyle would be necessary. They viewed the future as a continuation of the present, and instead concluded that he was their generation’s Ishmael or Esau, who was not content with his role, but rather sought to overstep into the boundaries of others. To neutralize this threat, Judah recommended that they dismiss Joseph from the family heritage, just as Abraham expelled Ishmael and Esau removed himself to Mount Se’ir.

When Judah left his comfort zone, he was anchored by his friend Chirah and by his wife and children, who replaced the society that he had lost. Joseph similarly prospered in the house of Potiphar. At the time of crisis, though, when the two men were left alone with their inclinations, Joseph’s ability to adapt to this intensified challenge enabled him to overcome, while Judah, on the other hand, succumbed. Joseph, with his gift for adapting to new situations, ultimately became the Egyptian viceroy and used his foresight to save the region from famine; Judah utilized his skill in strengthening the status quo in organizing the transfer of the Jewish settlement to Goshen. Joseph is compared to an ox, which is intimately connected to physical needs. Judah is referred to as a lion, whose awe-inspiring roar is compared to the blast of prophecy. When Moses died, it was Joseph’s descendant, Joshua, who had the skills to lead the people into their new phase. Judah’s descendant, Osniel ben Kenaz, restored to the nation the laws that had been forgotten during the mourning for Moses.

When King Solomon’s son Rechav’am refused to acknowledge the paradigm shift resulting from his father’s death, the northern tribes broke away and coronated as king Yarav’am ben Nevat, a scion of Joseph. Yarav’am’s beginning was auspicious, as he was given license to reign by the prophet Achiyah HaShiloni. Things quickly went awry, though, as Yarav’am became distracted from his designated purpose, and replaced the Temple in Jerusalem with local temples. Sanhedrin 102b relates that after these events, God told Yarav’am, “If you recant, then you, I, and [David] the son of Jesse will stroll together in the Garden of Eden – but David shall walk in front.” Yarav’am refused to depart from his chosen path, and became one of the most disastrous kings in our history. Yarav’am had great potential, but made the mistake of overvaluing himself and losing sight of the fact that his Judaism was authenticated only by its subordination to that of Judah. Once he viewed himself as superior to the Judean king, all was lost.

The prophet Ezekiel describes the conclusion of this struggle between the descendants of Judah and of Joseph. The twin staffs shall ultimately become one, under the unification of a Davidic monarch. Although David was a descendant of Judah, he possessed both the beautiful eyes of his grandmother Leah and the ruddy physical beauty of Rachel. In the end of days, Judah shall again be regnant, but shall be revitalized by the beauty of Joseph.

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Pets in Halacha

Someone recently asked on a mailing list to which I subscribe whether there are any halachic issues with owning pets.

R' Yitzchak Nachman Eshkoli devotes a chapter to pets in his sefer "Tza'ar Ba'alei Chaim". Some excerpts:

- Rambam (N"M 5:10) says that it's assur to raise a dog unless it is tied with a chain (based on a literal reading of Mishnah on BK 79b), but most poskim (inc. Shu"A Ch"M 409:3) say that the issur applies only to a bad dog. The Yam Shel Shlomo (BK 87:45) limits the heter to "Kufri dogs" which are especially unscary, but Rema, Knh"G, and Shu"A HaRav write that the minhag is not like the Ysh"Sh, and that only a kelev ra is problematic. Rashba (BK end. ch. 4) and Pele Yoetz (s.v. Kelev) say that there is a midas chasidus not to raise dogs, based on BK 83a.

- Ysh"Sh (BK 87:37) writes that there's no problem with raising cats nowadays, as the cat mentioned on BK 80b as being dangerous is no longer common.

- Shu"T Afrekasta d'Anya (R' David Sperber of Barshov - 163) and Be'er Moshe (2:58), based on Maharsha on Sotah 48a, say that one cannot raise songbirds. Shu"T L'Horos Noson (11:77) writes regarding even owning a mimic bird that "ein da'as chachamim nocheh mizeh". Shu"T Ateres Paz (1:2 - Yo"D 5) writes, though, that the explanation of the Maharsha is not accepted la-halacha by rov poskim. R' Elyakum Dvorkes writes that keeping any bird in a cage may be problematic mishum TzB"Ch, but acknowledges that this may not apply by all species. Shu"T Sha'ar Asher (2:272:18) argues, being that TzB"Ch is hutar l'tzorech bnei adam, and many poskim are mashma like him, also.

- Shu"T Chesed L'Avraham (R' Avraham Alkalai - Yo"D 117), Zivchei Tzedek (117:43), and Levushei Mordechai (Mahdu"T Yo"D 50) prohibit raising rabbits because they're b'heimos t'mei'os, but since their stated reason is based on most rabbits being raised as food, Shu"T Ateres Paz says the issur doesn't apply nowadays. Shu"T Yachin uBoaz (2:25) similarly allows raising monkeys.

He also discusses owning pets from a bitul zman/bitul mamon standpoint (see Shu"T M'shaneh Halachos 6:216), although Shu"T Ateres Paz writes that the issur is only if he exerts excessive torach on taking care of them, and that if a person's mind will be calmed by them, efshar l'hakeil. Also, R"Ch Naeh (Ketzos HaShulchan-Badei HaShulchan 151:4) and RSZA (brought down by ShSh"K (who is this? - 18:62) discuss whether a fish tank is muktzah, without mentioning any issue with owning fish in and of itself.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Vayeishev 4 - Butler and Baker

In the end of this week's parsha, the Chief Butler and Chief Baker each had dreams while in prison, which Yosef interprets. The Butler dreamed of a grapevine which had three branches of grapes, which he squeezed into wine that he brought before Pharoah, while the Baker dreamed that birds were eating from the top of three baskets of bread sitting on top of his head. Yosef interpreted both dreams as referring to the upcoming three day period, after which the Butler would be reinstated and the Baker hung. Being that the interpretations of their dreams were parallel, why were their dreams disparate, in that the Butler utilized all three branches set before him, while the birds ate only the top of the Baker's baskets?

It seems to me that the answer lies in the different reactions of the two men to their dreams' interpretations. Once the Butler heard his dream's interpretation, he would strongly hope that the dream would come true and would be confident in the interpretation . Hence, the first two days are associated with the third day, because through all of them, the Butler had thoughts of redemption. The Baker, on the other hand, would hope that Yosef's interpretation would not come true. Hence, during the first two days, he would reassure himself that his dream would still have some positive meaning to it, while only on the third day he would be forced to admit that, indeed, the dream heralded his execution.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007


32:11-2 - "I am not worthy of all the kindnesses and of all of the truths which You have done to Your servant; for with my staff I crossed over this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please save me from the hand of my brother, Eisav..."

It's strange how Yaakov utilizes the imagery of two camps - which he only had to resort to because of the mortal danger that had came upon him - as a means of expressing the kindness that HaShem had done for him, relative to when he had left Canaan alone. Perhaps this last clause is a connector of sorts, serving as both an acknowledgement of HaShem's kindness in enlarging the household of Yaakov and an acknowledgement that Yaakov was in great need of further salvation. Alternatively, sometimes one only recognizes the gifts that one has been given when they're put in danger.

32:25 - "And Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until daybreak".

Midrash Rabbah on the passuk compares Yaakov (or tzaddikim in general) to HaShem; just like He is alone (V'nisgav HaShem l'vado), so, too, was Yaakov alone - and hence, the popular Carlebach tune.

32:30 - "And Yaakov asked him, and said, 'Tell me your name'; and he said, 'Why do you ask my name?'..."

One of my favorite vortlach comes from one of the books in the Maggid series. Based on the midrash that states that the man = saro shel Eisav = Samael = mal'ach ha-maves = Yetzer Hara, one can understand the response of Yaakov's assailant as being an answer, rather than a counterquestion. The name of the yetzer hara, its modus operandi, is, indeed, "Why do you ask my name"; once one stops thinking critically about himself and the world around him, he soon gets washed away by his yetzer.

34:1 - "And Dina the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Yaakov, went out to see the girls of the land."

Rashi notes that just like Leah was a yatz'anis (30:16), so was her daughter. How are the cases similar, though? The passuk by Leah states that she went forth to greet Yaakov and tell him that she had swapped her duda'im in exchange for his spending the night with her. On the surface the two yetzi'os are not at all parallel - Leah stepping out of her tent briefly to speak to her husband vs. Dina looking to socialize with the neighboring girls; is there some deeper connection between the two episodes?

35:10 - "Your name, Yaakov; no more shall your name be called Yaakov, but rather Yisroel shall be your name"

Why did HaShem wait until this point to change his name, being that Yaakov had already been forewarned of the switch 2 years earlier (i.e., before meeting Eisav, dwelling in Sukkot, and dwelling near Shechem)? Rashi notes that the switch is a change from the sneakiness implied by the name "Yaakov" to a terminology of leadership; perhaps this reasoning counteracts the sneakiness used by Shimon and Levi to wipe out Shechem? (If this is the case, though, why would HaShem wait until they passed Alon Bachut?)

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Questions on Vayeitzei

One of the chaveirim on Avodah sometimes posts questions that he came up with while reviewing the weekly sedra, something that I wish that I would do more often myself. I responded in a private e-mail to some of his questions (which haven't yet been archived on the web, as of this post's writing), which I append here. Comments welcome.

> 28:19 – Luz.
> The Midrash 69:8 says that the Malach Hamoves had no power in the city of Luz. So > what happened to the senior citizens who were well past their use-by dates?
> Simple. They were placed outside the walls of the city – where they died.
> (Sounds a bit like the Eskimo solution..)
> Would this be the first published example of institutionalized euthanasia?

To my recollection, the source says that they would leave of their own volition when they became tired of life (although I could be misremembering), but similar question vis-a-vis suicide, anyway. Lich'orah it would only be a grama, similar to stopping anti-cancer medication, as they would not necessarily die as soon as they left the

> 29:11 - Vayishak Yaakov leRochel. 2 pesukim >later re Lavan kissing Yaakov "Veynashek Lo".
> Is there any difference between 'vayishak' and 'vaynashek'?

What immediately stands out to me is that neshek is Modern Hebrew for weapon, although not sure if the word has any basis in lashon ha-kodesh. Not sure what the effect of the grammatical difference would be, though.

> 29:32 - Rashi dh Vatikra shemo Reuven - 'Omro re'u ma bein beni leben chami...'
> The first obvious question is, the Torah gives a clear reason why Leah called him > Reuven - 'ki ro'o Hashem be'onyi', so why is Rashi giving a different reason -
> which is also difficult to understand as Yosef, who is a main feature of this -
> was yet to be born...

I recall hearing that Rashi is answering the question regarding why he was named "Reuven", instead of, i.e., "Rayon". The fact that Yosef wasn't born yet fits in well, in that Leah possibly didn't herself realize the significance of her choice of the name "Reuven" over "Rayon", so therefore did not say the reason of Rashi explicitly in the pesukim.

> 30:27 Rashi dh Nichashti says that the proof that Lavan had no sons until Yaakov
> arrived was the fact that he sent Rochel to the well with his sheep,
> Something he would not have done had he any sons.
> But we see that his father Besuel who did have a son - Lavan - still sent his
> sister Rivka to do the same thing...?

Rivka went out to draw water, presumably for human use, which is a much less labor-intensive job than watching sheep. Adderabba, since Lavan was presumably with the sheep all day, Rivka would be enlisted into obtaining water along with her other household duties (although it isn't terribly surprising that Lavan, not the most honest of people, was mysteriously home from work by this time...)

> 31:34 - Am I understanding it correctly that
> Rochel was sitting on her camel INSIDE the tent? And if so, was/is this the done
> thing - having camels in the tent that you live?

Also, if her only ailment was "derech nashim" why should she be
precluded from standing up or doing any type of physical activity? (Of
course, I have neither primary nor secondary experience in the effects
of such).

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