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Posts Tagged ‘Yosef’

Why Was Yaakov Avinu Reciting Krias Shema?

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

In this week’s parshah, Yaakov is reunited with his son Yosef after having being separated from him for 22 years. When they met, the pasuk says that Yosef fell on Yaakov’s neck and cried extensively. Rashi quotes a medrash that says that while Yosef did this, Yaakov did not fall on Yosef’s neck, nor did he kiss him. The medrash explains that Yaakov was reciting Krias Shema at that moment.

There are several questions that bothered the mefarshim regarding this episode. First, why did Yaakov feel the need to recite Krias Shema at this moment? Second, if it was indeed the appropriate time to recite Krias Shema, why did Yosef not recite it? The Taz and the Vilna Gaon (Orach Chaim 61:1) – based on the opinion of the Rush (Berachos 1:5) that one may interrupt the recitation of the Krias Shema to inquire about the wellbeing of one’s father, rebbe, or a king – ask why Yaakov did not pause to inquire about Yosef’s wellbeing, since he was a king. We find that Yosef was considered a king, for when Yosef came to visit his ill father, Yaakov sat up in bed (Bereishis 48:2) – and Rashi explains that he did so to show respect for the king.

The Gur Aryeh explains that when Yaakov met Yosef it was not the time to say Krias Shema. Rather, the reason that Yaakov was reciting Shema at this time was because it was the custom of tzaddikim that at a moment of simcha they would be mekabel ol malchus shamayim (by reciting the Shema) in an effort to channel that simcha toward accepting the yoke of Hashem. Additionally, Reb Yehoshua Leib Diskin says that the ultimate purpose of the middah of love is to love Hashem. Therefore, when one experiences an overwhelming measure of that middah, he should focus it on his love for Hashem. So Yaakov recited Shema in order to use the love he was experiencing toward Hashem.

The Taz and the Vilna Gaon answer that the halacha that one may interrupt Krias Shema to inquire about the wellbeing of one’s father, rebbe, or a king does not apply to the first pasuk of Shema – only to the rest of Shema. Since Yaakov was in the middle of the first pasuk of Krias Shema he was unable to interrupt himself, even to inquire about the wellbeing of his son the king.

Others understand that it was indeed the appropriate time to read Shema, and therefore Yaakov recited it. As for Yosef, the Sifsei Chachamim explains that he was exempt from the mitzvah of Krias Shema since he was osek b’mitzvah (involved in a mitzvah) of kibud av (honoring one’s father).

The Brisker Rav explains that the time to recite Shema had already begun and Yosef had already recited Krias Shema. Yaakov had not yet recited Shema, since until this point he was osek b’mitzvah of following the commandment of Hashem to descend to Mitzrayim. At this moment he had just arrived in Mitzrayim, and thus he was now obligated to recite Shema – which he did. While he was still reciting the Shema, Yosef approached.

Reb Yehoshua Leib Diskin suggests that throughout all the years that Yaakov and Yosef were separated, Yaakov was unable to have complete kavanah while reciting the words in Krias Shema, “u’vechal nafshecha” (which mean that one must be willing to sacrifice his own life for Hashem). This was because Yaakov knew that he was promised that he would have 12 sons that would all be shevatim. Since one was missing, he was unable to wholeheartedly say that he would give up his life while still not yet fully complete. Now that he sees that all of his sons are alive, he could once again recite those words with total sincerity. Therefore Yaakov recited Shema at the moment that he met Yosef.

With this explanation Reb Yehoshua Leib answers another question. In the very next pasuk Yaakov exclaims “amusah hapa’am – now I can die.” The Gemara, in Berachos 19, says that one should not open his mouth to the satan. In other words, do not make statements that invite trouble. Why would Yaakov make this strange statement? Reb Yehoshua Leib says that Yaakov was explaining why he recited Krias Shema at this point: because he could now have complete kavanah, and if it were necessary he would wholeheartedly give up his life for Hashem.

For questions or comments, e-mail RabbiRFuchs@gmail.com.

Parshat Mikeitz

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Looking back in time it is amazing to realize that every so often we encounter a 24-hour period with a timeless impact on the trajectory of human history. These periods, though short in actual time, through the convergence of multiple factors, produced historic decisions—decisions that arguably affected humankind forever after.

A classic example of this is the 24-hour period following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. To capture the historic significance of this day, historian Steven Gillon recently published the book, Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation into War, (2011), which focuses on FDR’s crisis management from the time he heard about the attack on December 7 until his speech to Congress on December 8 requesting a declaration of war.

Today we look back to that time with an air of inevitability. However, nothing was inevitable that day. FDR had to be forthright with the American people but not too open as to cause panic and rush to submission. He needed to galvanize the country for war, not only against Japan, but against Germany as well, without allowing his comments to focus on Germany, since many Americans still viewed the war in Europe as a European problem. Some of the most important decisions he made during those 24 hours concerned the speech he would give to Congress on December 8.

Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State, opined that the speech should be a relatively long statement presenting to the American people the entire history of America’s relations with Japan and all the Japanese actions leading to war – culminating with the attack on Pearl Harbor. FDR, however, for effect, wanted to keep the speech short. He was a firm believer that less was more. FDR also worried that a longer speech would force him to reveal more details about the losses at Pearl Harbor, which would serve both to dishearten the American people and embolden the Japanese. He was afraid that once the Japanese realized how badly damaged the American military was they would strike at the United States mainland. He also realized, according to Gillon, “that focusing too much attention on the Pacific would limit his ability to lead the nation to war in Europe” (p.149).

Perhaps some of the most important decisions of that day revolved around the actual writing and editing of the speech, which FDR did himself. The original speech was dictated to his secretary with the following first sentence. “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a day which will live in world history—the United States of America was simultaneously and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

When FDR reviewed the typed remarks, he made some handwritten tweaks. The words “world history” were replaced by the more emotion filled word infamy and the word “simultaneously” was replaced with the more frightening word suddenly. As Gillon writes: “Thus was born one of the most famous lines in presidential oratory” (p.72). Later that night, when meeting with his aid and confidante Harry Hopkins, he added the following closure at the Hopkin’s suggestion: “With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us G-d.”

The importance of recognizing an immense opportunity contained in a small amount of time, and maintaining control in order to take full advantage of the situation, is seen at the beginning of this week’s parsha when Yosef is hurriedly summoned to appear before Pharoh to interpret his dreams.

After Pharoh related his dream to his advisors and failed to receive a satisfactory explanation for it, the chief butler informed him about Yosef and his powers of dream interpretation. The Torah describes (41:14) that Pharoh sent immediately for Yosef. Due to the extreme urgency of the situation Yosef was rushed out of the dungeon. For Yosef, the next 24 hours or so were of critical importance. He had several key decisions to make—decisions that would impact his future and the future of Bnei Yisrael.

Upon being released from prison, the Torah informs us, Yosef groomed himself and changed into attire appropriate for Pharoh’s court. Rashi explains that Yosef did this out of respect for the monarchy. Later commentators expand upon Rashi’s point. According to various commentators there were halachic problems with Yosef grooming himself in an Egyptian hairstyle and dressing in accordance with Egyptian custom. However, the halachic tradition permits certain allowances for people who must interact with the secular rulers. Yosef’s first decision, as it were, was whether to rely on these allowances and demonstrate his ability to blend in or rather to maintain his separatist image.

The second decision he had to make was how to respond when Pharoh credited him with being an outstanding dream interpreter. Although he had much to gain by accepting the praise, Yosef’s integrity and fear of Hashem compelled him to acknowledge publicly that he was but a simple agent of G-d. His third decision was not to limit his words to merely interpreting Pharoh’s dreams but to dare to reach beyond his mandate as a dream interpreter and suggest a policy to guard against the dangers of the predicted famine.

The Truth Behind Yosef’s Allegations

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

In the beginning of this week’s parshah the Torah says that Yosef brought bad reports about his brothers to their father, Yaakov. Rashi explains that in these reports Yosef stated that his brothers would eat eiver min hachai (a limb from a live animal), degrade the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah by referring to them as slaves, and that they were suspect of transgressing with arayos (immoral relations).

The meforshim are bothered by this obvious question: how could there have been any validity to Yosef’s allegations? After all, we are discussing the sons of Yaakov Avinu, the shevatim, who were all known to have been great tzaddikim.

The sefer, Prashas Derachim (authored by Rabbi Yehuda Rosans in the late 1600s, and also the author of the Mishnah Lemelech), discusses at length the following question regarding the status of the avos and their descendents prior to receiving the Torah on Har Sinai: were they considered bnei Yisrael or bnei Noach? He suggests that this was the root of the dispute between Yosef and his brothers. The brothers were of the opinion that they were considered bnei Yisrael; Yosef, on the other hand, believed that they were considered bnei Noach. However, when it would not interfere with the mitzvos bnei Noach, they were expected to keep the Torah as if they were bnei Yisrael.

While bnei Noach and bnei Yisrael are both commanded not to eat eiver min hachai, there is a discrepancy between them. If one removes meat from a live animal, that piece of meat is eiver min hachai and can never be eaten – even after the animal is shechted and dead. However, once an animal is shechted properly, it is no longer forbidden for a Jew to remove meat from it, even though the animal is still moving (mifarcheses). (The meat still cannot be eaten until the animal stops moving.) On the other hand, a ben Noach is forbidden to remove any meat from an animal until the animal completely stops moving. The reason for this is because the fact that an animal was shechted has no bearing on a ben Noach, since the halacha of shechitah was not given to them. Hence, regarding when one can cut meat off an animal, the halacha for a Jew is more lenient than that for a ben Noach.

The Ri’aim explains that Yosef’s brothers would shecht an animal and, while it was still moving, cut off pieces of meat – as the Gemara in Chullin 33a says that this is healthy. They did this because they believed that they were considered bnei Yisrael, and thus able to utilize the heter shechitah and cut the meat before the animal stopped moving. In Yosef’s view (that they were considered bnei Noach) this was considered eiver min hachai. Therefore he told their father that they were eating eiver min hachai.

The Prashas Derachim quotes Reb Yufeh’s disagreement with this p’shat due to Yosef and his brothers definitely being considered bnei Noach; therefore the brothers could not have mistaken themselves for bnei Yisrael. Rather, he suggests that Yosef’s brothers had a ben pekuah. A ben pekuah is when a pregnant animal is shechted, and thereafter the baby is removed from the mother and survives. The Gemara in Chullin 74a says that the baby may be eaten without shechitah, even though it is alive and well. The reason for this is that the shechitah that was performed on the mother works for the baby as well. Similarly it is not forbidden to remove meat from the baby, since it is considered as if it was already shechted. Reb Yufeh suggests that Yosef’s brothers had a ben pekuah, and thus were allowed to remove meat from it without shechting it. Yosef did not know that the animal was a ben pekuah, and therefore brought the report to their father that his brothers were eating eiver min hachai.

The Prashas Derachim expresses bewilderment as to how Reb Yufeh could say this p’shat, since Reb Yufeh held that prior to Matan Torah everyone had the status of bnei Noach. It was for this reason that he disagreed with the Ri’aim when he suggested that Yosef’s brothers believed that they could cut meat off an animal after it was shechted. How then can he suggest that Yosef’s brothers had a ben pekuah? The basis for permitting a ben pekuah is because the shechitah of the mother works on the baby, but if he believes that they didn’t have shechitah (since they were considered bnei Noach) how can they have had a ben pekuah?

I would like to suggest an answer to this question about Reb Yufeh by raising the following question: when an animal dies a ben Noach may eat it, as it is no longer eiver min hachai. Is the reason that it is not eiver min hachai because it is dead and not chai? Or is it because once an animal dies, there is a heter on the issur eiver min hachai? If we assume that the reason that there is no prohibition of eiver min hachai after an animal dies is because the death creates a heter on the issur, then the halacha of ben pekuah could apply when a pregnant animal dies and the baby is removed thereafter. As was explained earlier, the halacha of a ben pekuah is that the heter (generally shechitah) that the mother attains extends to a baby that is inside of her at that time. Therefore, if the mother attains the heter of death, it should be extended to her baby as well, thus permitting it from the issur of eiver min hachai.

A Good Name Is Better Than Good Oil

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

I visited the cemetery with my friend during Aseret Yemei Teshuvah. After visiting my grandfather, z”l, we visited my friend’s husband’s family. As we were wending our way among the graves and discussing names, she pointed out that her newest granddaughter is named after her husband’s mother, a”h. Then she told me two stories about her family.

About 40 years ago, a young couple had a baby boy. Because there was no ultrasound at the time, they didn’t know the sex of the baby before it was born. The argument began in the delivery room. Both the mother and father’s fathers were named Yosef. The mother was Ashkenazi and the father Sephardic. According to Sephardic custom, a baby is named after living relatives to bring them honor. The baby’s father wanted to name the baby Yosef in order to honor his father. According to Ashkenazi tradition, a child is named after deceased relatives. The mother’s father protested that they were trying to bury him.

As the week before the bris progressed, the situation was getting tenser. The situation got so bad that the couple was considering divorce. Acting on someone’s suggestion the baby’s father went to a rav, who arrived at a brilliant solution. “Call the baby Yoav,” the rav said. That name included the first two letters of Yosef, plus the word “father.” (The name means that Hashem is my father.) Everybody liked the solution, and the two fathers made a l’chaim to Yoav at the bris.

My friend’s mother met her husband when they both fled Poland at the beginning of World War II. They sought refuge in the forests of Siberia. There she gave birth to a boy. Her father’s name had been Avraham Yona and her husband’s name was Yitzchak Yona, so she called the child Avraham. The conditions in Siberia during World War II were not ideal, and the child died before the age of three. His mother was certain it had something to do with his given name even though she hadn’t given him the common middle name, Yona.

As a result, she never requested that her son and daughter name their children Avraham. But 40 years later, when her son, who knew the story of his late baby brother, adopted a six-month-old baby boy, he asked her for permission to name him Avichai – my father lives (or Hashem lives, or Avraham lives). She consented, and the name had its tikun in the family.

Two similar names, two family stories. Shakespeare was wrong, as there is a lot in a name. According to Jewish tradition, parents receive Divine inspiration when choosing a name for their newborn. And the family usually provides a story to go along with the choosing of the name.

A story with this message: Hashem is my Father and my Father lives!

Dinah’s Daughter: A Vital Link

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

This week’s parsha, Vayislach, relates a shocking episode that causes genuine outrage in the Israelite camp — the Canaanite Prince Shechem’s brutal assault of Yaakov’s daughter Dinah. “And Yaakov’s sons came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved and agonized in fury because he had committed a despicable deed against Israel by laying Yaakov’s daughter – a thing not to be done” (Bereshit 34:7).  The Torah then depicts the aggressive revenge of Yaakov’s sons against the Canaanite tribe, and the narrative flows on to additional future events, but of Dinah’s fate there is no further mention.

Two parshiyot later (Miketz) we learn of Yosef’s amazing rise to power in Egypt. Paraoh, in elevating Yosef to an exalted position, makes two ceremonial gestures. One: he grants Yosef a new name: “And Pharaoh called Yosef Tzafenat Paneah” (Bereshit 41:45) — and the second: he arranges a prestigious marriage for Yosef:  “…he gave him for a wife Asenat the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On…”(Ibid.)

These two official gestures by Paraoh seem linked: a prominent Egyptian name and a prominent Egyptian wife were designed to launch Yosef’s illustrious governmental career in Egypt. Egyptologists tell us that in the language of ancient Egypt Tzafenat translates as “supplier of food,” and Paneah as “vital.” From the connotation of the name given to Yosef it is apparent that it was a title denoting his job as Chief Steward, a preeminent and powerful governmental position further enhanced by his marriage to a woman hand-picked by Paraoh. By taking an Egyptian name and marrying a highborn Egyptian woman, Yosef acquired great prestige and, most importantly, an Egyptian identity.

When he married the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On, Yosef became a member of a socially and politically prominent family. On, the equivalent of the Greek Heliopolis, neighboring the Eastern Delta or Goshen, later the site of the Hebrews’ settlement, was the center of sun worship. During the reign of Akhenaton when sun worship was the official religion in Egypt, the chief sanctuary to Ra, the Sun God, was erected in On, rendering the Priest of On the Supreme Clerical Authority.

Asenat, the daughter of the Supreme Clerical Authority, eventually became the mother of Menashe and Efraim. On his deathbed Yaakov raised Menashe and Efrayim to become Israel’s tribal fathers, on par with Yaakov’s own sons. Asenat, who, according to the Midrash, was the adopted daughter of Potiphera (whom Rashi identifies with Potiphar) thus became one of the eemahos of Bnei Yisrael, sharing that honor equally with Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah.

Who was Asenat if not the natural daughter of Potiphera? Where did she come from? Rabbinic literature picks up the thread that the Torah text did not continue to weave. Midrash Esther reveals that Asenath was in fact Dinah’s daughter, born of Dinah’s disastrous encounter with the Canaanite prince Shechem. How did the tale evolve? How did Dinah’s daughter become the adopted child of the Egyptian potentate? What miraculous coincidence helped the beautiful young girl to reach Potiphera’s home?

“And Dinah gave birth to a daughter and named her Asenat, saying, `To my woe did I bear her for Shechem the son of Chamor who had taken me by force to his house’” (Midrash Esther). The same Midrash discloses that when “Yaakov saw that his sons regard Asenat with hostility, he took a gold medal and wrote upon it the Holy Name and placed on her neck.”  With that Asenat left Yaakov’s household and the Almighty guided her to the house of Seleikha, wife of Potiphar.

“And Seleikha was barren of child, and she saw the lovely girl who came to her house, and she gathered her to her house, and she became her daughter” (Ibid.)

Years later, when Asenat was presented to him by Pharaoh, Yosef instantaneously noticed the medallion with the Holy Name on Asenat’s neck, and understood that it was the Divine Hand, which guided Asenat to him.

This Midrash solves several problems with one stroke. First, the brutality of Dinah’s fate is mitigated by this sequel. We are updated on Dinah’s story: the child born of the unhappy Shechem episode is redeemed from the stigma of her birth by eventually serving an essential role in the Divine plan. Secondly, through Asenat, Dinah’s rightful inheritance is restored, as she becomes a tribal ancestress on equal footing with her brothers. Thirdly, it allays fears about Yosef’s potential assimilation, marriage to a foreign woman being its ultimate element.

Not only did Yosef not marry an Egyptian, Chazal teach, on the contrary, he married a young woman provided by the Almighty Himself, a wife from the house of Yaakov to serve as a vital link to the next generation.

Q & A: Ayin Hara (Part III)

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Question: I know there is a dispute in the Gemara regarding ayin hara, the evil eye. Can you discuss the origin of it?

Ben Glassman

(Via E-Mail)

Answer: The Rambam (Hilchot Gezela v’Aveidah 13:11) and the Mechaber (Choshen Mishpat 267:18) write that one who finds a garment must periodically air it out, but not when there are guests around. This halacha is based on Bava Metzia 29b, where the gemara mentions two reasons for avoiding displaying a found garment before guests – either because of ayin hara or because of possible theft. Neither the Rambam nor the Mechaber mention the ayin hara concern. The Aruch Hashulchan (Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Hashavat Aveidah 267:11) records the same halacha but adds that the finder may air out the garment before guests if he is sure they are people of integrity, in which case, there is no concern of theft or the evil eye. The Bach, to the Tur (C.M. ad loc.), argues that the Rambam and the Mechaber only mention theft and not ayin hara because the concern of theft is easier for the general populace to understand. (The Rosh and the Rif mention both reasons.)

    We find that our forefathers’ and mothers’ actions at times have been influenced by the evil eye. According to the Midrash Rabbah, Hagar miscarried due to the ayin hara that Sarah cast upon her. And the Talmud (Ta’anit 10b, see Rashi) states that the only reason Jacob sent his sons to go down to Egypt to buy food was to ward off the evil eye (Jacob, in fact, had enough food to eat). According to Bereishit Rabbah 91:6, he also instructed them enter Egypt through separate gates for the same reason (they were all tall and handsome).

* * * *     We have discussed instances referring to the power of ayin hara. There are also sources, though, pointing to its inefficacy. Thus Berachot 20a states that R. Yochanan (who was famous for his good looks) was accustomed to go and sit at the gates of the mikveh. He said, “When the daughters of Israel come up from their immersion they look at me and have children as handsome as I am.” The Rabbis said to him, “Is not the Master afraid of the evil eye?” to which he retorted, “I am of the seed of Joseph over whom the evil eye has no power, as it is written (Bereishit 49:22), ‘Ben porat Yosef, ben porat alei ayin.’ ” The Gemara continues, “And R. Abbahu said in regard to this verse: Do not read ‘alei ayin’ but ‘olei ayin’ ” (literally, “rising above the eye,” i.e., above the power of the evil eye).

Berachot (ad loc.) also states: “R. Yossi son of R. Chanina derived [proof that the evil eye has no power over the descendants of Joseph] from the verse [containing Jacob's blessing to Joseph's sons]: ‘Ve’yid’gu larov bekerev ha’aretz – And let them multiply like fish throughout the land.’ Just as the fish in the sea are covered by water and the evil eye has no power over them, so, too, the evil eye has no power over the seed of Joseph. Or, if you prefer [namely, another reason], I can say: The evil eye has no power over the eye that chose not to partake of that which did not belong to it [Joseph resisted the advances of Potiphar’s wife].”

Berachot (55b) also discusses various remedies for bad dreams and other matters: “If a man entering a town is afraid of the evil eye, let him take the thumb of his right hand in his left hand and the thumb of his left hand in his right hand, and say: I [inserting his name], son of [his father's name], am of the seed of Joseph over whom the evil eye has no effect, as it is written, ‘Ben porat Yosef, ben porat alei ayin.’ ”

The Maharsha (ad loc.) points out that R. Yochanan (ibid. 20a) clearly stated that he was Joseph’s descendant. Tractate Sotah (36b) also refers specifically to “bnei Yosef.” But this Gemara seems to be talking about a remedy for all Jews entering a city, many of whom obviously do not descend from Joseph! Some argue that, indeed, the suggested remedy is effective only for those who turn out to be descendants of Joseph. Others, however, maintain that all Jews are considered the children of Joseph, as it says (Tehillim 80:2), “Ro’eh Yisrael ha’azinah, noheg katzon Yosef – Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, who leads Joseph like a flock.” Rashi and Metzudat David explain that since Joseph sustained his brothers and their families in Egypt, they are referred to by his name.

This last explanation implies that since we are all immune to the destructive power of the evil eye, it is impossible to cast an ayin hara upon another Jew. How, then, do we explain the statement in Tractate Bava Metzia attributed to Rav (107b): “Ninety-nine [of the dead in the cemetery where he was standing] died as a result of the evil eye, and [only] one from natural causes” as well as the other statements and examples mentioned above?

A Graduate Of Eiver’s Yeshiva

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

These are the generations of Yaakov, Yosef being seventeen years old….

Seventeen years old? We are struck by this information. Why would the Torah deem it necessary to inform us about Yosef’s age? No word, no pasuk, no paragraph is out of place in Torah, so we know the information is necessary and important. But what is its importance? What do we gain by this kernel of biographical information about Yosef?

To understand, it benefits us to first examine the conclusion of parshat Toldot, where Yitzhak advises Yaakov to escape from his brother, Eisav, by fleeing to Padan Aram. In commenting on this passage, Rashi notes that here we learn Yaakov sojourned in the House of Eiver for more than fourteen years studying Torah and only then, at the conclusion of his study, did he continue on to Padan Aram.

Again, we gain a glimpse of biographical information without yet understanding its value to us. Why inform us as to the length of Yaakov’s sojourn? And why was it even necessary for Yaakov to stop at Eiver’s home in order to study Torah? There can be no doubt that, as a child growing up in Yitzchak’s home, he learned and absorbed Torah, chesed, morals and positive values. Indeed, the Torah identifies Yaakov as a scholar.

So why the additional fourteen years of study?

The answer comes when the Torah shows Yaakov wrestling with the angel of God, earning the name Yisrael and demonstrating that we all must wrestle with Torah. From this we understand that to learn Torah demands not only the pure and sanctified environment of a Bais Yitzchak but that to truly “wrestle” with Torah is to absorb it – and transplant its teachings and precepts – in the world at large.

In his father’s house, Yaakov had superior training in pure Torah, in Torah that had meaning in the rarified world of his home and other, likeminded, scholars and students. However, in parshat Toldot, as Yaakov prepares to flee his brother and his father’s house – leaving the protected environment of his home – he would be entering a foreign and threatening world. To survive and flourish in the intimidating environment of Charan, he needed first to wrestle with Torah in Bais Eiver, a place not nearly as safe and nurturing as his own father’s house.

So too, Yaakov foresaw that Yosef would also find himself among gentiles, Egyptians, in a large, intimidating and menacing society. To assure that Yosef would remain steadfast in all the Torah he had taught him even in the most threatening circumstances, Yaakov determined that Yosef, like himself, must be exposed to the same Torah in “foreign” territory. Therefore, all the Torah Yaakov learned in Eiver’s academy he taught to Yosef for fourteen years.

And so we return to the Torah’s biographical note regarding Yosef. Yosef began learning Torah at three, when every child must begin to study Torah. Thus, the Torah speaks of the point at which Yosef was prepared to confront life’s many challenges – at seventeen.

Like Yosef, we must all at some point leave the warmth and comfort of our home; we must all attain the age of “seventeen.” And, like Yosef, we must be prepared to willingly and lovingly communicate Torah in an open, “Torah-less” society.

Torah is a glorious jewel, but it is not a fragile one. It will not only survive beyond the safety of our academies, it will thrive.

A Jew’s ability to live a Torah life beyond the safety and security of “Yaakov’s tent” is the ultimate test of Torah.  Like any test of worth, it is not an easy one. A prominent Torah educator from Jerusalem was asked why he pursued and attained higher academic degrees in prominent universities whereas his sons were discouraged from continuing their general education beyond high school.

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