Sunday, December 28, 2014

Vayechi 5775

The Torah Portion of Vayechi 

Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"Vayechi Yaakov..."  (In English "And Yaakov lived...") (Bereisheet 47:28)

The Hebrew word "Vayechi"  has the Gematria (numerical value of the letters)  of 34, for the main point of Yaakov's life was when he was together with Yosef, 17 years before the sale of Yosef, and in Mitzayim (Egypt) another 17 years.  Together this adds up to 34 which is the Gematria of the word "Vayechi".

"Vayechi..."  (In English: "And he lived...") (Bereisheet 47:28)

This Torah Portion speaks of the deaths of Yaakov and Yosef, and in spite of that the Torah Portion is called "Vayechi" ("And he lived").  Similarly, the Torah Portion of "Chayei Sarah" (in English:  "The life of Sarah") speaks about the death of righteous people and the Torah Portion is called "Chayei..." ("The life..").  The reason for this is that Tzaddikim (Righteous People), even when they are deceased, are still considered to be alive.

"And he told Yaakov and said: 'BEHOLD - your son Yosef has come to you'; and Yisrael strengthened himself and sat up on THE BED."  (Bereisheet 48:2)

The Sages say that Yosef was the "same age", that is to say, he had the same "Mazel" (astrological star signs) as Yaakov, and the Sages explain that when someone visits a sick person and he has the same "Mazel", he takes away one part of 60 (that is, 1/60th) of the illness.  And that is hinted at in this verse.  The word for "BEHOLD" in Hebrew is "Hinay" with a Gematria (numerical value) of 60 ["Hinay" is spelled  with the letters Hey, Nun and Hey.  The Gematria of Hey = 5, Nun = 50, and Hey = 5, for a total of 60.]  The word for "THE BED" in Hebrew is Hamitah", with a Gemtraia of 59.  ["Hamitah" is spelled with the letters Hey, Mem, Tet, and Hey.  The Gematria of Hey = 5, Mem = 40, Tet = 9, and Hey = 5, for a total of 59.]  This is a hint to the words of the Sages that Yosef decreased Yaakov's illness by one part out of 60.

"...And Yisrael strengthened himself and sat up on the bed."  (Bereisheet 48:2)

The Baal HaTurim says that it is written about Haman that he "fell on the bed" (Megillat Esther 7:8) and regarding Yaakov it is written "And Yisrael strengthened himself and sat up on the bed".  The reason for this is that Tzaddikim (Righteous people), even when they are weak, strengthen themselves as it is written "And Yisrael strengthened himself", and Wicked people, even when they are in their full power fall, as it is stated, "and Haman fell on the bed".

"...May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Menashe..." (Bereisheet 48:20)

Why does every father bless his sons "May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Menashe"?  The B'nai Yisachar says that Ephraim didn't hold himself proudly as being superior and act arrogantly toward Menashe, even though he was more important than his brother who was the firstborn.  Also, Menashe was not envious of his brother who was younger than him yet had been given more privileges and Yaakov had put his right hand on him.  Therefore every father blesses his sons that one of them should not act arrogantly toward the other, nor should one of them be envious of the other.  

"...May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Menashe..." (Bereisheet 48:20)

Another reason why the father blesses his sons that they should be like Ephraim and like Menashe, is that they were raised in Mitzrayim (Egypt) which was a place of impurity, and in spite of that they held onto their righteousness.  And thus the father blesses his sons that even if G-d forbid his sons will have difficult times, they will strengthen themselves and hold onto their righteousness like Ephraim and Menashe did.

"...By you shall Israel bless saying, 'May G-d make you like...' "  (Bereisheet 48:20)

The Baer Yosef asks, what is the meaning of saying "By you"?  He explains that this is referring to Yosef, for from Yosef we can learn that even though he was in the lowest of circumstances he was still able to ascend to the highest of heights.  Thus every father is able to bless his son that in any situation whatesoever, his son will still be able to ascend to the highest of heights.

"...Which I took from the hand of the Emori with my sword and with my bow..."  (Bereisheet 48:22)

Rashi explains that this refers to wisdom and prayer.  Why doesn't Rashi explain this according to the simple meaning of the text, with a sword and with a bow?  The reason is that the way of war is to first shoot with an arrow from a distance, and afterwards when one gets closer to the enemy, to fight with a sword.  But in this verse it is written in the opposite order, first the sword and then the bow.  There are those who explain why prayer is likened to a bow.  Just as in the case of a bow, the more that a person draws it closer to himself, the further the arrow goes when it is shot; also in the case of prayer, the more a person has Kavana (intention or concentration) and makes an effort in prayer, the higher the prayer rises in the Upper Realms.  Another explanation of "with my sword and with my bow" is that it refers to the war against the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination).  First it is necessary to do battle with it from close up because it is is present in your heart, and afterwards to battle it from a distance so that it doesn't get close to you at all.

"...with my sword and with my bow..."  (Bereisheet 48:22)

An explanation of this is, with prayer and with requesting.  A sword hits immediately and a bow only hits afterwards (because it takes time for the arrow to reach the target).  So too it is with prayer.  Sometimes a prayer is answered immediately, and sometimes it is answered only after a period of time.  In the writings of the Gri'z (the Rav Yitzchak Ze'ev HaLevi Soloveitchek) on the Torah, he clarified that there are two kinds of prayer.  The first is the fixed Nusach (version) such as the Shemoneh Esrei which was established by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly), which has the strength to act and the Segulah (effectiveness) to be accepted like a sword because in and of itself it is sharp like a sword which can kill.  The second, is the private request of every single individual.  The Segulah (effectiveness) of this type of request being received depends on the strength of the prayer and the righteousness of the individual who is praying, and this is simllar to a bow and arrow, which in and of itself doesn't kill except by means of the man who is drawing the bow.

"...'Gather yourselves and I will tell you what will befall you in the End of Days.' " (Bereisheet 49:1)

The expositors of the Torah say that this comes to teach us that before the end, we need to gather ourselves and be unified and that will bring closer the coming of Mashiach, and that is the explanation of the words "End of Days".

"...for in their anger [in Hebrew "Apam"] they killed a man" (Bereisheet 49:6)

[Translator's note: The Hebrew word "Apam" can be translated as "their anger", and can also be translated as "their noses".]  The Chafetz Chaim says that occasionally it's possible to kill someone with only a nose.  For example, when a poor person wants to be hired for some kind of work in order to earn a living, and the owner of the business goes to ask people about him, if they turn up their noses (a body language expressing a negative attitude) they can destroy all his possibilities for supporting himself.

"Yehudah, you, your brothers shall thank..." (Bereisheet 49:8)

The Tirgum Yonatan be Uziel says that he blessed him that the children of Israel would be called by his name, the children of Yehuda (i.e., Yehudim or Jews, based on Yehudah's name).  And there are those that add that the sign of a son of Israel is that he always gives thanks to Hashem, and this is the name of Yehuda which is from the word Hebrew word "Hodia" (in English: "thankfulness"), and also he has within his name the letters of the name of Hashem. 

"...from the prey, my son, you ascended..."  (Bereisheet 49:9)

[On this verse, Rashi says, "from that of which I suspected you, 'Joseph is without doubt torn in pieces, an evil beast hath devoured him' withdrew yourself..."] The Chafetz Chaim says that Yaakov didn't know about the sale of Yosef until the day of his death, and only then was it made known to him by means of Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration), as it says in this verse "...from the prey, my son, you ascended...".

"...He stooped down, lied down like a lion...' (Bereisheet 49:9)

There are those that explain that even if a man has all kinds of times and occasionally he is in a situation of stooping down and lying down, a period of decline, G-d forbid, he needs to regard himself as a lion and a strong person, and to strengthten himself in every kind of situation.

"Yissachar is a strong-boned donkey, lying down between the boundaries." (Bereisheet 49:14)

All the animals, such as the camel, can't stand to have a burden on their body at the time of sleeping.  The only animal that even at the time of sleeping carries a burden is the donkey. And that is what is hinted about Yissachar;  the intention of this verse is that it refers to the Torah which Yissachar will learn without stopping whether during the day or during the night, which is the time of sleeping.  

"And he saw a  pleasant resting place, that it was good...and he bent his shoulder to bear..."  (Bereisheet 49:15)

Someone who wants a life of pleasantness and restfulness, should accept upon himself to bear a burden, and should not be strict but rather give in to everyone.

"For Your Salvation do I long, Hashem." (Bereisheet: 49:18)

When it says "For Your Salvation", this apparently means for Hashem to be saved.  Since "I am with him in his suffering" (Tehillim 91:15) (that is to say that Hashem is together with us in our suffering), we pray, as it were, for Hashem to be saved, and then we also will be saved speedily in our days, Amen.

A Summary of Yaakov's Blessing

Reuven lost three things: the first born son's birthright, kingship, and the priesthood.  Regarding Shimon and Levi, Yaakov cursed their anger.  He said that the descendents of Shimon would be scribes and teachers, and they would be scattered throughout all the land of Israel to seek their livelihood and they would be poor.  Levi would need to go around to the fields to request Trumot and Ma'aserot (the donations and tithes that the other tribes are required to give to the tribe of Levi.)  Yehudah was blessed with kingship, success in war, the praise of his brothers, wine, and milk. Zevulun would have success in trade.  Yissachar would have success in Torah, and a good land.  From Dan would descend Shimshon HaGibor who would judge all of them as one man, and Yaakov prayed that at the end of Shimshon's days that Hashem would help him when the building with the Pelishtim would fall on him.  Asher would have in his portion a lot of olive oil and would would produce delicacies fit for a king. Naphthali's land would produce crops quickly and from his fruits they would say the first blessings on them.  Yosef was blessed with grace, the blessings of the heavens, the blessings of the depths, many children, and with unlimited blessing until the four ends of the earth.  Gad was blessed that they would go to war and their wouldn't be amongst them any casualties. Binyamin was blessed that the king Shaul would descend from him who would be the first to reign, and he would eat the booty of the nations, and there would be descended from him Mordechai and Esther who would recevie the house of Haman with the booty. 

"...Perhaps Yosef will hate us..."  (Bereisheet 50:15)

The Baal HaTurim says that at the time that they returned from the funeral of Yaakov Avinu, in the middle of the journey Yosef saw the pit which he had been thrown into and said the blessing about Hashem doing a miracle for him at that place.  Therefore the brothers were apprehensive that feelings of hatred would be aroused in Yosef about the sale and perhaps he would punish them.  Because of that, they said to him afterwards that their father requested that he would forgive them.

"Although you intended me harm, G-d intended it for good..." (Bereisheet 50:20)

This is similar to a case of someone pushing his friend into a pit of mud and dirt, and the person finds a very valuable diamond inside the pit.  When he comes up he says to his friend, thank you for throwing me into the pit because I've made a lot of money because of it. So Yosef said to his brothers, you thought to do to me evil, but from that came out a great goodness for all of us.  (from Masters of Mussar, ethical teachings)  

"...'please forgive the spiteful deed of your brothers and their sin for they have done you evil'...." (Bereisheet 50:18)

Rabeinu Bachya says that when the brothers of Yosef requested forgiveness from him, he didn't answer them explicitly that he forgave them.  Rather, he only said to them that they didn't do anything, and that everything was from Heaven.  And because Yosef didn't say that he forgave them the children of Israel were punished afterwards with the Eser Harugai Malchut (Ten Martyrs who were killed by the Roman Kings).  And this is a lesson for the generations, that when one person asks another for forgiveness he should answer him explicitly that he is forgiven. 


This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazak, when we finish reading one of the books of the Torah (Sefer Breisheet).  When the congregation says "Chazak, Chazak, V'nitchazek" at the end of the Torah Portion, the one who has been called up to say the blessings on the reading of the Torah should not say it, in order not to interrupt between the reading of the Torah and the blessing that he says after the Torah reading.

The Torah Portion of Vayechi has 85 verses.Haftora: "V'yikrivu Y'mai David" (Malachim Aleph Chapter 2).

We say Borchi Nafshi.  

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  
Shabbat Shalom.

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Vayigash 5775

The Torah Portion of Vayigash 

Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"And Yehudah approached him and said, 'please...' " (Bereisheet 44:18)

The Alshich HaKodesh asks, what was Yehudah's complaint?  Didn't he himself say that all of them would be slaves to Pharoah, so why did he change his mind and complain?  All the moreso, Yosef had made it easier for them and said that only Binyamin would be taken as a slave.  And the Alshich HaKodesh explains, that in the beginning Yehudah thought that they deserved all the suffering because of the selling of Yosef, but since he saw that the man only wanted to take Binyamin, he therefore decided that this was probably a false charge since Binyamin wasn't involved in the sale, and because of that he came to Yosef with complaints.

"For how can I go up to my father and the youth is not with me..." (Bereisheet 44:34)

There are those that explain this according to Mussar (Ethical Teachings), "how can I go up" after 120 years to Our Father in Heaven to give a judgment and accounting "and the youth is not with me", that is, the days of my youth have not been rectified and I damaged them?  And it is necessary to learn from this to be concerned about guarding the days of youth when one is still young and able to correct everything easily.

"And it will happen that when he sees that the youth is gone, he will die..." (Bereisheet 44:31)

The Bait HaLevi explains that Yehudah said this, because he was concerned that Yosef would claim that if Yaakov was a Tzaddik (Righteous Man) in accord with what they had said, behold, when he would hear that his son Binyamin was a thief, his love for him would end and he would agree that it was appropriate to punish him so that he would be a permanent slave.  Therefore, Yehudah hastened to say that immediately upon their return home when Yaakov would see that Binyamin was gone he would die immediately, and they wouldn't have sufficient time to tell him about what that Binyamin had done, and that is what it means by saying "when he sees that the youth is gone, he will die" -- immediately.

"...I am Yosef..."  (Bereisheet 45:3)

The Chafetz Chaim says that the brothers had many questions about the difficult behavior of Yosef towards them and about the imprisonments, but when he said "I am Yosef" they immediately understood everything that had happened previously.  So it will be in the future to come when the Glory of Heaven will be revealed, and the Holy One Blessed Be He will say "I am Hashem", then all of the hardships and sufferings that happened to the people of Israel during all the generations will be immediately understood.

"...I am Yosef..."  (Bereisheet 45:3)

There are those Meforshim (expositors of the Scriptures) who ask, why didn't he reveal to them that he was Yosef immediately when they arrived?  And they explain, that it was necessary to fulfill the dream that they would bow to him, and if he had revealed himself to them before that, they would have great embarrassment that they had to come to him and bow to him.  And because they didn't recognize him they had less embarrassment from that.

"...I am Yosef.  Is my father still alive?..."  (Bereisheet 45:3)

It is written in the Midrash Saichel Tov, "Abba Kohen Bardela said 'Woe is us on the Day of Judgment, Woe is us on the Day of Reproof.  If in the case of Yosef who was younger than the other brothers, his brothers were not able to answer him; in the future to come when Hashem judges every individual according to his deeds, all the moreso.' "  It has been asked, what is the meaning of the words (in the preceding Midrash) "according to his deeds"?  The explanation is that when a man will be asked in the Heavenly Court why he didn't give charity, and he will answer that he didn't have enough money, it will be said to him "Behold, for other things and even for inconsequential things you had money to waste, and only for charity not."  Or if he will be asked in the Heavenly Court why he didn't learn Torah as much as he should have, and he will answer that he didn't have enough time because he was busy with his work, it will be said to him "Behold, on Shabbos and Yom Tov you had enough free time so why didn't you learn then?"  And this is the explanation of "according to his deeds" -- for each and every individual it will be according to his situation and his level.  And this is the meaning of the reproof that Yosef said to them "I am Yosef.  Is my father still alive?"  Behold, they were speaking all the time about their father, so doesn't it seem a strange question to ask them if his father were still alive?  The explanation is that Yosef was rebuking them, as if to say, "If you are so worried about Father's welfare, why didn't you worry about him when you sold me, for behold you knew that Father loves me very much?  And only now you are worried about him."  And there are those that give another explanation, that Yosef thought that it was possible that in truth Yaakov had died, and they only wanted to arouse his mercy on them so that he would release Binyamin, and therefore they told him to release Binyamin because of the suffering of their father.  Therefore he said to them, "I am Yosef, now tell me the truth, Is my father still alive?"

"And now, do not be distressed...because as a supporter of life G-d sent me ahead of you."  (Bereisheet 45:5)

This presents a difficulty, for what sort of comfort for them was it that he said "as a supporter of life G-d sent me..."?  Behold, they didn't have an intention for the good (when they sold him), and  the Sages say (in Nazir 23a) that someone that intended to pick up a piece of pig (to eat) and ended up picking up a piece of lamb, needs atonement.  The explanation is thus: the Sages said (Kiddushin 29b) that a thought doesn't cancel out a deed, but does cancel out a thought; and spoken words cancel out spoken words.  And  if so, when a person transgresses and does an intentional sin, and the damage was in deed as well as in thought because he performed the sin intentionally, the regret that he has in his thoughts as well as the speech when he repents and confesses are effective to uproot the thought which was connected with the sin, but the deed of the sin is not uprooted.  But here, when the brothers regretted selling him and said "but we are guilty about our brother...therefore there has come upon us this distress", the bad thoughts were uprooted by means of the regret and also the confession that they said "but we are guilty about our brother".  But even so, the brothers were worried that behold, the deed still remained.  Therefore, Yosef said to them, "and now, do not be distressed", because also the deed is canceled, for behold, the deed was for the good "because as a support of life G-d sent me ahead of you".  And also, Yosef himself was comforted from his suffering, because it was due to that suffering that he was made a ruler in all of the land of Mitzrayim (Egypt),  (from R' Tzaddok HaKohen from Lublin)

"...and he appeared to him, and fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a lot." (Bereisheet 46:29)

Rashi explains, "but Yaakov did not fall on Yosef's neck and did not kiss him...because he was reciting the Shema prayer".  And the Meforshim (expositors of the Torah) ask, why wasn't Yosef reciting the Shema prayer if it was the time for reciting the Shema, for behold, there is one time for everyone to do it, and those who are alacritrous hurry to do it as soon as possible?  And in addition, from where do we know that he (Yaakov) was reciting the Shema prayer, perhaps he was saying a different prayer?  And the Maharal explains that it was not the time for reciting the Shema prayer, but when Yaakov saw Yosef his son ruling like a king after the great sorrow that he experienced over him,  there came into his heart the love and fear of Hashem who had done this for him, and how His traits are good and perfect and He pays a good reward to those who fear Him, and he accepted His kingship and the love of Him and the fear of Him, and that is what is expressed in the recitation of the Shema prayer, in which is mentioned the unity of Hashem's heavenly kinghsip and the love of Hashem.  And that is the character trait of those who are devoted to Hashem, when something good happens to them, they attach themselves to the Holy One Blessed Be He because of the goodness and truth that He did with them. And there are those who say, in the name of HaGri"z, that it's possible to say that it was the time for the recital of the Shema prayer, and that Yosef did not recite the Shema, because he was occupied with the Mitzvah of honoriing his father, and someone who is occupied with one Mitzvah is exempted from doing another Mitzvah.

"With whomsoever you find your gods, he shall not live..." (Bereisheet 31:32)

The Chafetz Chaim says that Yaakov said to Lavan "WIth whomsoever you find your gods, he shall not live", and because of that Rachel was punished and died on the way.  And behold, we see that when Yosef's brothers came from Mitzrayim (Egypt) and told their father that the ruler of the land thought that they were spies and in addition commanded them to bring Binyamin, at that time Yaakov Avinu did not curse the ruler.  On the contrary, he commanded to bring him presents, a little bit of honey, etc.  And he prayed for them that they would find favor in the eyes of the man. And if Yaakov had brought out from his mouth words of cursing against the man that had spoken to them harshly, he would have killed his son Yosef whom he loved more than all his other sons.  From this we see how we need to be careful not to express words of cursing from our mouths.

"And Yaakov said to Pharoah, 'The days of the years of my sojourning have been 130 years, few and bad have been the days of the years of my life...' (Bereisheet 47:9)

There are those that explain that because Yaakov came to Mitzrayim (Egypt) there was a blessing on the Nile River and the famine ceased.  And Pharoah saw that Yaakov appeared to be a very old man and worried that he was going to die and the blessing would end, and therefore Pharoah asked Yaakov how many were the days of years of his life.  And on this Yaakov answered him that the fact that he appeared old was only because of suffering, but with the help of Hashem he would live more years which would be good, and so it was that he lived another 17 years.  [Translator's note:  Note that the Gematria of Hebrew word for "good" (that is, "Tov")  is 17.]


On the eighth day of Tevet, Talmei the king of Yavan (Greece) forced the Sanhedrin to write the Torah in the Greek language and the world was darkened for three days.  The ninth of Tevet is the Yahrzheit of Ezra and Nechemia.  On the tenth of Tevet the king of Bavel (Babylonia) besieged the city.  It is written in the Abudaraham that if the tenth of Tevet fell on the day of Shabbat, they used to fast also on Shabbat, since it it written "specifically on that day".    In the Chatam Sofer it is written that every year on the Tenth of Tevet it is judged in Heaven whether the exile will continue or whether the final redemption will come.

The Torah Portion of Vayigash has 106 verses.Haftora: "Vayehi D'var Hashem" (Yechezkel 37).

We say Borchi Nafshi.  

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  
Shabbat Shalom.

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Mikeitz 5775

The Torah Portion of Mikeitz  


Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"And it happened at the end of two years of days..." (Bereisheet 41:1)

The Sages say that in every place where it says "Vayehi" (in English: "And it happened")  it is a language of suffering, with only a few exceptions.  The reason it uses this language of suffering here is to tell us that if G-d forbid we find ourselves in a time of suffering, then we are advised to fulfill Tz'om (fasting), K'ol (voice), and M'amon (money), since these three words have the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of Tzadi, Kuf, and Mem, which spell the word "Mikeitz" (the name of this week's Torah Portion, which in English means "at the end of").  Tzom (fasting) refers to Teshuvah (repentance); Kol (voice) refers to Tefillah (prayer); Mamon (money) refers to Tzedakah (charity).  And (as it says in the prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) by means Repentance, Prayer, and Charity, the evil decree is removed.  And in will be that "at the end of two years of days", in the end, the days will be changed for the good.  Mikeitz ("At the end") is a language referring to the endpoint, and "two years" is a language which refers to changing (since the word for two years in Hebrew is similar to the Hebrew word for changing).

"And the thin ears of corn swallowed up...."  (Bereisheet 41:7)

The Da'at Zekeinim asks, behold, the Sages say that we aren't shown in a dream something that can't possibly occur.  For example, we aren't shown in a dream that an elephant will enter into the hole of a needle.  So how is it possible that Pharoah saw in his dream something so weird, that the thin ears of corn swallowed up the healthy ears of corn?  But the explanation is that the meaning of the word "swallowed" is that the thin ears of corn covered the healthy ears of corn, such as was written in the Torah Portion of Bamidbar (Chapter 4, verse 20) "and they shall not go in to see the holy things as they are begin swallowed", where the word "swallowed" clearly means "covered".  And the Da'at Zekeinim adds, that this explanation is a Midrashic type of interpretation, but on the level of P'shat, the simple level, this is actually a language of swallowing.  And that is what it means when it says in the end that "Pharoah woke up and behold it was a dream (Bereisheet 41:7).  For Pharoah said, that cows are eating each other is possible to be, but that ears of corn are swallowing each other, that certainly must be a dream.

"And they rushed him from the pit..." (Bereisheet 41:14)

Why is it written that "they rushed him from the pit" and not written that they raised him from the pit?  The reason is that when the time arrives for a man to be saved, they rush him quickly without any time delays, for Hashem doesn't give unnecessary suffering.  And so it was also in the redemption from Mitzrayim (Egypt), about which it is written  "and Mitzrayim (Egypt) urged the people to hurry to send them out..." (Shemot 12:33), since the time for the redemption had already arrived. 

"...there shall be 7 years of famine."  (Bereisheet 41:27)

The Daat Zekainim explains on the words "there shall be 7 years of famine", that this is a language expressing a prayer -- that Yosef prayed that there would be only 7 years.  For in truth there needed to be 42 years of famine: 7 years for the ears of corn, 7 years for the cows, and the fact that Pharoah told about it added another 14 years, and the fact that Yosef interpreted it to Pharoah added another 14, and the sum of all that is 42.  Yosef prayed that there would be only 7 years, and Yaakov prayed that there would be only 2 years, therefore we find that there were 40 years of famine that were removed.  And in truth these 40 years of famine returned afterwards upon Mitzrayim (Egypt) as is written in Yechezkel Chapter 25 verse 12: "And I will make the Land of Mitzrayim (Egypt) ... desolate 40 years..."  

"And now let Pharoah seek out a discerning and wise man..."  (Bereisheet 41:33)

The Meforshim ask, why did Yosef give advice to Pharoah?  Didn't Pharoah just ask for an interpretation and not for advice on the matter?  The explanation is that, behold, on Passover the world is judged about crops and it seems inappropriate that there would be a dream about crops on Rosh Hashanah.  And therefore Yosef said to him, since you dreamed on Rosh Hashanah about crops, apparently some person needs to rise up to a high position because of this, since on Rosh Hashanah men are judged as to who will be lowered and who will be elevated.  And that is why Yosef said "and now" -- why did you dream now precisely on Rosh Hashanah, to show that it is necessary to appoint a qualified man for this.  And this is what is also hinted at by the words "...and Pharoah woke up" (Bereisheet 41:4), that Pharoah saw in his dream that he himself woke up.  And this is what Yosef told him, the fact that you dreamt that you woke up in your dream, that is a sign that you need to be concerned and be alert to appoint some man upon Mitzrayim (Egypt), and therefore the advice was relevant to the dream.

"And now let Pharoah seek out a discerning and wise man..." (Bereisheet 41:33)

It is written in the Holy Books that this is not just an instruction to Pharoah on how to prepare himself before the coming of the famine in Mitzrayim (Egypt), but it is a teaching for every man when he is still healthy, Baruch Hashem, and able to open a Gemara and learn and pray, that he needs to be wise and discerning, and to know that today he is in the years of plenty.  But also there will arrive for him G-d forbid the years of famine, which are the days of old age.  Therefore, he needs to fill for himself treasurehouses by struggling to learn the Torah and doing good deeds now.  For the wise man has his eyes in his head to fix this matter at the very beginning.  Who is wise?  The one who sees the outcome.

"...has given you a hidden treasure...And he brought Shimon out to them."  (Bereisheet 43:23)

There is a hint in this verse that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai will reveal a hidden treasure, and this is the Holy Zohar which are the secrets of the Torah.  

"And Reuven said to his father , 'You may slay my two sons...' "  (Bereisheet 42:37)

The Midrash says that because of these words, Datan and Aviram, who were the descendents of Reuven, died. And from this we see how much we need to be careful about every word that comes out of our mouths.


At the end of every Torah Portion, we record the sum of the number of verses that are present in the Torah Portion.  But for the Torah Portion of Mikeitz, we also record the sum of the number of words, which are two thousand and twenty-five (2025). The Gr"a explains that this is because the Torah Portion of Mikeitz usually falls during Chanukah, and during Chanukah we light candles for 8 days.  The Gematria (numerical value) of the word for candle in Hebrew (Nair) is 250.  8 multiplied by 250 comes out 2000.  And the explanation for "25" is that we begin on the 25th of Kislev.  So that is why we record the count of the 2025 words (in the Torah Portion of Mikeitz).

"Zot Chanukat HaMizbeiyach"  (in English:  "This is the dedication of the Altar") (Bamidbar 7:84)

The eighth day of Chanukah is called "Zot Chanukah" (in English: "this is Chanukah").  And even though this is not mentioned by the Rishonim (early Torah scholars), in any event, since it is called that by the majority of Israel, there is certainly a source for that in the words of the Torah.  And even moreso, we find that it is mentioned in the Gemora, that is to say, that men spoke about it and there are words of Torah about it in the Shas.  And the source of the name is because we read on it the section of Torah which contains the words "Zot Chanukat HaMizbeiyach" (In English: "This is the dedication of the Altar").  And most likely this has a connection to the Holiness of the day.  (from R' Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin)

"You push man down until the crushing point..." (Tehillim 90:3)

It is written in Holy Books that Chanukah is the conclusion of Elul and the Days of Awe.  And that is hinted at in the verse: "You push man down until the crushing point..." (Tehillim 90:3).  The word "Daka" (in English: "the crushing point") has the Gematria (numerical value) of 25.  This is a hint to the 25th of Kislev, and the real end is on  "Zot Chanukah" which is the conclusion of Chanukah.  [Translator's note: "Zot Chanukah" literally means "This is Chanukah".  This refers to the last day of Chanukah, on which the Torah Portion containing the phrase "Zot Chanukat Hamizbeiyach" is read.] And a hint to this is the verse  "With this Aharon will enter into the Holy Place" (Vayikra 16:3) [Translator's note: that particular verse is a reference to the Kohen Gadol coming into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, and it also contains the Hebrew word "Bazot" which is grammatically related to the Hebrew word "Zot".]

It was often said by our early Rabbis that on Chanukah there is an opportunity to awaken mercy on those who are childless (i.e., to have them blessed with children), similar to Rosh Hashanah. The main matter, the main Segulah (propitious opportunity) is on the last day which is called "Zot Chanukah".  (from B'nei Yissachar) 

The happiness of Zot Chanukah (the last day of Chanukah) is like that of a Siyum (party made on the completion of a body of learning), the happiness of completing a Mitzvah.

The Torah Portion of Mikeitz has 146 verses, and it has 2025 words.Two Torah Scrolls are taken out, in one we read the Torah Portion of the week, and in the second we read for the Maftir in the Torah Portion of Naso, "Bayom Harevi'i". Haftora: "Rani V'Simchi" (Zecharia 2).

This is Shabbat Mevorchim, and we bless the month of Tevet.  
Rosh Chodesh Tevet is on Yom Shaini and Yom Sh'lishi (Monday and Tuesday).  
The Molad is Lail Bait at 10:31.

We say Borchi Nafshi.  

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat and Chanuka.  
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah.

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Vayeishev 5775

The Torah Portion of Vayeishev 

Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"And Yaakov dwelt in the land of his father's sojournings, in the land of Canaan.  These are the generations of Yaakov, Yoseph..."  (Bereisheet 37:1-2)

The Alshich says that in the land of his fathers sojournings, with all of the chiefs (of Eisav) and also with Eisav, Yaakov was able to manage, and he was in a situation of dwelling with a feeling of being settled and tranquil.  But when his sons were not in unison that made him suffer more than anything else, and that began a new situation as described by: "These are the generations of Yaakov, Yoseph."

"..and the pit was empty, there was no water in it."  (Bereisheet 37:24)

Rashi says "but there were snakes and scorpions in it".  This can be seen by means Roshei Teivot.  The Hebrew letters of the words "Ain Bo" (in English: "was not in it")  which appear in this verse, are Aleph Yud Nun Beit Vuv.  These form the first letters (Roshei Teivot) of the Hebrew words "A'val Y'eish B'o N'achashim  V'Akravim" (in English:"but there were snakes and scorpions in it").  The Masters of Mussar (Ethics) explain that water is likened to Torah.   And this is the meaning of "there was no water in it": if there is no Torah within a person but he is empty of it, then immediately come the bad Middot (character traits) which are likened to snakes and scorpions.  And apparently this presents a difficulty, for if there are snakes and scorpions in the pit, then it is not empty.  However, the Gaon HaRav Povorski ztz"l said that the whole purpose of the pit is that it should have water in it, and all the time that it doesn't have water it is thought of as empty even though it has other things in it.  And in this way he explained the verse (from Shir HaShirim), "like a slice of pomegranate is your forehead", even the empty ones among you are filled with Mitzvot like a pomegranate.   And apparently, if they are full of Mitzvot why are they empty?  But the explanation is that it is not sufficient for a man to do Mitzvot, but the Mitzvot need to be his purpose and the main point of his aspirations, so that this can be seen in all his ways and deeds.  And if this is not the case, he is called empty even though he is full of Mitzvot.  

"...and behold, a caravan of Yishmaelim was coming from Gilead and their camels were carrying spices, etc...." (Bereisheet 37:25)

Rashi says that the Yishmaelim always carried petroleum and similar things (which have a bad odor), and only for the sake of Yosef HaTzaddik (the Righteous one), so that he wouldn't have to smell a bad odor, this time they were carrying spices.  Rabbeinu HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz ztz"l raises a question about this: behold, Yosef was going to Mitzrayim (Egypt) and he didn't know what the next day would bring, and he was in such a state of suffering.  What was the difference to him at a time like that, whether they were carrying petroleum or spices?  The answer is that we see from this situation, that when a punishment has been decreed from Heaven, then the punishment is exact with great precision.  Therefore, even though he was sold and they were taking him to Mitzrayim, since he didn't deserve to have to smell the bad smell of petroleum, therefore the Yishmaelim needed to be carrying this time an item that they weren't accustomed to carry, in order not to add suffering to Yosef that he didn't deserve.

"And Yehuda said to his brothers: 'what profit....' " (Bereisheet 37:26)

There are those who explain that the word Hebrew word for "profit" is "Betza", which is spelled with the Hebrew letters Beit, Tzadi, Ayin.  These three letters are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the three Hebrew words: 
"Boker" (in English: "Morning"), 
"Tzaharaym (in English: "Afternoon"), 
"Erev" (in English: "Evening").
Yehudah argued with them saying, what purpose would there be to the three prayers that we pray daily (in the morning, afternoon, and evening) if we kill our brother?

"And he refused and he said..." (Bereisheet :39:8)

Masters of Mussar (Ethics) say that if a person has a test and a temptation to do a sin comes before him, first of all he needs to "refuse" and flee from the sin, and only afterwards to explain and to "say" why he is fleeing.

A Midrash on why Yosef merited to get out of prison

It is written in the Midrash that in the merit that Yosef served Potiphar, he merited to get out of  prison.  And it is necessary to understand, what was so great about this merit?  And the Sefat Emet explains that Yosef's merit was that he would say about everything when he was in the house of his master, that everything was from the Holy One Blessed Be He, and that when Potiphar told him to serve him Yosef knew that the Holy One Blessed Be He had told him to do so, and likewise regarding everything single thing, that he believed that everything was from Hashem;  therefore he merited to get out of prison.


It is written in the Rambam that the Mitzvah of Chanukah is a very beloved Mitzvah, and this language is found only regarding Chanukah.

"What is Chanukah?"

The Rav Chaim Yehudah Yakovzon ztz"l explains what that the Gemara asks "Mai Chanukah?" (What is Chanukah?)  Rashi's interpreration of "Mai Chanukah" is that the Gemara is asking, on what miracle was Chanukah based?  And it is difficult to understand this interpretation -- "on what miracle", because there were several miracles.  And Rav Yakovzon ztz"l explains, that during the time of the Second Temple there were additional holidays in commemoration of victories in wars that Israel had during that time period, and after that those holidays were canceled because they canceled Megillat Taanit.  And that is what the Gemara is asking in the question "Mai Chanukah", that if the holiday of Chanukah is because of the war and the victory against the kingdom of Yavan (the ancient Greek kingdom), isn't it the case that Megillat Taanit was canceled?  But the Gemara's answer is that the main reason for Chanukah is because of the miracle of the cruse of oil, and the victory in the war is in addition to that.

Why do we light eight days, since on the first day there wasn't a miracle?

The Chatam Sofer addresses the question of the Beit Yosef: "Why do we light eight days, since behold on the first day there wasn't a miracle?"  His answer is that "they lit candles in Your Holy Courtyards".  When the Chashmonayim came to the Temple, since the Inner Sanctuary had been defiled, they therefore lit the Menorah outside.  And it's a known fact that outside a candle draws up more oil because of the wind and therefore the flame is larger.  And the amount that was sufficient to provide one candle's worth of oil was only in order to light it inside in an enclosed place, but outdoors one needs more oil.  If so, also the first day was a miracle.

"And when he tortured it (the people of Israel) so it would increase and so it would spread..." (Shemot 1:12)

The Yavanim (ancient Greeks) wanted to cancel out, in principle, three Mitzvot: the Chodesh (Month), the Shabbat, and Brit Milah (Circumcision).  And in Chanukah we find all three of these things, for in Chanukah we have Rosh Chodesh Teivet (the beginning of the Month of Teivet) which is during the days of Chanukah, Shabbat, and the 8 days needed to fulfill the Mitzvah of Circumcision for a boy who is born on the first day of Chanukah.

"There are Yavanim (ancient Greeks) and there are Chashmonayim."

A famous head of a Yeshiva said once at a Chanukah party for students at a Talmud Torah, that in every generation "there are Yavanim and there are Chashmonayim".  Those who interfere with the learning of the Torah are the Yavanim in our generation, and you, the young students who are learning Torah, are the Chashmonayim in our generation.  You need to strengthen yourselves in the Torah and overcome the evil.

Why do we give thanks on the wars within the prayer "Al HaNisim" (in English: "On the miracles")?

The Masters of Mussar (Ethics) ask, why do we say within  the "Al HaNisim" prayer of thanks, "and on the wars"?  What kind of thankfulness is there in connection with wars?  Are wars something good?  The explanation is, that if there are no wars against evil, then there is no purpose to serving Hashem.  But if there are wars and victories, then there is spiritual enjoyment.

The Three Mitzvot D'Rabanan (Commandments instituted by the Rabbis) that women are obligated in

There are Three Mitzvot D'Rabanan (Commandments instituted by the Rabbis) that women are obligated in, because also they participated in the miracles.  The Roshei Teivot (initial letters in Hebrew ) of those three Mitzvot are "Aleph" - "Mem" - "Nun" (which spells the word "Amen"):  
1. "Aleph" is the first letter of "Arbah Kosot", the four cups of wine that we drink at Passover.  
2. "Mem" is the first letter of "Megillah", the Megillat Esther that we read at Purim.  
3. "Nun" is the first letter of "Neir Chanukah", the Chanukah candle.   
Altogether there are Seven Mitzvot D'Rabanan (Commandments instituted by the Rabbis), and they are hinted at by  the Roshei Teivot (initial  letters) "Shin", "Mem", "Ayin", "Beit", "Nun", "Yud" which spell the words "Sh'ma B'ni" (in English: "Hear my son"):
1. "Shin" stands for "Shevach", praise, which refers to the saying of the Hallel.  
2. "Mem" stands for "Megillah", referring to the Megillat Esther.  
3. "Ayin" stands for Eruv.  
4. "Beit" stands for "Brachot" - the blessings said on enjoyment, for praise, and and for Mitzvot.  
5 and 6.  "Nun" stands for "Neirot" - candles;  the candles of Shabbat & Yom Tov, and the candles of Chanukah  (those are two separate Mitzvot)
7. "Yud" stand for "Yadayim" - the Mitzvah of Netilat Yadayim (ritual handwashing).

The Torah Portion of Vayeishev has 112 verses. Haftora: "Ko Amar Hashem" (Amos 2).

We say Borchi Nafshi.  

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  
Shabbat Shalom.

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Vayishlach 5775

The Torah Portion of Vayishlach 

Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"...I have sojourned with Lavan..."  (Bereisheet 32:5)

Rashi explains this to mean that "I kept the 613 commandments...", since the Gematria of the Hebrew word "Garti" (in English: "I have sojourned") is 613.  This presents a difficulty, since there are many Mitzvot such as the laws relating to a Kohen and the laws related to Leprosy, etc., that Yaakov did not fulflll, so how was it possible for him to say that he observed the 613 Mitzvot? In answer to this, it has been explained in Kiryat Sefer (in the Introduction, Chapter 7), that it is possible for every person to fulfill all the 613 Mitzvot, by means of reading and learning about each and every Mitzvah in the Torah, for learning about the Mitzvot is equivalent to performance of the Mitzvot.  This is similar to what is written by the Sifrei (on the Torah Portion of Shalach) about the verse "and you will remember and do all the Mitzvot of Hashem"; from this verse we see that remembrance of the Mitzvah is similar to performing the Mitzvah.  That is to say, that by reading about them and accepting upon himself that if he had been commanded  to do them he would fulfill them, it's thought of as if he did perform them.

"And Yaakov was very frightened and he was distressed..."  (Bereisheet 32:8)

Rashi says that he was frightened  that perhaps he would be killed, and he was distressed that perhaps he would kill others.  The Sages say that Rebbe Meir is referred to as "others".  Since Rebbe Meir came from the Caesar Niron, who was a descendent of Eisav, Yaakov was afraid that he would kill Eisav and Rebbe Meir would not come out from Eisav.

"And Yaakov was very frightened..."  (Bereisheet 32:8)

The Targum Yonatan explains that he was frightened because he didn't perform the Mitzvah of honoring his father for 20 years.  And also regarding the verse "Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav, for I fear him" (Bereisheet 32:12), the Targum Yonatan explains, that "for I fear him" means that Yaakov was afraid of Eisav because Eisav performed the Mitzvah of honoring their father.

"And Yaakov was very frightened and he was distressed..." (Bereisheet 32:8)

There are those that explain, that the reason that he was distressed was because he was afraid at all, since Hashem had promised him to guard over him.

"He prepared himself for three things, for a gift, for prayer, and for war (Rashi on Bereisheet 32:10)

There are those that ask, if he prepared himself for prayer, why does he also need to give a gift and to prepare himself for war?  The answer is that we need to do things by natural means and to give gifts, etc., but  also we need to pray that the gifts will help and also that we will succeed in war.  

"Deliver me, I pray Thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav..."  (Bereisheet 32:12)

It is written in the Zohar that someone who prays needs to explicitly specify the matter he is praying about, and the proof is that Yaakov specified "from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav".  Even though the Holy One Blessed Be He knows everything, it is still necessary to be explicit. 

"...and his eleven children..."  (Bereisheet 32:23)

Rashi explains that Deena was in a box.  And the Gr"a ztz"l asks, from where did Rashi know that it was Deena that was in the box, perhaps it was a different child?  And the explanation is related to what the Sages say: that the Temple was built in the portion of Binyamin, because he didn't bow down to Eisav.  Therefore, if it had been one of the sons who was in the box, it would have been necessary to build the Temple in that son's portion for also he wouldn't have bowed down, if he had been placed inside the box.  But rather, it is necessary to say that all of the sons bowed down except for Binyamin who had not yet been born.  Therefore it must be that only Deena was inside the box.   And there are those that add that "Mordechai didn't kneel and didn't bow" (Megillat Esther 3:2), for he was from the seed of Binyamin and Haman was from the seed of Eisav.  Therefore Mordechai didn't bow down just like Binyamin.

"...and a man wrestled with him..." (Bereisheet 32:25)

Rashi says that this was the guardian angel of Eisav.  The Chafetz Chaim explains why we don't find that the guardian angel of Eisav came to fight with Avraham or Yitzchak as he did with Yaakov.  The reason is that Avraham represents  the quality of Chesed (kindness), and the evil inclination doesn't strongly oppose the doing of kind acts.  And Yitzchak represents the quality of service, that is to say, Gevurah (strength), and also on that the evil inclination is willing to give in if necessary.  But about Yaakov it is stated "Give truth to Yaakov ..." (Micah 7:20), and the truth is the Torah -- "the voice is the voice of Yaakov"  (Bereisheet 27:22); on this it fights with all its might.  The evil inclination puts all of its strength into fighting against the learning of Torah and is not willing to give in at all.

"and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn."  (Bereisheet 32:25)

Dawn break is a hint to the Geula (the final redemption).  This hints that there will be a war against evil until the final redemption, just as we see that there are always bad events and suffering, may Hashem have mercy.

"And he bought the parcel of ground..."  (Bereisheet 33:19)

The Gaon HaRav Yechezkel Avramski ztzk"l told that when he came to settle in Israel, he bought a small portion of ground in the Galil because of the holy words of the Ibn Ezra in this Torah Portion about the verse "And he bought the parcel of ground...":  "A parcel of ground means part of a field of ground, and the verse mentions this in order to let us know that there is a great quality to the Land of Israel, and someone who has within it a portion, it is thought of as if he has a portion in the Next World", until here is the language of the Ibn Ezra.  And the Gaon HaRav Yechezkel Avramski ztzk"l said that he was never there even one time and never saw the parcel of ground, and the only reason he bought it was because of the words of the Ibn Ezra.  (from Mishmar HaLevi Al HaTorah)

The Torah Portion of Vayishlach has 145 verses. Haftora: "Chazon Ovadiah" (Ovadiah 1:1 in Trei Eser). 

We say Borchi Nafshi.

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  Shabbat Shalom.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772