Saturday, 18 February 2017

Parsha: Mishpatim, "Following the Majority Opinion"

Mishpatim: Following the Majority Opinion

A story about Rabbi Akiva, when the famed second century Talmudic sage was a young scholar...

Rabban Gamliel, the head of Sanhedrin, hosted a gathering of scholars in the town of Jericho. The guests were served dates, and Rabban Gamliel honored Rabbi Akiva with reciting the brachah achronah (final blessing). However, Rabban Gamliel and the other sages disagreed about which blessing should be said after eating dates. The young scholar quickly made the blessing - in accordance with the opinion of the other rabbis.
"Akiva!" exclaimed Rabban Gamliel. "When will you stop butting your head into Halachic disagreements?"
"Our master," Rabbi Akiva replied calmly, "it is true that you and your colleagues disagree in this matter. But did you not teach us that the Law is decided according to the majority opinion?" [Brachot 37a]
In truth, it is hard to understand Rabban Gamliel's criticism. What did he expect Rabbi Akiva to do? Why was he upset?
Two Methods to Resolve Disputes

In order to resolve legal disputes, there are two methods a scholar may use to decide which opinion should be accepted as law.

The first way is to conduct an extensive analysis of the subject to find out the truth. We examine the issue at hand, weighing the reasoning and supporting proofs for each view, until we can determine which opinion is the most logical.
However, if we are unable to objectively decide which opinion is more substantiated, we fall back on the second method. Instead of the truth, we look for consensus. We follow the majority opinion - not because it is more logical or well-reasoned - but out of the simple need to establish a normative position and avoid disagreement and conflict. If we are seeking consensus and peace, then the most widely held opinion is the preferred one.

Rabban Gamliel was critical of Rabbi Akiva because he thought the young scholar had had the audacity to decide which opinion was the correct one. Therefore he castigated him, "When will you stop butting your head into these legal disagreements?" In other words, where did you get the idea that you could use your head - your own powers of logic and reasoning - to decide issues that are beyond your expertise and knowledge?

Rabbi Akiva responded that he hadn't presumptuously tried to decide which opinion is correct. Rather, he had simply applied the second method of resolving a legal dispute: deciding the issue by consensus, according to the majority opinion.

- [adapted from Ein Ayah vol. II, p. 176]



Mishpatim: Understanding Torah

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Mishpatim and the topic is mitzvot we understand and mitzvot we don't understand. Most significantly, what we understand may actually change over time. Certain laws shich were presented as understandable in the past are now deemed not understandable. And other laws which were described as beyond human comprehension in the past are now seen as making sense. What does this indicate about the human interaction with Torah? We invite you to look at an article on this topic at

P. Mishpatim - Midrasho vs. P'shuto

See Mishpatim 21:28
Rashi: "Baal Hashor Nakki"

The Halachah is "Midrasho"
P'shuto is something else.
So - as per Rashi - a Halachic translation here would be "al pi midrash, even though it is based upon Midrash Halachah and not upon Midrash Aggadah.  P'shat - while not anti-Halachic - does not [necessarily] imply the Halachot derived here.


P. Mishpatim 1 - "Et Ishti" The Question

Originally published 1/27/11, 9:01 am.
I posted the following in the Leining discussion group:

See Shemot: 21:5 "et ishti."
Rashi - [namely] the shifchah.
Rashi makes perfect sense because, after all,  his regular wife goes out with him...
My query is about the term ISHTI. How is this applicable to a woman who is not his lawfully wedded wife, and is merely given over to produce children for the Adon?
The terminology ISHTI seems a bit strange because she never really belongs to this eved Ivri in the first place.
Any suggestions?


P. Mishpatim 2 - "Et Ishti" The Answer

I received this answer
From Gershon Eliyahu
Giorgies E. Kepipesiom

«For that matter, bonay is equally troublesome, as the children are not legally his sons, they are the adon's property, they have no yichus to the eved ivri, for example, if he later dies leaving no other children alive, these do not exempt his lawful wife from yibbum or chalitza.

My guess: the key word is "ahavti". True, she is not his, and not his wife. But he has fallen in love with this woman and these children. He is using the possessive forms ishti, bonay, in the sense of "I love this woman as if she were my wife, I love these children as if they were my own sons.


I said "this makes sense to me" and I received GEK's permission to share.


Saturday, 11 February 2017

Parsha: Yitro, "Navol Tibbol", Torah as a Co-operative Venture

originally published on 1/12/14

Let's recall Yitro's Mussar to Moshe Rabbenu. Moshe Rabbenu himself couldn't handle the sheer volume of Bnei Yisrael's legal cases without a ranked system of judges beneath him. 

We can easily understand why it's necessary for "G'dolim" to address knotty issues like agunot, defining death, etc. Yet if Moshe Rabbenu  couldn't manage it all,  then al achat kama vakammah, g'dolim today could be overwhelmed too! If it were required that each Rav master every Halachic complexity, then everyone, individually, would face "navol tibbol."  We'd be overwhelmed by the Yam Hatalmud, and Pos'qim, Chas v'Shalom

So it's mistavra that the role of Sarei alafim etc. is just as vital to avoiding "navol tibbol" as Moshe's own role on the top of the pyramid. Local Rabbonim, G'dolim, and any "vaad" or Dayan in between, all play necessary roles in this legal mechanism.Therefore, all levels really need each other. Recall, no one Jew can do all 613 Mitzvot! 

It seems this is the Mussar Heskel from our Parshah: Torah is a co-operative venture


Parsha: Yitro, "2,000 Years Without Torah"

originally published on 1/12/14

Someone recently asked me the following question:

If the Torah is the guidebook for life, how could humanity have survived without this guidebook for 2000 years? In other words, why did God wait for 2000 years before giving the Torah?

I look forward to the ideas and to the discussion in your comments.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Yitro: Emunah

Originally posted Jan. 23, 2016
From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Yitro and the topic is emunah, which is generally translated as faith or trust. The question of how to translate the word actually reflects an issue involved in understanding the word. Is emunah something we control or is it a natural response of one's being? We invite you to look at an article on this topic at

P. Yitro - Last 3 Mitzvot, the Questions

Originally posted Jan. 23, 2016

 There are 3 mitzvot at the end of P. Yitro that are wedged in between the end of the 10 Dibrot and P. Mishpatim.
What are they?
What underlying theme connects these three together?
Hint: one is explicit, the other 2 are only subtly connected.


P. Yitro - Last 3 Mitzvot, the Answers

Originally posted Jan. 23, 2016

The 3 mitzvot are
1 "Lo Ta'asoon iti ...elohei chessef..."
2. "Mizbach adama.." thru "ki charb'cha..."
3. "V'lo ta'aleh b'ma'alot...Asher lo tiggaleh ervatcha..."

The common thread?
1. Idol Worship
2. Murder [charbecha]
3. Gilluy Arayot [explicitly so]

These constitute the 3 "cardinal sins" - albeit the last two are "subtle / abbizraihu" cases related specifically to the Mizbei'ach.


Naaseh v'Nishma 2 - The D'var Torah

 originally published 1/14/14

The age-old question or issue grappled with by the Midrash is:
"Why did the Israelites precede Nishma with Naaseh"? IOW how could any Naaseh take place without a preceding Nishma to know WHAT to do first? Seems obvious!

There are several beautiful nuggets in Rabbinical Literature on this. This D'var Torah as I recall was originally based upon a Malbim. But in subsequent years, I could not locate it there. So, suffice it to say I didn't make it up but I've forgotten the precise source. Anyone who CAN identify the source is most welcome to fill the gap.

What's the p'shat of a NISHMA that follows a Naaseh? It seems obvious that in order to facilitate any Naaseh, SOME "how- to" handbook is a given - whether oral, mimetic, or even on video, Naaseh presumes a pre-existing prescription. As such, Halachah l'maaseh is a predicate for Naaseh, and therefore Kal vochomer must precede any Nishma.
So the sequence is
Performance [Naaseh]
So what is the definition of that term Nishma?

Nishma simply may be defined as Torah Lishmah. In fact, it is Torah WITHOUT any pragmatic ramification!
So when we learn Shulchan Aruch in order to Observe Shabbat, that is NOT a function of Naaseh, it is a preparation, a "hechsher mitzvah" for Naaseh.
Nishma goes beyond Observance. It is deeper. It is unique to Israel to go beyond the Divine Command.
As such, there are many implications to this. Most reserved for an upcoming post
The simplest and most straightforward Implication is that Men AND women have an equal obligation in [most of] Naaseh. Thus any "Torah" that teaches practical Halachah is equally required for both genders
However, Nishma is purely a Masculine Obligation of "Torah Lishma"

To briefly expand the question of whether this theoretical Torah lishma is merely Optional to or Off-limits to women is the subject of debate.
At any rate, this is the essence of the d'var Torah - that Torah studied BEYOND that which is a prerequisite for Performance THAT is Nishma.
BEH in upcoming posts I will
•.Expound on some of the other ramifications
• Offer some alternative understandings of "NISHMA"


Yitro: The Flow of Sinai

Originally published 2/13/09, 11:45 AM.

To many, the goal of religion is to attain a greater and greater religious or spiritual experience. Within the realm of Torah, though, the Jewish nation has already reached the pinnacle of religious experiences, the Revelation at Sinai. So what then is the Jewish religious experience or process through life?

Rabbi Hecht addresses this issue in an Insight from 5758 available at

Parsha: Yitro - How to Divide the Asseret Haddibrot?

originally posted January 23, 2013

How are the "10 Commandments" to be parsed [i.e. enumerated into different commandments] according to:

A. Hazal?

B and C. The Masoretic text?
[two different answers]

D. R Wolf Heidenheim? -

Wolf Heidenheim - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Shalom and Best Regards,

MISTAKES are always forgivable
If you have the courage to admit them.

Yitro Vs. Ruth

originally published on 1/12/14

We read the 10 Dibrot on both P. Yitro and on Shavuot, and technically on vo'Etchanan, too! We also read the Scroll of Ruth on Shavuot so we can easily "connect the dots" between Ruth and the Dibrot
Now let's ask -

What do Yitro and Ruth have in common, and where do they differ?

What they do have in common is the discovery of the ONE TRUE G-D! No denying the sincerity of their common quest for that Holy Grail - so to speak.

Where do they differ?

Yitro found G-d, but - despite his relationship to his daughter and son-in-law - he subsequently abandoned the Jewish People to return to Midian.

Ruth, however, cleaved to Naomi and abandoned Moab to live the life of a beggar in Judea. Her commitment motto? Ameich Ami Veilokayich Elokai!. Her declaration of loyalty to the Jewish Nation preceded her commitment to G-D!

Blasphemy? Adearrabbah - a prerequisite! Yitro is the prototype of the Noahide who has found the True G-d but needs no society.

Ruth is the true convert, the prototypical "Ger Tzedeq" (actually Giyoert of course!). There is one reason to convert to Judaism following one's Spiritual Journey - to join the Priestly Kingdom and the Holy Nation. In truth, to live a life of G-dliness as an individual spiritual seeker needs no Judaism or Peoplehood.

Ruth's progeny? David and Mashiach. Her affiliation to our peoplehood earned her common destiny with us.
Yitro? A good guy to whom we say "fare thee well". Who of Yitro's descendants makes a glorious impact? Not the descendants of Hever haKeini who are allies.

Any sincere spiritual seeker can find G-d as an individual Noahide, but the prototypical Ger/Giyoret shares Jewish Destiny and Torah, as well as G-d.


Saturday, 4 February 2017

Parsha: BeShalah, "Mah Titz'aq Eilai?"

originally posted January 16, 2016

See Shmot: Beshalah: 14:15

Rashi cites a Midrash explaining why Hashem tells Moshe to stop praying. He offers two reasons. 

A No time to lengthen prayer if people are suffering
B. Hashem is asking, "why Bother ME? It's in Your hands!"

This reminds me of a wise statement about Prayer and Action:
PRAY as if everything depends upon G-d,
ACT as if everything depends upon you!

Shalom, RRW

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Parsha: Bo, "Rashi on P'shat and D'rash"

originally posted January 9, 2016

Rashi D"H V'im yim'at habbayyit...(Bo 12:4 )

First, Rashi says, "X l'fee f'shuto..." 
Namely, if there aren't enough people to completely eat the Pesach lamb, and they will come to have Nottar, then these people are to join their neighbors.

V'od yeish bo Midrash: "That following 'shenimnu' they may still withdraw whilst the lamb still lives". Rashi does NOT force the P'shat to conform to D'rash EVEN when that D'rash is Halachic and not Aggadic.

Thus, P'shat of a phrase can be independent of the Halachot derived from it . Even though the p'shat here IS influenced by Halachah. It conforms to an explicit text concerning Nottar. Although we can't be certain, it doesn't seem to CONTRADICT halachah either! 


While Rashi does suggest that P'shat conforms with Halachah,  he also mentions that Halachic D'rash adds a dimension that goes well beyond P'shat.



Parsha: Bo, V'yameish Hoshech Onkelos, Rashi and Sinai"

originally posted January 9, 2016

Bo 10:21 "V'yameish Hoshech"

Rashi says that, "k'mo v'ya'ameish...V'Onkelos Tirgeim l'shon hassarah k'mo
'Lo yamish'. "

If Targum Onkelos is miSinai, then how can Rashi argue that, "Ein hadibbur m'ushav al havav"
If Rashi MAY argue - then what does it mean to say Onkelos is MiSinai?



Parsha: Bo, "Makkat Hoshech and Posh'ei Yisra'el"

originally posted January 9, 2016

See Bo 10:22, and Rashi's words about the phrase, "Vayhee Hoshech..."

Rashi notes that  "Posh'ei Yisra'elwere purged during Hoshech. I've always been troubled by this statement. If all the reshaim died during Makkat Hoshech, then how did ones like Datan and Aviram survive?

A clue lies in Rashi's own words. Rashi wrote that ONLY those "shelo hayyu rotzim latzeit" were killed. 
IOW, only the ones who wanted to stay in Egypt were killed. It seems that while only one SUBSET of Posh'im were purged, other "nudniks" seemed to survive. These may be the ones we see causing trouble in the Midbar later



Parsha Bo - The Zohar - Obtaining Ultimate Freedom

originally posted January 9, 2016


The Israelites first had to throw off all the higher forces ruling them, until they entered the domain of the Holy One, and tied themselves to GOD alone

Only then were they rescued from Egyptian Bondage when all forces subjugating them had been discarded and GOD alone had become MASTER.

See Zohar Bo 40a
Hoq l'Yisro'el - Bo Day 2

Kol Tuv,

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Parsha: Vo'eira, "Modifying P'shat of Text Based upon a Contradiction"

originally posted January 2, 2016

See Rashi on  Vo'eira 6:18.

Basing himself on the phrase, "Hayyei Qehat," Rashi asserts that the text here can't be taken literally. A logical reading of other passages shows that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for Bnei Yisrael to have spent 400/430 years in Egypt. Then the issue remains, what to do with the 400/430 years!?

It seems to me that Rashi could have gone the other way. That is, why not say the Yichus was not literal instead? Why not say that generations were skipped and so that literally was the number of years!

The response to that is that Hazal have deemed that period as 210 years. It has been adopted AFAIK by Seder Olam

This same issue is in a previous NishmaBlog poll re: may we set aside a literal reading of text when Hazal themselves have not chosen to do so? (For the results of that poll, see



Parsha: Vo'eira, "Y'hee l'Tanin"

originally posted January 2, 2016

 Y'hee l'Tanin (Vo'eira 7:9)

Pick your Parshanut Preference

1. Rashi states that the tanin is a SNAKE
2. R' Hirsch and others call the tanin a CROCODILE.

Advantages to #1
Advantages to #2
  • In Parshat Sh'mot, it SAYS Nachash - but here says it's a Tanin. Given the use of two words, we naturally expect a distinction!
  • Crocodiles were symbols of Egypt, so this would have been more symbolic. As Haftarah Vo'eira [EZE 29:3] says TaniM that is HaRoveitz. Crocodiles crouch, snakes don't
  • If you read Taninim in Parshat Breishit 1:21 as great lizards, this matches it a bit better
Pick your preferred approach.



Parsha, Vo'eira, "Koveid Leiv Par'oh"

Originally posted January 2, 2016  
Pick your Parshanut Preference:
  1. Koveid or Hazak are two words which BOTH refer to Pharaoh acting stubbornly. The classic commentators seem to use the two words interchangeably.
  2. Koveid could mean something else entirely, such as, "heavy".
In Egyptian Mythology, a human's heart was weighed at death. 
This was done by weighing one's heart (conscience) against the feather of Maat (truth and justice)... Anubis weighs Hunefer's [humann's] heart against the feather to see if he is worthy of joining the gods in the Fields of Peace. Ammut is also present, as a demon waiting to devour Hunefer's heart should he prove unworthy.  (The British Museum)
If a person's heart were light as the feather of the goddess Maat, then that person earned "Heaven." Otherwise, his soul would be devoured by another Egyptian goddess, Ammut.
Thus a HEAVY heart might mean an evil person and not a stubborn one. 

This p'shat might have some advantages
  1. It is more literal
  2. It matches what we know about Egyptian Culture
  3. It places Israel in Egypt at the Exodus despite the "critics"
  4. It distinguishes the 2 terms
  1. It's NOT traditional
Pick your preferred approach.



Parsha: Shemot, The Zohar Decries Abortion

Paraphrasing the Zohar as cited in Hok l'Yisra'el, Vo'eira Yom Sheini Mussar section

Causing the death of the fetus causes sorrow in the world, and Hashem's Withdrawal. Pestilence and plagues are visited.

Praised be Israel, that despite the Decree the of Par'oh to kill all the baby boys, none of the Israelites aborted their children. And Bizchut this, Israel merited the Exodus from Exile.

Kol Tuv,

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Parsha: Sh'mot, "The Risks of Political Partisanship"

originally posted on Dec. 26, 2015

As the popular hypothesis goes - the Hyksos Pharaohs [the so-called Shepherd Kings] allied themselves with the Hebrews. Then, when the Hyksos' dynasty was overthrown, the Hebrews were left high and dry - especially since native Egyptians detested shepherds. [Miqqetz 43:32]

There are hints in Vayigash and Sh'mot that support this. In Vayigash, Pharaoh seems interested in tying Joseph's family to his own interests. He asks the brothers about becoming his personal Royal Shepherds [47:6]. However, we see that a new King [dynasty?] arose that knew not Joseph [1:8] in Sh'mot.

If this is true, then there is a pragmatic lesson here:  "Don't put your [political] eggs in one basket." Although Joseph and his brothers enjoyed ascendancy when allied to that Hyksos dynasty, they were subsequently exiled to the political wilderness when their patrons were removed from power.

Simply said, since the Hebrews were unanimously allied to one single party, they were powerless when that party lost power.

Something to think about when making "political bedfellows"


Saturday, 7 January 2017

Parsha: Vaychi, "Umoladta Asher Holadta Achareihem"

In Vaychi 48:5,6, we have an interesting debate between Rashi and the Torah Temimah. [Yes, one MAY argue with Rashi and still be a Kosher Yid!] :-)

Rashi posits that any future children Yoseph WILL have after Ephraim and Menashe would be subsumed under THEIR names. So, any of Yoseph's potential future children would be referred to as part of Ephraim and Menashe.

The Torah Temimah 48:5:5 objects because "Holadta" is written in the past tense. Instead, the Torah Temimah suggests that this refers to the respective children of Ephraim and Menashe, some of which may have already been born.

Tangentially one may understand the quoted G'mara as quoting Passuq 5 as its source text as also referring to Passuq 6, Ayein Sham.

Shalom, RRW

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Parsha: Vayigash, "Torah Temimah on Honoring Grandparents"

A must see Torah Temimah [TT] on Vayigash.

Here, the TT presents an encapsulated resource book on the issue of honoring grandparents. See TT on Vayigash 46:1The upper text quotes the Midrash Rabbah [MR] stating that the mitzvah kibbud Av trumps kibbud Avi Aviv [Literally paternal grandfather].

The Rema in Yoreh Deiah 240:24 deduces here that kibbud Avi Avi is an obligation, though a lesser obligation than kibbud Av, since it is still included in the discussion.

The TT says the following in note one below the line:
• Rema rejects Mahari Kolon who sees zero obligation.
• The GRA rejects kibbud Avi Imo [Maternal Grandfather],  thereby taking this MR very literally.
• The TT suggests that the Bavli would disagree with this MR and leaves the GRA in "Tsarich Iyyun" status.
•. He quotes several Bavlis and an interesting Rif and Rambam about miracles that occur to one's grandparents [or ancestors in general].

Quite a breadth of sources! This might give us a brand-new research topic for Parshat Vayigash


Saturday, 24 December 2016

Parsha, Miketz, "Davar Shebiqdushah Requires 10"

The Torah Temimah mentions a curiously anachronistic quotation.  Citing the Mishnah* in TB Megillah 23b [Mishnah 4:3], he states that any Davar Shebiqdushah requires ten. His list includes "... everything k'gon Qaddish Q'dusha, Bar'chu ..."

Surprise! None of those three things are actually mentioned in the Mishnah, and among theses three, arguably only Bar'chu is implied.

Although we certainly apply Davar Shebiqdushah requiring ten to these three, this Mishnah does not.

V'tzarich Iyyun. There  is a missing link here from the cases listed in that Mishnah to the one in the TT itself



* Mishnah 
. ד,ג
אין פורסין על שמע, ואין עוברין לפני התיבה, ואין נושאין את כפיהם, ואין קורין בתורה, ואין מפטירין בנביא, ואין עושין מעמד ומושב, ואין אומרין ברכת אבילים וחתנים, ואין מזמנין על המזון בשם--פחות מעשרה. ובקרקעות, תשעה וכוהן; ואדם, כיוצא בהן.

Parsha: Miqqetz, "Reuven and Yaakov, Miscommunication Skills"

Reuven offers to let Yaakov "kill" his two sons "et shtei bonai Tamit" (42:37) if he fails to restore Binyamin.

Yaakov refuses.

Let's presume that Rashi is correct regarding Yaakov's perspective. Rashi (42:38) explains that Yaakov saw Reuven's offer as though it were offered by a  "B'chor Shoteh." How would Yaakov gain through killing his own grandchildren?

What different perspective did Reuven have? Why did Reuven offer to let Yaakov kill two sons, and not one or four? Come to think of it, just what was Reuven thinking?

My friend, R' Joel Stern, explains Reuven's POV.  After Yehudah sells Yosef, he later buries his first two sons back in Parshat Vayeishev. Reuven didn't know why those two sons died. He assumed that it was G-d's punishment to Yehudah for "selling Yosef." Now we know why Reuven offered to risk two of his children.

Reuven offered to risk his sons based upon his perception of the deaths of Yehudah's sons. However, Yaakov was, after all, clueless about the selling of Yoseph. He couldn't have seen the connection to Yehudah. Yaakov thought Reuven's offer was "shtuyot" because it was pointless to harm his own grandchildren.

Interestingly, it seems that Reuven, like Yaakov, misunderstood related situations. Like Father Like Son?


Parsha: Miketz, "Is Avodah Zara the Same for Jew and for Gentile?"

First - Yosef identifies himself as "G-d fearing" (42:18). Later on, his servant sounds like he recognizes "Elokeichem" (43:23)  If Yosef is a G-d fearing man, then we may reasonably infer that he doesn't worship idols. However, later on,  Yosef and his servant presume that Yaakov's sons should KNOW that he is a "m'nacheish" (44:5,15).

None of the brothers, including Yehudah, challenge Yosef about this seeming contradiction. On the one hand, Yosef serves Elokim while on the other hand, he is a  "well-known" m'nacheish.  Now, if Yosef actively fears Gd, then how could Yaakov's sons know that he is a m'nacheish?

There may be room for a clever hilluq here. Although we have the 7 Mitzvot B'nei Noah, Mattan Torah hasn't yet happened. The text strongly suggests that  a Noahide is permitted to engage in activity that for a Ben Torah would constitute a form of Avodah Zarah [AZ]. In this case, worshiping G-d and still practicing Nichush regularly (as opposed to an occasional deviation).

BE"H we will follow up upon this same theme during Parshat Vo'Etchanan - namely that the criteria for AZ for a Jew seems stricter than for a non-Jew.


Parsha: Vayeishev & Miketz, "I told you so!"

This d'var Torah spans these two Parshiyot. It deals with the debate between Reuven and his brothers concerning Yosef's welfare.

Reuven may be the first person recorded saying, "I told you so!" (42:22) This seems a bit misguided. Reuven was the brother who suggested throwing Yosef in the pit. This pit was no bed of roses. (Rashi 37:24). So, what did Reuven mean?

In Parshat Vayeishev (37:21,22), the text records Reuven speaking, but with two vayomer's. One is at the beginning and the other one is in the middle of his speech.

In the first vayomer, Reuven says, "don't kill him."

 In the second vayomer, he says, "don't spill blood,  throw him in the pit [instead]!"

Apparently, Reuven was interrupted between vayomer one and vayomer two. Reuven started with "Plan A," then switched to "Plan B."

When Reuven says "I told you so" (42:22), he must mean the first vayomer - because he ends, saying, "v'lo sh'matem," you didn't listen! However, the brothers did listen to Reuven when they threw Yoseph in the pit! So this must refer to a rejected Plan A.

The 2nd vayomer was plan B, tossing Yoseph into a pit.  Then they listened to Reuven! According to the P'shat, Midyanim, and not his brothers, drew Yoseph up from the pit (Rashi). It was this plan that led to the sale of Yoseph.

Plan A was the "no harm" plan. Reuven's brothers rejected it, then accepted Plan B. Yoseph was lost through this plan. Like many other compromises, it was "the pits."

Had they followed Plan A, the brothers wouldn't have been guilty or blamed from the sale of Yoseph. Having followed Plan B, Reuven laments, "I told you so."


Parsha: Miketz and Vayeitzei, "Parsha breaks"

All things considered, it's a wonderful thing to live in the United States, a society with the right to Freedom of Speech. Unlike driving an automobile, there is no license required. Just find a soap-box and start speaking. One of the consequences is that since speech is therefore 'free," sometimes 'you get what you pay for it." 
Lately, I've realized how much absolute nonsense can be passed off as "Torah" and how many speakers present "facts" that are really misquotes or half-truths.

I've worked in data processing for many years.  Whether a program, design, or documentation, quality control was a major part of any product. At any rate, most errors were readily discovered by users, often accompanied by embarrassing results.

One of the early mis-steps I heard years ago. A member of my old Congregation [viz. COS] would fill me every Friday night on our way home from shul. He attended a local parsha class and would share with me some of the thoughts of the weekly speaker. This one week, he told me a D'var Torah re: Vayetze that it was the ONLY Weekly Sidrah that had no [i.e. zero] Parsha breaks. I exclaimed: "That is no true! Parshas Mikketz ALSO has zero parsha breaks!" FWIW, Mikketz was my friend's own bar-mitzvah Sidrah! The D'var Torah would have probably worked even if were not the ONLY exception but I was disappointed that the speaker was not more meticulous with his facts.
Fast Forward to this past Friday Night. The speak said an excellent D'var Torah all around, but at the end he inserted a very mis-leading interpretation. He stated [as per Rashi who quotes the Midrash Rabbah] that Vayishkav Ya'akov bamakom hahu meant Ya'akov had not slept his entire 14 years at Yeshivas Sheim vo'ever. I corrected the speaker later on, in private. I explained that Rashi/Midrash meant he had not "LIED DOWN to sleep" not that in fact had never slept! The implication is quite far different. Never sleeping for x number of days is an impossibility as per the Gmara re: Nedarim. OTOH, not lying down for a period of time merely presents Ya'akov as an ascetic not as a magician! After all, my own rebbe, R. Moshe Heinemann related to us that he slept in a sofa-chair for a period [a year or so?] whilst attending Lakewood. Sleep - Yes; lying down - No. Today, I confirmed that the Midrash Rabbah Hamevo'ar specifically interprets lack of Shechiva as meaning he did not lie down in a bed any sheinas keva. This can be further confirmed by the lack of Midrash on Vayalen SHAM. Point? A story of Ya'akov's p'rishus and hasmaddah is changed to a kind of Hassidic miracle story by lack of attention to the details!
But I'm not off MY soap box yet! In another faulty transmission, a noted Rav and Talmid Chacham was discussing the reading for Shabbos Hol Mamo'ed Sukkos. In his speech, he claimed that unlike the first luchos, Moshe himself WROTE the second set! Well the passuk says: "Pesal LECHA … v'chaszvTI" that God tells Moshe to CARVE the Luchos and God will write the 2nd set! I avoided correcting this rabbi because I had corrected him in the past and I did not wish to become a pest! But it is a shame the his audience may be unaware of his transmission error.
I was just informed a few hours ago that someone had given a D'var Torah asserting that the argument between Ya'akov with Shim'on/Levi was that Ya'akov was in favor of assimilation while Shim'on/Levi were opposed. Even the audience found that one shocking! While we can question Dinah's motives "lir'os bivnos ho'oretz" as possibly wishing to incorporate local fashion into her wardrobe, attributing assimilation to Ya'akov himself is quote a stretch.

Maybe Torah Authors and Speakers should have their writings go through quality control first. In the meantime, caveat emptor.


Saturday, 17 December 2016

Parsha: Vayeishev, "Using a Non-Local Peirush"

Once,  I gave a peirush on Eiqev based upon a Rashi technique used somewhere else - during a speech at another shul.

One concerned fellow asked, ""How can you set aside what Rashi says here - in favour of an approach he uses elsewhere"? He meant that Rashi implicitly disputed my interpretation.

To me, the answer is simple, Rashi is not exhaustive. He only gives a subset of all the possible p'shatim that even he might have brought forth. Don't assume that Rashi objects to another approach just because he omits it.

There's a "Proof-Text" for my approach. Rashi gives one explanation for the word "Yassaf" in Vayeishev (38:26) "v'lo yassaf od l'daatah".  However, Rashi's gives a second explanation in B'haalotcha.  (11:25) Relying on the Targum Onkelos concerning Eldad and Meidad, Rashi interprets "Yassaf" to mean  "v'lo Passaq".

Here, the Local Targum says otherwise! It seems to mean  "V'lo Ossif". Sh'ma Mina - Rashi wished to bolster his own reading of the p'shat here even though the local Targum interprets the words differently.

I did the same thing. Although the local Rashi explains things differently, I used Rashi's explanation in Eiquev. I used Rashi to give p'shat in Eiqev from a non-local Rashi despite the local Rashi saying otherwise.

It's still possible that the local Rashi disagrees with his other interpretation. We can't know for sure. However, since Rashi himself used the technique, it's legitimate for us to use it as well.




Parsha: Vayeishev, "The Case of "Minhag Attiq"

"Every Ancient Minhag has a Root and a Source In Israel's Literature"

Who said this?

The Torah Temimah on Parshat Vayeshev (38:10): he wrote that not mourning a b'chor, firstborn son, is a "Minhag Ta'ut."

The Rema YD 374:11 terms this Minhag a "Minhag Ta'ut" - flowing from a Shu"t Rivash. As the TT says, all the acharonim remain silent. Nevertheless, the Targum Yonatan (TY), seems to be its source, reasoning that  it's because Yehudah named his second son Onan.

As the TT says, "It is known that all of his [TY] words flow from Braitot and Midrashim." Although we might not actually pasqen like this Targum Yonatan, he has a solid source. It's unsurprising that the Torah Temimah, who frequently searches for m'qorot for questionable minhaggim, was the Aruch haShulchan's son

We should also distinguish between ANY "Minhag b'alma" and a Minhag Attiq. A Minhag Attiq's source may have become more obscure over time since it seems to have greater peer approval.


Vayeishev: What is Morality?

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Vayeshev and the topic is the nature of morality. Does morality have its own inherent value or is it simply defined by the Will of God. The story of Yehuda and Tamar begs this question for how are we to understand how a tzaddik, such as Yehuda, went to a prostitute. Was he coerced by the Divine? Or was there no problem as prostitution was not forbidden until Sinai? But wasn't it still immoral? But what is morality? 
Nishma Spark of the Week 5754-10, on this topic, is at

Parsha: Vayeishev, "Another Slap at Yaakov"

It seems obvious to us in hindsight that Joseph's brothers' actions towards Joseph hurt Yaakov even more  than Joseph. We see that Yaakov suffered heavily from his perceived loss. Yet, curiously, there seems to be a dynamic that was lost on most of the commentaries which I've seen so far. In this scenario, the brother's attack on Joseph was aimed directly at Ya'akov. How so?

Joseph diligently traveled in order to find his brothers, even though they hated him. Why did he risk his own safety? Seemingly, he felt that Yaakov's instructions compelled him.

This takes on several aspects. Joseph was fulfilling Kibbud Av and was probably relying on the principle, "sh'luchei Mitzvah einan nizaqin". Yaakov and Joseph expected Joseph to survive meeting up with his brothers unscathed since he was acting as Yaakov's agent. Later, however, Yaakov thought that Joseph was killed.

Let's illustrate some plausible, contrasting scenarios

Let's say that Joseph had actually ventured to visit his brothers on his own accord. Add Joseph's tattling nature onto that. It was probable that he would have come running to his Father to tell on his brothers. The brothers might have felt provoked into manhandling Joseph if they saw him as a threat.
Then, what if Joseph's brothers  had "asked first and shot later"?
What if one brother had asked, "Joseph what are YOU doing here?"
Joseph would have answered, "Dad, sent me, otherwise I would be minding my own business."
It's possible that in this case, out of respect for Yaakov, Joseph's brothers might not have troubled him.

In the parsha, Joseph is an agent of Yaakov. His brothers ignore this. So, now we see that ten of Yaakov's sons have:
  • Acted against Joseph and their own father's appointed agent!
  • Since they neglected to discern how Joseph came to find them, they probably took it the wrong way.
So what's the difference?

Let's see. Later on, Yaakov grows mistrustful - even paranoid? - about sending Benjamin. Where is his bitachon? Joseph was thought dead through serving his sh'lichut, Yaakov had, unfortunately, "learned" to lose his trust!

Since Joseph did  thrive, he was not really "Nizzaq"! (Well, he did suffer as a slave but we digress...). Yaakov might have felt differently had he known that Joseph was just missing, and not seriously harmed. He might have had faith that Joseph was really OK, and that he, Yaakov, was merely punished through losing Joseph's company. He might have understood this as simple "middah k'neged middah" for having left his own father, Yitzhak!

He might have suffered but not to the point of "Vaymo'ein l'hitnachem". He might have been sad, but not depressed.

Tangentially we see these dynamics in two of his sons' reactions.
Reuben just wishes to reunite Joseph and Yaakov. He is concerned about his father, not his brother.
Judah, who seemed to have some mercy for Joseph as his brother, doesn't seem to care about Yaakov's feelings.
Reuben's and Judah's responses deal separately with the two dynamics.



Parsha: Vaychi, Vayeishev, "When did Yosef become the B'chor?"

When did Yaakov choose Yosef to be the Bechor?
Is it in Vaychi 48:5 when Yaakov said "KiR'uven v'Shimon yihyeh lee"?

Vaychi 48:22 "shchem echad al achecha"?
Note: Both implying pee sh'nayim...
Vayeishev - when Yaakov gave Yosef the K'tonet Passim; which implied that Yosef now held the mantle of "B'chor"?

BE"H we will cover Vaychi next and reflect back to Vayeishev and Vayishlach later.
Note: Stay tuned for "surprise twist ending"
Hypothesis. :-)



Parsha, Vayeishev, "Hotziuha v'Tisareif; a Burning Question"

In 38:24 Yehudah apparently pronounces a death sentence on Tamar, "take her out and have her burned."

Recently, I had heard about a slight variation of this. Tisareif could mean "branded." This means that Yehudah didn't sentence Tamar to be executed, but branded as a Zonah. 

With the help of some colleagues, I found this idea's source!

The Torah Temimah 38:24:25 quotes the "Ba'al Turim" who quotes R' Yehudah Hechossid: "roshem paneha" be branded. Tamar should not be incinerated, but branded as a "Zonah"

The TT also notes that this firebranding still happened in the Rosh's era and that the Rashba objected to this for Jews. He also explains the diyyuq that led RY Hechossid to revise s'reifaah to mean branding and not executing.


Parsha: Vayeishev, "Who Really Sold Yosef?"

Shloymie: Wait a minute, Rabbi! Didn't Yosef's brothers sell him? Doesn't Rashi says that "vayimsh'chu" means Yosef's brothers?
RRW: Indeed, Rashi does. But read Vayeishev 37:28 thru 36Where does it specifically show us how Yosef's brothers sold him? We also we notice that Reuven [38:29] was clueless about the sale. This seems a bit strange.
Shloymie: Ok, that might be a bit weird, but doesn't Yosef specifically say that his brother sold him in Parshat Vayigash 45:4 ?
RRW: True, but what about Binyamin?
Shloymie:  Just look at the 10 Harugei Malchut! It's obvious that Yosef's brothers sold him!
RRW: Shloymie, you must be agreeing with your namesake Rashi. However, I'm not quite "Rashidox" about this! :-) The simple p'shat is that the Midyanim intercepted Yosef while Reuven was on his way and sold Yosef to the Yishma'eilim.
Shloymie: What about Vayigash and the 10 Harugei Malchut?!
RRW: What about the simple Read, and the Rashbam who gently suggests that this is the P'shat? :-)
Shloymie: ???
RRW: OK, I see WHY Rashi pinned this on the brothers, though Rashi probably based this interpretation on Vayigash, not Vayeishev.
Shloymie: What's wrong with that?
RRW: Nothing, but I can read it simply here and still answer your point on Vayigash.
In Vayigash, Yosef accused his brothers of selling him, because:
a) They had said that they'd tried to do it.
b) That deed was l'maaseh done, even though through  Midyanim.

Do we really know who sold Yosef?

 Yosef had a right to accuse his brothers of selling him since they'd started the chain of events.  This seems to mean that even when they occur through others' actions, aisi HKBH are "mitztareif machshavah ra'ah l'maaseh".

Alternatively, maybe Yosef just thought that his brothers asked the Midyanim to do it, didn't realize that Reuven was clueless and assumed that they just beat the brothers to the "punch."

Maybe we shouldn't take  vaymish'chu to mean that the brothers actually SOLD Yosef - only that they caused the sale to happen.  I'm not saying that Rashi is wrong, just that we have a viable "davar acheir".  I prefer this explanation..

Shloymie: Cool



Parsha: Vayeishev, "Was Joseph Being Punished?"

We are told that the Sar Hamashqim forgets Joseph in the last Passuq  of Parshat Vayeishev, (40:23) "v'lo zochar Sar Hamashkim et Yoseif." Rashi comments, "Huzqaq l'ihyot assur sh'tei shanim"

Most understand this as just a "2-minute penalty" for lacking Bitachon in Hashem. Joseph wound up in the penalty box for two years! Is this a punishment? Does this teach us to rely only upon Hashem and not use our own resources?

Remember that old joke? The one about the fellow in the flood to whom Hashem sent a car, a a rowboat and finally a helicopter and he refused each ride and drowned while waiting for Hashem to rescue him?

It seems harsh to blame Joseph for being resourceful in own rescue! Why punish him for lacking Bitachon?

 Let's take a look at an Abarbanel in the Haggadah.  Abarbanel writes that, "had HKBH NOT rescued us then "M'shubadim Hayyini l'Faroh." In other words, had Pharaoh freed us instead of Hashem, we would have been indebted - not enslaved - to Pharaoh. Think back, American slaves felt indebted to Lincoln, not to G-d.

Similarly, what if the Sar Hamashqim had freed Joseph? Joseph might have felt indebted to him. Instead, huzqaq, so the sar hamashqim would forget Joseph. Hashem wanted Yosef indebted to Himself alone.

Joseph might have learned the wrong lesson had he successfully used the Sar Hamashqim to rescue him.  We also might learn the wrong lesson if we see Joseph "blamed" and not "taught".


Choosing to be Chosen - Rabbi Steven Saks

 Haftarah of Vayeishev is Amos 2:6-3:8

Originally published 4/19/10, 1:00 pm.
Choosing to be Chosen
By Rabbi Steven Saks

Jews have often been criticized for referring to themselves as “the chosen people.” After all, the referring to oneself as chosen does sound pompous and elitist.
The idea of choice is central to the holiday of Shavuot. God chose to reveal himself at Mount Sinai to the Israelites and the Israelites chose to accept the Torah. The Israelites when offered the Torah accepted with enthusiasm responding naaseh v’nishmah literally meaning we will do and we will listen. In other words the Israelites were so eager to accept the Torah they pledged to fulfill its precepts before they had the opportunity to hear them. It’s like signing a contract first then reading it. Regardless, the Israelites accepted upon themselves God’s mitzvoth commandments as spelled out in the Torah.
Through the performance of the mitzvoth the Israelites were to become a Goy Kodosh a holy nation. In other words simply being an Israelite does not make one a holy person. Rather the Israelite becomes holy by acting in a holy manner, by performing the mitzvoth. The idea that the Israelite is holy simply because he is a member of the chosen people is firmly rejected by the prophet Amos.
Bible Scholar Bernard Anderson points out that the prophet Amos repudiated the idea that the God of Israel was a national God that Israel could mobilize in the service of the nation’s own interest. According to Amos, being chosen by God did not entitle Israel to special privilege and protection rather it meant that Israel had accepted upon herself the responsibility to serve God. According to Amos, God is a universal God who is active in the histories of all nations as demonstrated by Amos 9:7.
Are you not like the Kushites to me, O people of Israel? Says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel out of the land of Egypt? And the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?

The other nations have not realized this because they have not shared the intimate relationship with God that Israel has been allowed to.
Rabbi Hertz in his commentary on the Bible explains that two teachings are enunciated through Amos 9:7. The first is that God has guided all other nations as well as Israel. All races are equally dear to him, and the hand of providence is evident not only in the migration of Israel but in every historical movement. The second teaching is that God’s special relationship with Israel rests on moral foundations. A degenerate Israel is of no more worth to God than other immoral nations.
Amos is believed to have prophesized between the years 765-750 B.C.E during the reign of Jeroboam the Second, a time of great affluence for the northern Kingdom of Israel. The prophet condemns the people for engaging in hallow religious ritual while failing to care for the poor.
So we see that choosing to be “the chosen” means accepting additional responsibility. In part, potential converts are discouraged from converting to Judaism because of this added responsibility. Yet, one can chose to become a member of “the chosen people” if he or she desires.
The Rabbis teach that the Torah was given in the dessert, in a barren area, because it is hefgar unclaimed property. In other words anyone can accept the yoke of the Torah upon him or her self. The Book of Ruth which is read on Shavuot tells the story of Ruth, the Moabite who is considered the quintessential convert to Judaism. Many female converts choose Ruth as their Hebrew name. Ruth did not have yichus an impressive lineage. The Moabites were enemies of Israel and descended from the incestuous relationship between Lot and his eldest daughter as detailed in Genesis 19.
Yet, Ruth chooses to follow her mother in law Naomi back to Israel and becomes an Israelite. Ruth is not shunned for becoming an Israelite; rather Jewish history views her as an exalted figure. Ruth is the great grandmother of King David from whom the Messiah will emerge. So we see that the Messiah will be a descendant from a woman who was born a non-Jew.
Anyone who believes that he/she is superior to others because of his/her Jewish birth misses the message of the Book of Ruth. Being chosen does not confer any sort of genetic superiority rather, being chosen means that we choose to develop our relationship with God.
As we celebrate the giving of the Torah lets us choose to strengthen our relationship with God by climbing the ladder of mitzvoth. No matter what we consider ourselves, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or other, we can climb the ladder of mitzvoth by increasing our ritual observance (such as attending services more often). Just as importantly we can climb the ladder of mitzvoth by increasing our observance of laws which govern our relationships with fellow human beings (such as giving charity and conducting business honestly).
By climbing the ladder of mitzvoth we are ascending the heights of Mount Sinai and in the process become better individuals. May we all reach new heights this Shavuot.

* * * * *
Note: Rabbi Saks is one of my students - Rabbi Rich Wolpoe