Thursday, January 8, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Parashas Vayechi 5769

שבת טעם החיים פרשת ויחי תשס"ט
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Parashas Vayechi 5769
If not with Shabbos, then with Tosefes Shabbos
In this week’s parashah the Torah relates how Yaakov blessed his children. The Torah states regarding the blessing that Yaakov conferred on Reuven (Bereishis 49:3-4) Reuven bechori atah kochi vireishis oni yeser sieis viyeser az pachaz kamayim al tosar ki alisa mishkivei avicha az chilalta yitzui alah, Reuven, you are my firstborn, my strength and my initial vigor, foremost in rank and foremost in power. Water-like impetuosity – you cannot be foremost, because you mounted your father’s bed; then you desecrated Him Who ascended my couch. Rashi, based on the Medrash, teaches us that because Reuven committed an infraction regarding Yaakov’s bed, he forfeited the opportunity that his tribe would be the Kohanim and the kings. What is interesting, however, is that the Torah itself does not state explicitly who replaced Reuven as the firstborn. However, in Divrei Hayamim (I 5:1) it is said uvinei Reuven bechor Yisroel ki hu habechor uvichalelo yitzuei aviv nitnah bechoraso livnei Yosef Ben Yisroel vilo lihisyacheis labechorah ki Yehudah gavar biechov ulinagid mimenu vihabechorah liYosef, the sons of Reuven, the firstborn of Yisroel. (He was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s bed his birthright was given to the sons of Yosef son of Yisroel, although not to receive the hereditary right of the firstborn, for Yehudah prevailed over his brothers, and the ruler was to come from him; but the firstborn’s portion was Yosef’s.) The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 82:11) states that there are two opinions regarding the interpretation of this verse. One opinion maintains that Reuven forfeited the hereditary right of the firstborn, while the second opinion posits that Reuven still maintained the hereditary right of the firstborn. One must wonder, however, what lesson can be derived from this verse and the Medrash? We already know in the Torah that Yaakov gave Yosef two portions in Eretz Yisroel as a sign of being the conferred firstborn.
Understanding the roles of Reuven and Yosef
How do we understand the birthright? Reuven was born first but he was not able to sustain the level of retaining the birthright. The birthright had to be transferred, but who was deserving of earning the birthright? The Torah teaches us that Yosef replaced Reuven as the firstborn, but only with regard to having his two sons, Menasheh and Ephraim, inherit land in Eretz Yisroel. What was the significance of this inheritance?
The significance of two
We are all familiar with the idea that “two is better than one.” While one reflects the idea of unity, two symbolizes blessing and prosperity. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 1:10) states that it was for this reason that the Torah commenced with the letter beis, as the letter beis has a numerical value of two, and this symbolizes abundance and blessing. Yaakov prided Reuven on being his firstborn and his strength and his initial vigor, and these attributes reflected in Yaakov a sense of discipline and control. Had Reuven been worthy, he would have retained that strength and Reuven would have been king and the Kohen. In the words of the Torah, Reuven would have been foremost, i.e. he would have been the source of blessing for the Jewish People, as it is through the king and the Kohanim that HaShem confers His blessings upon the Jewish People. Yet, Reuven forfeited these virtues and the “one” that was to lead to blessing and abundance was lost. Yosef, whose name symbolizes the idea of continuity and abundance, was the natural choice to replace Reuven with regard to being the firstborn. While Yehudah became the king and Levi inherited the Kehunah, Yosef received the hereditary right of the firstborn. What was so special about Yosef that he inherited this blessing?
Yosef was the extension of Yaakov
We see from the Torah and from the Medrash that Yosef as an extension of Yaakov. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 84:6) comments that whatever occurred to Yaakov occurred in a similar fashion to Yosef. Yaakov was hated by his brother and Yosef was hated by his brothers. They were both circumcised, both their mothers were initially barren, and many other similarities. Thus, while Reuven was biologically the firstborn son, Yosef was the son who Yaakov felt the strongest connection to. Thus, Yaakov transmitted to Yosef all the Torah that he had studied at the academies of Shem and Ever. Furthermore, Yaakov is likened to fire and Yosef is akin to the flame, which is the extension of the fire. It was the flame of the fire which was and will be used to destroy the straw of Esav. This, in a sense Yosef was Yaakov. It is noteworthy that of all the tribes, it is only regarding Yosef that Yaakov uses the terem bracha, blessing (Bereishis 49:25-26). Furthermore, the Sforno (Ibid verse 25) writes that whereas the blessings that Yaakov conferred on Menasheh and Ephraim were through an angel, the blessing that Yaakov conferred on Yosef was through HaShem Himself. This idea that Yosef is singled out for blessing and that the blessing is directly from HaShem clearly demonstrates the strong connection between Yaakov and Yosef.
The Shabbos connection
The lesson that we can take from the saga of Reuven forfeiting his hereditary right of the firstborn and Yosef receiving it instead is that every week we have the opportunity to be first and foremost. This opportunity arrives with the onset of Shabbos, when Hashem confers upon His beloved people the gift of Shabbos. According to the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 11:1) Shabbos is the blessing of HaShem that enriches and one need not add toil with it. Yet, it is possible for one to unfortunately squander the holiness of Shabbos if he is not prepared for its aura and its state of holiness. It is for this reason that HaShem gave us the extra opportunity of Tosefes Shabbos, which the Sfas Emes writes is reflected in Yosef. By adding on to Shabbos during the week, one demonstrates that he is doing his best to prepare for the Holy Shabbos. When one prepares properly for Shabbos and extends the Shabbos into the week, he can be assured that he will eat the fruits of his labors on Shabbos.
Shabbos in the Zemiros
Menuchah Visimchah
Composed by an unknown author named Moshe
Rushing to perform HaShem’s will
Kum kira eilav yachish liamtzach, that He may rush to fortify you. When we arise and beseech HaShem, HaShem rushes to fortify us. This is clearly a lesson in how we are supposed to approach spiritual matters. The way HaShem responds to our entreaties is a sign of how we are supposed to serving HaShem. We must rush to fulfill HaShem’s mitzvos and then we can be guaranteed that He will rush, so to speak, to fulfill our needs.
Shabbos in Tefillah
Constantly praising HaShem in Shul
Vichulam poschim es pihem bikdushah uvitaharh bishirah uvizimrah, and they all open their mouth in holiness and purity, in song and hymn. This passage is clearly a strong reproof to all those who arrive in shul to pray and yet do not engage themselves entirely in praising HaShem. We have the opportunity when we enter into Shul three times daily to praise the King of all kings, the Master of the world, Who controls everything that we do and say. Surely we should show our utmost gratitude and use our mouths to praise Him with holiness and purity, in song and hymn.

Shabbos Story
Talking money and talking Torah
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: The Ponovezer Rav, Rabbi Yosef Kahanamen, of blessed memory, was renowned for his efforts in rebuilding Torah from the ashes of the Holocaust. He established the jewel in the crown of the Torah city of Bnei Brak by building the Ponovez Yeshiva and its myriad affiliate institutions. He built a Yeshiva for pre-teens, another for young men, and still a third for married scholars. He built the Batei Avos, a huge housing complex with hundreds of subsidized apartments for needy families. He built schools for orphaned boys and girls in Bnei Brak, Ashdod, and numerous cities across the State of Israel.
Often, he would visit wealthy patrons in the United States, Canada, South Africa, and Europe, and appealed to them to contribute monies for the Ponovezer Institutions.
The story is told, perhaps apocryphally, that one particular donor once confronted him in jest.
“Why is it, Rabbi Kahanamen,” he wondered, “that all the other Rabbis and Roshei Yeshiva who visit me never mention money? All they talk about is Torah and mitzvos. But you come here and cut right to the chase. You don’t talk about Torah or mitzvos. Your appeal, however, is, direct and to the point. You come here and say that you need one hundred thousand dollars to finish a girls school in Ashdod. Why don't you also give me a speech about Torah, mitzvos, and Jewish continuity?”
Rabbi Kahanamen did not draw back. He took the man’s hand and looked him in the eye. Then he told him a profound statement. “You know me well. Many fund raisers talk, ‘Torah, Torah, Torah,’ but they mean money, money, money. I talk money, but I mean Torah, Torah, Torah.”
[Reprinted with permission from]
Shabbos in Navi
Shmuel I Chapter 24

Shabbos is a day when all harsh judgments disappear

In this chapter we learn how Shaul continued to pursue Dovid and Dovid found Shaul in a cave. Dovid did not listen to his men who suggested that he kill Shaul. Rather, Dovid cut off a corner of Shaul’s robe, and subsequently Dovid informed Shaul what he had done. Dovid questioned Shaul as to why he was chasing him, if he, Dovid, was as insignificant as a dead dog and a single flea. Shaul then expressed remorse for having sought to kill Dovid and made Dovid swear that he would not kill him or his descendants and Dovid swore to Shaul. Dovid was the paragon of humility, and this is evidenced by how he could compare himself to a dead dog and a flea. Shabbos is a time when one must nullify himself completely before HaShem. This is the only way that one can then accept Hashem’s Kingship, and Shabbos is the day when we truly recognize HaShem as King.

Shabbos in Agadah

Shabbos is when those who are close are blessed

The Sfas Emes (Vayechi 5645) writes that the blessings that Yaakov conferred on his sons were an expression of closeness and attachment. The blessing that they received was commensurate with the closeness that they had to Yaakov. In a similar vein, writes the Sfas Emes, Shabbos elevates all of creation to their source and this allows them to receive blessing.

Shabbos in Halacha

Principles of Hatmanah, Insulating

Insulation means placing an additional covering such as a towel around a container of food to retain the heat of the food. A primary wrapping, however, would not be deemed insulation. Thus, one would be allowed to wrap hot food in pre-cut aluminum foil. Although the foil helps in retaining the heat, its main purpose is to keep the food from drying out. For this reason it is not deemed to be insulation. A second layer of foil that is not for preserving the food but for keeping it warm, however, is deemed to be insulation and cannot be used.

Shabbos Challenge Question

Last week we posed the question: why do parents bless their children on Friday night? Rabbi Abraham Twerski in The Shabbos Companion cites those who posit that during the week children may often irritate their parents and parents may utter cross words to the children. On Friday night, with the holiness of Shabbsa, all harsh memories should be erased, and the parents can bless their children wholeheartedly. A reader wrote as follows:
1. As Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz says in Lecho Dodi, Shabbos is the “mekor habracha.”
2. Brachos need to be given bisimcha, with joy.
3. This is the time that the entire family will be there; similar to why we make Yizkor precisely at the time that we should not be remembering the dead - on Yom Tov.

This week’s question is, what is the significance of extending the end of Shabbos past nightfall? If you have a possible answer, please email me at and your answer will be posted in next week’s edition of Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim.

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim
Parashas Vayechi 5769
is sponsored in merit
of the soldiers in Israel
who are fighting to safeguard
the Jewish People.
Hashem should allow them to be victorious and we should witness the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkienu,
speedily, in our days.

I will be giving a class in Navi on Shabbos afternoon at Beis Haknesses HaGra 14561 Lincoln in Oak Park, a half an hour before Minchah.
New for this year is Doreish Tov, a daily email offering insights on that week’s Medrash Rabbah. To receive this publication please email
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos.
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler.
For sponsorships please call

To subscribe weekly by email
please send email to
View Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim
and other Divrei Torah on

No comments: