Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Parshas Vayechi 5777

Who Told Joseph that His Father Was Sick?

The Torah writes (Genesis 48:1):
Some time afterward, Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Daas Zekeinim from Midrash Tanchuma (ibid) writes:
ויאמר ליוסף, “he said to Joseph;” according to our sages, the subject in this verse was Ephrayim, who informed his father of Yaakov’s illness; (Tanchuma section 6 on this portion) Rabbi Moshe adds that there is an oblique hint of this in the text, seeing that the letters in the word ויאמר and the word אפרים when reading the alphabet backwards, starting with the letter ת, are in the relative same position as when read from the right to left, i.e. the letter ו in the word ויאמר is the sixth letter in the alphabet when read from right to left, whereas the letter פ is in the sixth place when the alphabet is read from left to right commencing with the latter ת. (the other letters are identical)
Radak (ibid) disagrees:
It is reasonable to assume that it was one of the brothers who traveled to the capital to inform Joseph that his father had taken ill.
Midrash Pesikta Rabbasi (3:1) cites several other opinions:
Who told him that his father was sick? Some say that he saw it through the Divine Spirit; and others say it was Bilhah that told him for she ministered Jacob and when he got sick, she went and told Joseph; and some say it was Benjamin that told him; and some say that Joseph left his agents there and when they saw that Jacob was sick, they went and told Joseph;
Midrash Yalmadeinu (32) learns:
And who told him that his father was sick? Osnath, his wife, for since the time Jacob descended to Egypt she ministered to him, and when she saw that he was sick, she went and told Joseph
Midrash Lekhach Tov (ibid) learns:
And who told him? It was Menashe for he served Jacob, our forefather
Sefer leMakesei Atik (ibid) cites another opinion that it was the doctors that treated Jacob

(There are also other opinions that this was Serach)

What and Why Did Joseph Get Schechem?

The Torah writes (Genesis 48:22):
And now, I assign to you one portion more than to your brothers, which I wrested from the Amorites with my sword and bow.”
Targum Jonathan (ibid) explains:
And I behold have given to you the city of Schechem
Rashi (ibid) explains:
Because you will take the trouble to engage in my burial “I” give you an inheritance in which you will be buried. And which was this? Shechem, as it is said, (Joshua 24:32) “And the bones of Joseph which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem”.
Sforno (ibid) explains that Jacob personally conquered Shechem:
Seeing that he, Yaakov, had personally conquered the city of Shechem, in spite of this city being part of the land of Canaan, seeing that he had taken it from the “Emorite,” i.e. someone whose deeds were as evil as those of the Emorite, (although the inhabitants had been Hittites), what he was allocating to Joseph now was an actual, a gift bestowed by him now, and had no bearing on any distribution of land conquered by Joshua in the future.
Sefer Tzror HaMor (ibid) explains differently:
And I am giving you the city of Schechem as an extra portion because of Osnath, your wife for she is the daughter of Dinah that was left under the bush like our Rabbis tell us. And Schechem was given to Dinah in her marriage contract ... and it went to your wife according to Torah law, therefore I am giving it to you extra above your brothers
Daas Zekeinim (ibid) cites an opinion that this was only referring to the plot of land where Joseph's grave was but not the entire city:
Some commentators explain the words: שכם אחד, in our verse, the extra portion of ancestral parts of the land of Israel, allocated by Yaakov to Joseph, as referring to the grave in that city in which the remains of Joseph would be interred after the Israelites taking over that country. (Compare Joshua 24:32)
(Another possible answer is that Jacob gave to Joseph the field that he bought from Chamor, the father of Shechem which stood in front of the city, but not the city itself)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Parshas Vayigash 5777

Who Told Jacob that Joseph was Alive?

The Torah writes (Genesis 45:26-27):
And they told him, “Joseph is still alive; yes, he is ruler over the whole land of Egypt.” His heart went numb, for he did not believe them. But when they recounted all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.
Targum Jonathan (46:17) has one opinion:
and Serach their sister, who was carried away while alive into the Garden (of Eden), because she had announced to Jakob that Joseph still lived.
However, Targum Jonathan (49:21) cites another opinion as well:
Naphatali is a swift messenger, like a hind that runneth on the tops of the mountains, bringing good tidings: he it was who announced that Joseph was living;
Daas Zekeinim (45:26) cites another opinion:
And if you ask who permitted them the ban [of not telling Jacob about Joseph] in which G-d was joined, and how did they tell their father? The answer must be that Benjamin told him initially for he did not participate in the sale
Another opinion (Avos deRabbi Nosson 30):
And some say that the Holy Spirit that left Jacob before rested on him at that time [and told him]

Why Didn't Joseph Tell His Father Before?

The Daas Zekeinim (42:1) gives two answers:
Furthermore, why did Joseph not communicate with his father during all these years which would have spared his father a great deal of grief? The answer is that they all had sworn a sacred oath not to reveal to their father that he was in Egypt. They had made G’d a partner to their oath, so that He too could not reveal their secret to him. All this can be proved from Scripture, when before revealing himself to his brothers (Genesis 45:1) he commanded that all the people around him remove themselves before he would have that conversation with his brothers. He did not want that anyone would ever hear about that oath which had now expired.
Other commentators offer a different reason for why Joseph had not communicated with his father for 22 years. As long as he had been a slave (13 years) he did not want to increase his father’s grief by informing him of his sorry condition. If he were to end a message that in the meantime he had become a king, his father would not believe him; he was right as his father did not even believe this when all his sons told that they had seen it with their own eyes. (Genesis 45:26) In addition, he was afraid that if his father were to leak his new found knowledge to someone, the brothers would each flee in all directions out of fear of his vengeance. As a result, his father would experience additional grief. This is why he waited until the time would be ripe for him to reveal himself, so that he would first reveal himself to his brothers before informing his father of his survival and the good fortune which had befallen him.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Parshas Mikeitz 5777

The Meaning of Joseph's Egyptian Name

The Torah writes (Genesis 41:45):
Pharaoh then gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him for a wife Asenath daughter of Poti-phera, priest of On. Thus Joseph emerged in charge of the land of Egypt.
According to Targum Jonathan:
And Pharoh called the name of Joseph, The man who reveals mysteries
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explains (in the Living Torah):
Many authorities state that this is a Hebrew translation of the Egyptian name that he was given, and that it means 'revealer of secrets' (Targum; Rashi; Septuagint; Josephus 2:6:1). Others say that it is an Egyptian name (Ibn Ezra; Radak, Sherashim). In Egyptian, Tzaphnath is tza-pa-neth meaning, 'the Neth speaks' or 'the god speaks.' Paaneach is pa-anakh, meaning 'the life,' where anach or ankh is the symbol of life. Hence the name can be translated as, 'Lord of life,' 'Neth speaks life,' or 'The God speaks and [this man] lives.'
Daas Zekeinim has a different opinion:
This name is an acronym, describing a person who is steadfast in the presence of strong urges. Potiphar had had no reason to believe that Joseph could not withstand such temptation. [Pharaoh wanted the world to know that Joseph had been completely innocent of any accusation. Ed.]
Shadal also explains:
It means "the savior of the world"

What is On?

The Torah writes (Genesis 41:45):
Pharaoh then gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him for a wife Asenath daughter of Poti-phera, priest of On. Thus Joseph emerged in charge of the land of Egypt.

Targum Onkelos implies this was a city (ibid):
Potiphera, the prince / master of On
So does the Rashbam:
A minister in the city of that name as know from Samuel II 7:18 - "and the sons of David were priests". The meaning of the word must be that they were high positions (but not actual priests)
(the city of On / Aven is also mentioned in Ezekiel 30:17)

Targum Jonathan (ibid) learns this was a different city:
Potiphera, the prince of Tanis
Rav Saadiag Gaon in his Tafsir (ibid) learns it was a different city:
Potiphera, the prince of Alexandria
Shadal explains:
On is Heliopolis, the city of the sun where they worship the sun and every year make a celebration of the sun, and some way the word "On" means the city of the sun in Egyptian
(see also Jeremiah 43:13 where the "city of the sun" in Egypt is mentioned and see also Isaiah 19:18)

Ramban (ibid) explains differently:
It is possible that "On" was the name of his deity [i.e. Potiphera's]

The Man Who Persecuted the Brothers

The Torah writes (Genesis 43:14):
And may El Shaddai dispose the man to mercy toward you, that he may release to you your other brother, as well as Benjamin. As for me, if I am to be bereaved, I shall be bereaved.”
The simple explanation of the verse is that the man referred to by Jacob is Joseph

However, Sefer leMakesi Atik cites a Midrash (see Otzar HaMidrashim Vol 1, pp. 224) that originally Joseph want to greet the brothers in happiness and reveal himself but a person came and accused them of trying to kill him. That was the angel that originally found Joseph in the field and that was the man referred to in this verse.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Parshas Vayeshev 5777

Who Spoke to Joseph in Shechem?

The Torah writes (Genesis 37:14-17):
And he said to him, “Go and see how your brothers are and how the flocks are faring, and bring me back word.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. When he reached Shechem, a man came upon him wandering in the fields. The man asked him, “What are you looking for?” He answered, “I am looking for my brothers. Could you tell me where they are pasturing?” The man said, “They have gone from here, for I heard them say: Let us go to Dothan.” So Joseph followed his brothers and found them at Dothan.

Rashi (ibid) explains based on a Midrash:
AND A MAN FOUND HIM — This was the angel Gabriel (Genesis Rabbah 84:14) as it is said, (Daniel 10:21) and the man (והאיש) Gabriel” (Midrash Tanchuma 1:4:22).
Sefer Mekasei Atik cites Baalei Tosfos al haTorah that this was the angel Rephoel

However, the Midrash cited by Rashi (Genesis Rabba 84.14) has another opinion:
Rabbi Yannai said - three angels appeared to him as it says "and the men found him", and "he asked the man", and "the man said"
(this is similar to what Rashi writes regarding Hagar earlier by the well)

HaEmek Davar (ibid) implies this was a prophet:
My brothers. And from where would he know who he [Joseph] was and who his brothers were? And furthermore, what is this question "tell me please where they are pasturing"? From where would he know? Rather, [it must be] one of the two these possibilities: Either he was a well-known man to them in his importance, or, he recognized him as an angel or prophet that knew everything to do with his brothers. And in truth, the Torah should have said "and he [Joseph] found a man", for it was Joseph that was wandering alone searching and found the man, not the man whow as walking on his way. Rather, the text comes to teach that the man was a messanger from Heaven, to encounter Joseph and bring him to such, and the man went and found him in that place.
Ibn Ezra (ibid) disagrees:
The simple explanation is that this was a random traveller
Additional notes:
  • The Rosh (ibid) discusses why Jacob send Joseph to the brothers if he knew that they hated him, and answers that it wasn't for sure that they would harm him but being in a dangerous place like Shechem was more of a concern
  • Some commentators explains that the field they went to was the field Jacob bought from Chamor, others (Rosh) say it was a random field

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Parshas Vayishlach 5777

Humans or Angels?

The Torah writes (Genesis 32:4):
Jacob sent messengers ahead to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom
Rashi (ibid) explains:
Rashi's source is the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 75:4):
Messengers - these were of human flesh and blood and the Rabbis learned that these were actual angels
(Josh Waxman's parshablog explains the disagreement further and also links to Sefer haYashar that says these were Laban's messengers trying to provoke Esau)

Why Was Jacob Left Alone?

The Torah writes (Genesis 32:23-25):
That same night he arose, and taking his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children, he crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After taking them across the stream, he sent across all his possessions. Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.

Radak (ibid) writes:
after having transferred the children, wives, etc, he transferred his property, inert objects, the animals having swum across. After he had safely seen to it that everything had crossed he remained solitary on the far bank to check if anything had been left behind inadvertently. Our sages in Chulin 91 explain that the righteous who are so concerned with not laying claim to anything which is not absolutely theirs, are also careful not to waste any hard earned acquisitions, even if small.
However, the Rashbam (ibid) disagrees:
after he had transferred all his belongings to the other side of the river, so that the only one still to be brought across was he himself. The reason that he wanted to cross only after everyone else had already crossed was that he intended to flee in a different direction so as to avoid a face to face encounter with Esau. An angel engaged him in a physical fight, his purpose being to prevent Yaakov from fleeing. Only in this way could G’d’s promise to Yaakov that Esau would not harm him be fulfilled.

Esau, the Vampire

The Torah writes (Genesis 33:4):
Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and, falling on his neck, he kissed him; and they wept.
Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer (37:1) writes:
When he came back to the Land of Canaan, Esau came to him from Mt. Seir in extreme anger to kill him ... Esau said that I will kill Jacob with my teeth and my mouth and will suck out his blood as it says "and he ran to kiss him", don't read it as kiss but as bite but Jacob's neck became as hard as marble and Esau struck his teeth on it...
(Midrashim also discuss that Esau was born with teeth - see also Rabbi Nosson Slifkin's post)

(See also our post last year about Benjamin being a werewolf)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Parshas Vayeitzei 5777

Why was the well covered with a rock?

The Torah writes (Genesis 29:2-3):
There before his eyes was a well in the open. Three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it, for the flocks were watered from that well. The stone on the mouth of the well was large.When all the flocks were gathered there, the stone would be rolled from the mouth of the well and the sheep watered; then the stone would be put back in its place on the mouth of the well.
The Shadal explains (29:8):
Because of the agreement they made among themselves that no one is allowed to use the water from the well alone
Radak explains further (29:2):
seeing that there was no other source of water nearby to water the flocks of the people of Charan, the local people had placed an extremely large and heavy rock on top of it so that only in the presence of all the shepherds would the flocks be watered so as to ensure a fair distribution of the available water. This would also help to avoid wasting water remaining in the troughs when no other flock had already lined up at the troughs. Placing such a large stone on the well then was a device designed to help everyone entitled to this water to receive his fair share in the presence of all the shepherds.
Chizkuni provides another reason (ibid) [see also Rashbam]:
And the large stone was placed on the mouth of the well so nothing alive or utensils fall into it and also so others don't draw water from it
HaEmek Davar (29:3) adds another reason:
First that would place it on the mouth of the well and then move it around to make a good cover - all of this because of magic

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Parshas Toldos 5777

Whom Did Rebecca Ask for Advice?

The Torah writes (Genesis 25:22):
But the children struggled in her womb, and she said, “If so, why do I exist?" She went to inquire of the LORD
Rashi explains:
AND SHE WENT TO ENQUIRE at the school of Shem
Radak explains why:
Some of our sages (quoted by Rashi) say that she went to the academy of Shem in order to inquire from him about the meaning of such strange goings on inside her. The truth is that Shem was still alive at that time for he survived Avraham by 31 years. If Shem was identical with Malki Tzedek he would have resided in Jerusalem at that time. Why are we told all this? To draw our attention to the fact that she bypassed her father-in-law Avraham, who we would think, was better qualified than Shem to answer her question. Avraham remained alive until Esau and Yaakov were 15 years of age.
Ibn Ezra gives two other answers:
Through a prophet
(see also Chizkuni and Rashbam)

or through Abraham himself for he did not die until his grandsons were 15
Ralbag (ibid) explains slightly differently:
And she went to ask G-d from prophets - His servants - which were there in those days like Shem, Eber and their students ... and He answered her through prophecy
Ramban answers that she prayed:
We don't find [the language of] "inquiry" except in regards in regards to G-d that it is prayer
Shadal explains slightly differently:
She prayed to G-d and the word of G-d came to her either through a prophecy or a dream
The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 63 as quoted in LeMakesei Atik) explains:
through an angel

Who Gave Jacob His Name?

The Torah writes (Genesis 25:26):
Then his brother emerged, holding on to the heel of Esau; so they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.
Rashi provides two answers:
The Holy One, blessed be He, thus named him
Another explanation is: his father called him Jacob because he was grasping Esau’s heel
Rokeah (as quoted in LeMakesei Atik) says it was Abraham

(see also Josh Waxman's parshablog on this)

(see our earlier post about who named Esau with the name Edom)