"And there with us was a Hebrew youth." The family was already called "the sons of Israel" (46:8), and subsequently they never called themselves by any other name; for this was their title of glory which Hashem had conferred upon them (32:29, 35:10). The Torah never uses any other name for them, except when speaking of Israelites that were bonded into servitude: "When you will purchase a Hebrew slave" (Shmot 21:2) and similar instances where Eved Ivri is used to denote an Israelite slave (in contrast to an ordinary slave, the Eved Canaani). But when non-Jews spoke, or when Israelites spoke to non-Jews, the word "Hebrew" (Ivri) was used. The nations knew only of the wider classification Ivri which included "all the children of Ever" (10:21). This name signified also their place of origin: "Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the River (MeEver Hanahar)...And I took your father Avraham from the other side of the River" (Joshua 24:2-3) where the word Ever signifies "the far side" of the Euphrates River. It was no honor for the Israelite to be called Ivri (Hebrew), and they never used any name other than Israel, which was intended by God as a title of supreme glory (32:29). (R. Avigdor Miller).
The Maccabee story was actually the fourth Chanukah or dedication of the Temple. The haftorah describes the third Chanukah, that of Zerubavel. The image of the Temple Menorah is the vehicle for the prophetic message that "Not by the might of arms, not by physical strength, but by My Spirit, said Hashem of the hosts of creation." The type of power that will bring about the salvation of Israel is with an inner strength which will be divinely inspired. No intermediary will be necessary to bring about such a salvation. The ultimate redemption will come about not through our exercising a natural physical strength. To choose this haftorah for Chanukah was to tell the Jewish people not to look upon the victory over the Greek-Syrians as a military victory that resulted from our strength and perseverance in the war; in order not be seen as a miracle and an act of divine deliverance, we had to see God's direction in the war and see it through the image of the Temple Menorah.
"Will you be a king over us? Shall you rule over us?" These words of Yosef’s brothers in response to his relating to them his grandiose visions were ultimately and fully fulfilled. Yosef was in all respects a real king over the house of Israel for 71 years, longer than any other ruler in Israel's history. Yosef ruled with more authority than any subsequent ruler, and with even more authority than Moshe or David. Pharaoh gave to Yosef the power that "without you no man may lift up his hand or his foot in all the land of Egypt" (41:44). No one dared to quarrel or even to complain, which was not the case in the period under Moshe's control. In Yosef's time the Israelites "were exceedingly fruitful and they multiplied" (47:27), and the nation came into being during his long period as a virtual king and an absolute ruler over them. This was Hashem's plan that the righteous Yosef should wield absolute power for the longest reign in history, in order to prepare the newly developing nation for the great event of the Receiving of the Torah at Sinai. Yosef was extremely resourceful and capable in everything, as his career demonstrated. When he related his dreams, his brothers saw his firm faith in these dreams, and they greatly feared the consequences of an ambitious and capable younger brother who would attempt to make the dreams come true.
The last scene in the Parsha is an interesting one with Yosef in prison along with two officers of Pharaoh’s court. To give an analogy, according to Rabbi Isaachar Frand, this would be like having a small-time drug dealer in jail along with two members of the President’s Cabinet. We are dealing with “cabinet-level” positions in the Egyptian government. The person who brought Pharaoh his wine was a trusted individual; he was the wine taster, a person in whom the king had implicit trust. We are dealing here with people who could be compared to the Attorney General and the Secretary of State. They are sitting in jail with a Hebrew slave, the lowest rung of society, someone who is serving time for a petty crime. We can be sure that there was not a lot of camaraderie and social action between Yosef and Pharaoh’s officials. However, when they had dreams which upset them, Yosef saw that they were depressed and asked them: Why are you depressed? You don’t look so good this morning.” Because of those words, what happens? The dreams are related to Yosef. Yosef interprets the dreams and everyone sees that Yosef has special powers. The entire chain of events that brings about Yosef’s ultimate release is all because Yosef went over and offered assistance, asking how they are. A lesson for us all.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman
As we go through each narrative in the life of the patriarchs and matriarchs, the Torah spends an enormous amount of time telling us the story without benefit of a halachic punch line. The Torah is not merely a code of law nor is it a history book. As such, every story should have some form of lesson for us to justify its inclusion in our Holy Writ. For example, the story of Yaakov preparing for his confrontation and reunion with his brother is a story that was used by the rabbis of the Talmudic time to inform them as to how they should approach the Romans. The Midrash is always looking at the Romans as descendents of Esav, even though there is no literal connection between the two. The Midrash states that once, Rabbi Yannai failed to review this chapter before approaching the Romans, and his trip was a dismal failure. Similarly, in 1744 during the time of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, there was a decree for the Jews to be expelled from Bohemia. Rabbi Zalman was supposed to meet with the Austrian official regarding the possibility of repealing the decree. So, Rabbi Zalman went to meet the councilor when the councilor was visiting with a Jewish woman with whom he had a romantic interest. At first the councilor was angry at Rabbi Zalman’s approaching him at her place, but Rabbi Zalman explained his methods by quoting from this week’s Parsha. The councilor was intrigued by the explanation and things progressed well. How we learn life lesson from the Torah narrative is a challenge.
During the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, in directing the Israeli Defense Forces, learned from biblical and post-biblical accounts that the only successful military conquests of Jerusalem took place from the north. Learning from these ancient historical accounts, Dayan sent paratroopers to the other side of the Old City and they successfully conquered the Old City by entering from the north and northeast through the Lion’s Gate. History put to use!
Yaakov prepared for his confrontation with Esav in three ways. First, he prayed to God Almighty for Divine Providence so that his encounter would not be a failure. Second, he attempted to appease his brother by sending a large number of animals as a gift to his brother. Third, he divided his family into separate camps and prepared them militarily for the confrontation. This multi-tiered approach seems practical but it also indicates that Yaakov did not know which method would succeed. Would God intervene directly? Would Esav approach him with brotherly compassion and mercy? Or would there be an all-out battle? Sometimes we do not know the “right” approach. In this story we see Yaakov being quite unsure as to which is the proper approach. In the end, the gifts of appeasement seemed to have been successful.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman
Yaakov departs the land of Canaan, headed toward Charan to Uncle Lavan’s house, hopefully to marry, and to avoid the wrath of his brother Esav. When Avraham received the divine mandate to leave his country, his birthplace, and his father’s home, it obviously had nothing to do with disassociating himself completely from the members of his larger family because his son and grandson are obtaining their wives from that original household. Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah, all our patriarchs and matriarchs, emanate from that country, birthplace, and patriarchal establishment. Perhaps what Hashem was telling Avraham is that the people are not treif but their morals, life values, and lifestyle have to be abandoned. The quest for monotheism is difficult enough in the pagan world. Avraham was establishing a new family that would swim against the current of idolatry. It would forge a new path of morality. This was the ultimate mandate and would be costly. It was partially successful at the outset because Avraham not only had Yitzchak, but he had Yishmael. Yitzchak not only had Yaakov, but he had Esav. The ability to abandon one’s roots, even on the scale that was required of the patriarchal family, would take several generations to complete before the road to a Jewish nation evolves.
Life is very difficult. Isn’t it a fact that a person may have food but, because his family is without clothing, he has to sell the food to buy clothing? Similarly, under some conditions a person sells his clothing to obtain money to purchase food. These are the thoughts Yaakov had in mind when he made the prayer, “Dear Lord, please promise to give me bread that I shall eat and clothing that I shall wear. I don’t want to have to sell or pawn either to buy food for my family or to buy clothing.”
One day the holy Rabbi Chaim of Sanz asked one of his disciples who was sitting at his table whether the waiter did not forget to give him his share of food. “Rabbi,” replied the disciple very earnestly, “not for the purpose of food did I come here, but for the soul.” The rabbi smilingly replied, “You did not come to this world to eat, but if you try to withhold the food and drink that a person needs, the soul will fly away very soon.”
Rabbi David Grossman