Friday, December 30, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayigash

This week’s parshah is the completion of the drama of Yosef when he finally reveals his true identity to his brothers. For Yaakov, this was an impossible dream come true. His beloved son was still alive! It’s hard to imagine what such a reunion must have been like, but lucky for us, the Torah documents the entire scene.

In Perek 46, Pasuk 29, right at the beginning of Shishi, the pasuk says, “…וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו וַיִּפֹּל עַל צַוָּארָיו וַיֵּבְךְּ עַל צַוָּארָיו עוֹד” “…And he (Yaakov) appeared to him (Yosef) and he (Yosef) fell on his neck, and he (Yosef) wept on his (Yaakov’s) neck for a long time.” This translation follows Rashi’s explanation which leads into a famous question, how come Yosef fell on Yaakov’s neck and cried while Yaakov seemingly has no reaction whatsoever? Not exactly the reaction we were expecting!

Rashi brings a very famous Midrash which explains that Yaakov was saying Shema when Yosef came. Since he couldn’t stop in the middle, Yosef was left to cry by himself. The very next pasuk shows Yaakov’s true reaction, “וַיֹּאמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל יוֹסֵף אָמוּתָה הַפָּעַם אַחֲרֵי רְאוֹתִי אֶת פָּנֶיךָ כִּי עוֹדְךָ חָי” “And Yisrael said to Yosef, ‘Now I can die since I have seen your face and you are still alive.”(46:30). Yaakov also had a very emotional reunion, however, his reaction was a little delayed since he was in the middle of saying Shema.

The Sifsei Chachamim has a problem with this Midrash. If it was now the time to say Shema, how come Yosef wasn’t saying Shema along with Yaakov? He also has an obligation to say Shema at a certain time, so how come he was not saying it at this time as well? The first answer is that Yosef was in the middle of the mitzvah of כיבוד אב, honoring his father. We have a rule that if you are in the middle of preforming one mitzvah, you are not obligated to fulfill another mitzvah in the meantime. Since Yosef was in the middle of כיבוד אב, he did not have to say Shema at that time, while Yaakov had no such mitzvah and therefore was not excused from saying Shema.

A second answer he brings is based on a gemarah in Brachos (13b). The gemarah explains that if someone is טרוד, meaning that they are completely involved in whatever they are doing, they are excused from reading the entire Shema and fulfill their obligation with just the first verse of שמע ישראל ה' אלוהינו ה' אחד. For example, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, also known as Rebbi, the author of Mishnayos, never said more than the first verse of Shema since he was constantly involved with teaching his students. So too by Yosef, he was completely involved with running Egypt and now was involved in כיבוד אב, so he did not have time to say more than the first verse. Therefore, he finished Shema long before Yaakov did, and started crying while Yaakov was still finishing up.

Still, it is a little strange that Yaakov decided to start saying Shema right now. His beloved son, whom he has not seen in over twenty years, is on the way to see him! How can he all of a sudden decide to say Shema now? He’ll still have time to say it afterwards! There are a few different answers, however, I would like to take one from an explanation of the Ramban. In order to answer a separate question on this pasuk, the Ramban brings up a point from last week’s parshah that the brothers did not recognize Yosef since they had not seen him for 22 years. Yaakov, with his bad eyesight (he was 130 years old!), couldn’t recognize Yosef either! I would like to take this point for this question as well. Yaakov did not recognize that Yosef was there, so he decided to start saying Shema. In the meantime, Yosef arrives and immediately embraces him.

We can maybe learn another reason why Yaakov said Shema here by understanding what Shema is. Shema is our proclamation to Hashem that he is our one and only G-d who runs the entire world, that we accept on ourselves the yoke of Torah and Mitzvos, that our entire lives are in his control. It can be said to thank Him or to exalt Him. By saying it, we show a complete acceptance and understanding of the events in our lives. And from it we can receive inspiration for the other parts of our day.

Knowing this, we can understand why Yaakov said Shema at this point. Yaakov never thought he was ever going to see Yosef again. His probably didn’t even know how to react, so he did the one thing that he knew would allow him to see the whole event from its’ proper perspective, he said Shema. He was able to freeze this moment in time and understand how this unbelievable event came from Hashem.

Through saying Shema, he was able to take this event and use it to inspire himself in other aspects in his life. Seeing this impossible dream come true, Yaakov was inspired and saw more clearly than before how Hashem runs everything in this world.

I think this a good question to ask ourselves going into Shabbos, where does our inspiration come from? How do we inspire ourselves in our daily routines? The secret is to step back and recognize how everything comes from Hashem. Maybe then we too can use the secret of Shema to inspire ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom!

If you would like to receive this Dvar Torah by email, please email us at

Please Like us on Facebook!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dvar Torah for Shabbos Chanukah

We all know the story of Chanukah, the Jews defeated the mighty Greek army and returned to the Beis Hamikdash. When they came to light the Menorah, they could not find any pure oil to light it with until, after a long search, they found enough oil to last one night. They lit the Menorah and the oil lasted miraculously for eight days. To commemorate this great miracle, we celebrate eight nights of Chanukah. There is a very famous question from the Beis Yosef concerning these eight nights. While the Menorah stayed lit for eight days, the actual miracle only lasted for seven nights as there was already enough oil to last for one night! So really we should celebrate seven nights, not eight?

There are literally hundreds of answers to this question. I have decided to use the answer found in the Kedushas Levi, written by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Mi’Berditchev, for this Dvar Torah.

He explains that we are really commemorating two miracles here. The first day commemorates the miracle of the battle against the Greeks. The fact that Hashem helped us defeat the much stronger and larger Greek army is reason enough to establish a chag. The other seven days represent the miracle of the Menorah. So the eight days of Hallel and Thanksgiving are for both these reasons, the miracle of the war and the miracle of the Menorah.

According to this explanation, another question arises. If the miracle of the Menorah has nothing to do with the first night of Chanukah, then why do we light the Menorah on that night? The Kedushas Levi answers that once the nation saw the miracle of the oil, they realized that the entire Chanukah miracle, including the battle, was only through the zchus of the menorah. What exactly does this mean? What is so special about the Menorah that we had the miracles of the war and the oil because of it?

When the Greeks came and took over the Beis Hamikdash, they did not allow any of the daily service to continue. Korbanos, the Ketores, the Levi’im’s singing, the lighting of the Menorah, they were all discontinued. The Bnei Yisrael had no opportunity to even commemorate any of these services as they are all specific to the Beis Hamikdash, except the Menorah. When we light Shabbos candles or the Ner Tamid in Shul, they fulfill the same purpose as the Menorah, to have candles of Kedushah lit at all times, even outside of the Beis Hamikdash.

If there is something you really want that is sitting right in front of you, and you cannot get to it, it makes it even more precious to you. That is Hashem’s attitude towards our Shabbos candles, they remind Him of the holy lights of the Menorah that were lit in the Beis Hamikdash, making them more precious to Him than any other part of the Avodah. During the time of Greek occupation, the Jews would light their Shabbos candles and think longingly of the Beis Hamikdash and the opportunity to once again do the Avodah. Because this longing came through the lights of the candles, Hashem brought the Beis Hamikdash back through the zchus of the Menorah’s light.

What an idea to take into Shabbos Chanukah! Both the Shabbos and Chanukah candles remind Hashem of the Beis Hamikdash and show our desire to once again perform the Avodah. What better time to act on this than the time when we light both of these candles. So when you light your Chanukah candles this week, realize that they don’t just symbolize the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days or even the Menorah itself, they represent the entire service done in the Beis Hamikdash. May this Chanukah bring the Geulah which we have all been waiting for.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

If you would like to receive this Dvar Torah in a weekly email, please email

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayeishev

Parshas Vayeishev contains one of the hardest events to understand in the entire Torah, the sale of Yosef by his brothers. There are so many details here which have to be explained. Who was right in the argument between the brothers and Yosef? Didn’t Yosef realize how he was damaging his relationship with his brothers by telling over his dreams to them? Didn’t Yaakov realize the tension he was creating by favoring Yosef over his other sons? And how could the brothers sell Yosef like a common stranger? Did he really act that wrongly? Still, we must be very careful in explaining this story as all the people involved were world-class tzaddikim acting only for the sake of Hashem. Each commentator has their own way to explain the different aspects of this very difficult episode. I would like to focus on one such point.

At the beginning of Shlishi, Yosef comes to where his brothers are shepherding and they proceed to throw him into a pit. Before they threw him in, the pasuk says, “…וַיַּפְשִׁיטוּ אֶת יוֹסֵף אֶת כֻּתָּנְתּוֹ אֶת כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים אֲשֶׁר עָלָיו“…and they stripped Yosef his tunic, the fine woolen tunic that was on him” (Bereishis 37:23). The Meforshim explain that Yosef was wearing two layers, his regular shirt and his special כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים (fine woolen tunic) that Yaakov had given him. They stripped him of both and threw him into the pit. But why did they take off his special coat? Was it really necessary? I believe that this point is what bothers the Meforshim here.

There are basically two reasons that come out from the Meforshim why the brothers would take Yosef’s coat from him, either because of jealousy or because they needed the כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים for later on when they showed the torn, bloody coat to Yaakov to make him believe Yosef had been killed. When Rashi comments on the words “כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים” in this pasuk, he describes it as “הוא שהוסיף לו אביו יותר על אחיו“This is the one his father added for him over his brothers”. This sounds as if Rashi holds that they took it purely out of jealousy. The Rashbam, who happens to be Rashi’s grandson, says that this assumption is completely wrong and they only took the coat in order to use it to fool Yaakov.

The Kli Yakar gives two answers for why they took both of his layers off. The first answer is that Yosef was afraid that the brothers would steal his כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים, so he sewed it to his shirt underneath, thinking that the brothers wouldn’t let him walk around without a shirt! But the brothers were determined and took off both of his layers. His second answer is that Yosef put his כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים underneath his regular shirt to hide it from his brothers. So in order to take it off, they had to take off his regular shirt as well. The Kli Yakar doesn’t say either one of our two reasons why the brothers needed the כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים straight out, let us see if we can figure out which one he follows.

In pasuk 26, Yehuda convinces the brothers to sell Yosef rather than kill him. His reasoning is, “מַה בֶּצַע כִּי נַהֲרֹג אֶת אָחִינוּ וְכִסִּינוּ אֶת דָּמוֹ“What gain will there be if we kill our brother and cover his blood?” (37:26). Rashi explains that Yehuda meant what monetary gain would there be in killing Yosef. The Kli Yakar explains this as follows. After Reuven’s rash actions in last week’s parshah (See 35:22), Yaakov took away his firstborn right to a double inheritance and gave it to Yosef. If the brothers would now kill Yosef, that extra portion would be divided amongst all of them at Yaakov’s death, hence the monetary gain. However, since they would never be able to tell Yaakov about Yosef’s death, Yaakov would never give it to them because of the possibility of Yosef still being alive! Even after Yaakov’s death, the land would still be held up in Beis Din till proof could be brought of Yosef’s death. However, if they sold Yosef, there would be a monetary gain. Being a slave, anything Yosef owned would immediately belong to his master. When Yaakov would find out that Yosef’s double portion in Eretz Yisrael would be going to an Egyptian, he would never have allowed that to happen! So he would have taken away the double portion from Yosef and given it to all the brothers, giving them a monetary gain through this sale.

An obvious question arises from this Kli Yakar, what does he mean there was no gain to killing Yosef since they could never tell Yaakov about his death? We see later in Pasuk 32 that they showed to Yaakov the bloody כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים in an effort to convince him that Yosef was in fact dead (though they didn’t say that explicitly)! I think this proves that the Kli Yakar holds like Rashi, that they took the כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים purely out of jealousy and that they were not even thinking of using it to fool Yaakov at the time that they took it.

While I originally came up with this answer on my own, I later found it by reading the very next Kli Yakar where he writes this explicitly. While I’m glad I was able to figure out his opinion by myself, I feel even better that he says it as well!

Shabbat Shalom!

If you would like to receive this Dvar Torah in a weekly email, please email

Click here for last year's Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayeishev

Click here for a question on last year's Dvar Torah

Please Like us on Facebook!


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayishlach

Parshas Vayishlach brings us to the long awaited showdown between Yaakov and Esav. The pesukim explain three ways that Yaakov prepares for this meeting: he davens to Hashem, sends presents to Esav in order to show respect for him, and prepares his family for war. However, there is one more preparation he made which is not listed in the pesukim.
In Perek 32 pasuk 23, the pasuk says, “וַיָּקָם בַּלַּיְלָה הוּא וַיִּקַּח אֶת שְׁתֵּי נָשָׁיו וְאֶת שְׁתֵּי שִׁפְחֹתָיו וְאֶת אַחַד עָשָׂר יְלָדָיו“And he arose during the night and he took…his eleven children”. Rashi explains that we know Yaakov had only eleven sons (since Binyamin had not yet been born), so the pasuk must be excluding someone by saying a specific number. Rashi brings a medrash which says that the Torah is excluding Dinah, Yaakov’s daughter, who was a very beautiful girl and would have therefore caught Esav’s eye right away. In order to protect her from this, Yaakov put her in a box and hid her from sight. However, we see that this was not the right thing to do. The medrash explains that Yaakov was punished for hiding Dinah by having Shechem kidnap her. The reason for he was punished, the medrash explains, is because “שמא תחזירנו למוטב“Perhaps she would have returned him (Esav) to virtuous conduct”.
This brings up several questions. First off, why would Yaakov have to consider this possibility of Dinah bringing Esav to do Teshuvah? Why would she be able to do what no one else could? Also, why was the punishment having Shechem kidnap her? Lastly, if Yaakov should have thought of this, why did he put her in the box to begin with?
I will begin my explanation with the last question. Dinah was Leah’s daughter. As we saw in last week’s parshah, Leah expected to marry Esav and spent many long hours crying that she would marry such a huge Rasha (See Bereishis 29:17). When the opportunity presented itself to marry Yaakov, she jumped at it and never looked back, becoming the mother of half of Klal Yisrael. Can you imagine what was going through Leah’s head as Esav came closer and closer? All those years of depression and bad memories were headed right towards her, in human form! Can you imagine what her reaction would have been if Esav had actually shown interest in her daughter? It might have been the worst thing that could ever happen to Leah in her entire life! To have the man who tortured her thoughts for so many years come and take her daughter! This is why, in my opinion, Yaakov hid Dinah away, to protect Leah from that possibility.
Now that we understand why Yaakov hid Dinah, still how do we know that she could have brought Esav to do teshuvah? The answer is Yaakov’s punishment. The day after Shechem takes Dinah, he decides he wants to marry her. Why would he do this? He is the prince of a powerful nation and so he can do whatever he wants. Why would he decide to make this a legitimate relationship when he can keep her without it? We clearly see that Dinah had an effect on wicked people which made them see the error of their ways and made them realize that they had to change their way of living. In a way, you can say that Dinah was the greatest Kiruv personality in history! (And still Esav was so bad that Rashi says Dinah might have had an effect on him). This is also the reason why Yaakov was punished this way, this episode with Shechem showed him how wrong he was to hide Dinah form his brother.
After understanding this aspect of Dinah, we can dig a little deeper to try and figure out where she fit in to her family. Dinah was different from the rest of Yaakov’s children in several ways. While Yaakov had other daughters, she is the only one mentioned in the Torah. This is partly because of another point about Dinah, that she was supposed to be a boy, but Leah davened that the fetus should change into a girl (See 30:21). Pirkei D’Rabbi Elazar tells us another difference about Dinah, that she was born without a twin. Each one of the Shevatim were born with a twin sister who was their soul mate, everyone except Dinah and Yosef who were born alone. The Radal comments on this that since every son was born with his soul mate, when Yosef was born, everyone assumed that he was destined to marry Dinah as they were the only separate births (yet another reason for Yaakov to hide her in the box). However, once she was defiled by Shechem, this was impossible.
If we examine the traits of Yosef and Dinah, it appears to be a perfect Shidduch! Dinah was supposed to turn bad into good, for this she would need someone to protect her from the harmful effects that bad could have on her. Yosef was the perfect person for this as he was impervious to Ayin Hara, the evil eye, and could protect those around him from it as well. Dinah would in turn help Yosef turn bad into good, thus teaching us that everyone has a responsibility to help make the world a more spiritual place. The ironic thing about this Shidduch is that while Dinah was the one person who could bring Esav to teshuvah, Yosef was the one who had the power to help Yaakov defeat Esav! We see in last week’s parshah that Yaakov only decided to return home, which would result in his confronting Esav, after Yosef was born. The pasuk in this week’s Haftorah says, “וְהָיָה בֵית-יַעֲקֹב אֵשׁ וּבֵית יוֹסֵף לֶהָבָה, וּבֵית עֵשָׂו לְקַשׁ, וְדָלְקוּ בָהֶם, וַאֲכָלוּם“And the house of Yaakov will be fire and the house of Yosef will be a flame, and the house of Esav will be straw, and they shall ignite them and consume them…” (Ovadyah 1:18). Yosef was the spark Yaakov needed to ignite the flames which would consume Esav. So Dinah was supposed to save him and Yosef was supposed to destroy him! I would venture to answer that Yosef would only destroy Esav if Dinah failed in her mission, but if she succeeded, it would be unnecessary for Yosef to do anything.
But as we have discussed, Dinah was supposed to marry Esav, not Yosef, and therefore was born alone. So why was Yosef born alone? Who was he supposed to marry? Pirkei D’Rabbi Elazar tells us that as well. Yosef’s soul mate was none other than Osnas, Dinah’s daughter! So we see that Yosef was supposed to marry someone with Dinah’s character traits. And if you think that Dinah has nothing to do with this, why wouldn’t Osnas have been born together with Yosef like the rest of the brother’s soul mates were!
We also see that Osnas inherited some of her mother’s qualities as she was able to raise two sons, Menashe and Efraim, to be tremendous tzaddikim, all while living amongst the idol-worshipers in Egypt. So it can make sense that Osnas was Yosef's soul mate. 
       Using this חשבון, we can learn a lot more about our ancestors. Yaakov’s sensitivity, Yosef’s greatness, and Dinah’s Ahavas Hashem. For only someone who has a tremendous amount of love for Hashem could walk into the evil world of Esav and turn it into a place of Torah. 

Shabbat Shalom!

If you would like to receive this Dvar Torah in a weekly email, please email


Thursday, December 1, 2011

No Dvar Torah This Week

I will be in Nov this Shabbos with yeshiva and will not be able to post a new Dvar Torah this week. In the meantime, please enjoy last year's Dvar Torah on Parshas Vayeitzei (link below) and we will G-d willing be back next week!

Shabbat Shalom!