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"),
"Tzaharayim (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?
"...for their having sold a righteous man for silver, and a destitute one for the sake of shoes...." (Amos 2:6)
It was written by the Da'at Zakeinim, how was it that the brothers sold Yosef for 20 pieces of silver, such a small amount? And he explained that at the time when Yosef was in the pit, his face was green from fear, and therefore they sold him for a small amount of silver. But when they took him out, his facial appearance and attractiveness changed for the better, and therefore the brothers requested that they would add more silver for them, and the Ishmaelites added shoes for them. And that is the meaning of what it says in the Haftora: "...for their having sold a righteous man for silver, and a destitute one for the sake of shoes..." (Amos 2:6)
"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.
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.
"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.
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).
This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevorchim for the month of Tevet. Rosh Chodesh Tevet is two days, on the following Shabbat Kodesh, and Yom Rishon (Sunday). The Molad is on Yom Vuv (Friday) at the hour 7:19 with 12 Chalakim.
We say Borchi Nafshi.
May you all have a light-filled and happy Shabbat.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772