Parsha Pearls: Parshas Vayeishev

A Sin for the Sake of Heaven
Who Will Support My Children?

And they hated him, and could not speak to him peacefully. (37:4)

The Chasam Sofer writes that the words could be read differently: "lo yachlu" – they could not stand – "dabro leshalom" – that Yosef spoke to them peacefully. Yosef had been telling their father about aveiros they had done. "If we are really bad," said the brothers, "then why are you talking peacefully to us? You should hate us – it is a mitzvah to hate resha'im (Pesachim 113b). Your talking peacefully to us is an aveirah, according to your own line of thought. So we have a right to hate you for this aveirah."

And Yehuda said to his brothers, "What gain is there if we kill our brother and cover his blood? Let us sell him to the Ishmaelites…" (37:26)

The Torah makes it sound as though Yosef's brothers wanted to make money by selling him. The brothers were great tzaddikim, and however we explain their decision to get rid of Yosef, monetary gain was certainly not a factor! The Satmar Rav explained that Yehuda was speaking prophetically about the money the Jewish people would take with them upon leaving Egypt. The Egyptians were wicked and their land was a place of great spiritual defilement, so their money would surely have a negative effect on the Jewish people. Yehuda said, "What gain is there?" and the Targum translates, "What money will we benefit?" What benefit will we have from the Egyptians' money? Let us rather sell Yosef down to Egypt, and he will purify their money. During the years of famine, Yosef collected all the money in Egypt (47:14), and with his great kedusha was able to make it clean. Thus when the Jewish people left, they were able to take the money without any negative consequences. (Toros V'uvdos Mibeis Raboseinu, p. 75)

And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife lifted up her eyes to Yosef… (39:7)

Rashi says (39:1) that the Torah places the story of Tamar and the story of Potiphar's wife side by side in order to teach us that just as Tamar had good intentions, so too Potiphar's wife had good intentions: she saw through astrology that she would have children from Yosef, but she was not sure if it would be through herself or through her daughter. We must ask: the prohibition on adultery is among the Seven Mitzvos of the Bnei Noach, so how could one say that she had "good intentions"? Seeing the future through astrology does not give a person the right to transgress. And maybe the vision would be fulfilled through her daughter, involving no transgression! The Satmar Rav explained that in fact, Potiphar's wife was wicked and wanted to do the aveirah. But she knew that Yosef Hatzaddik would never agree, so she came to him with a justification of "lesheim shomayim." (The exact wording of the Midrash quoted by Rashi is, "Af zu lesheim shomayim" – this one also for the sake of Heaven. It does not say "this one also had intentions for the sake of Heaven" so it could mean merely that when speaking to Yosef, she claimed to be acting for lesheim shomayim.) Still, even these lofty reasons did not convince Yosef; he knew that a vision of the future does not give one the right to do an aveirah. (Divrei Yoel, v. 2 p. 235)

When the Zionists campaigned in the United Nations for permission to establish their state, the Agudath Israel lay leaders worked alongside them. The Brisker Rav, fearing the great bloodshed the state would bring about, tried to dissuade them from these diplomatic missions. "But," someone said to the Brisker Rav, "it says in the works of Kabbalah that before the coming of moshiach there will be a government in the hands of the eirev rav." "I don't believe that," said the Brisker Rav. The man persisted, "The words of the prophets, too, contain a hint that the Land will be partitioned and governed by a Jewish government before the coming of moshiach." The Brisker Rav replied, "The Gemora states explicitly that even when something is foretold by prophecy, it is forbidden to violate the law of the Torah. It says in Berachos 10a that Chizkiyahu foresaw that he would have wicked children, and because of this he refrained from having children. Why? If he saw prophetically that he would have children, it would happen no matter what, so why did he try to avoid it? The answer is, since - according to what Chizkiyahu held - it was forbidden to bring bad children into the world, he was obligated to make all efforts to avoid doing it, despite the knowledge that his efforts would fail and the children would be born anyway. So too here, it is forbidden to found a state, for it will cause bloodshed. Even if the prophets say it will happen anyway, it is forbidden for us to help."

The Brisker Rav gave another example to illustrate this point: "The Rambam writes that we can see the hand of Hashem even in the spreading of the major religions of the gentiles. These religions serve to prepare the world for the Days of Moshiach, by bringing belief in Hashem and the Torah – albeit in a corrupted form - to the whole world. Does that mean that we should go and help spread these religions?" (Teshuvos Vehanhagos v. 2, siman 140)

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Rabbi Yisroel Salanter said: Sometimes a person wants to do something he knows is against the Torah, because he says it will bring a great spiritual benefit – it will save Yiddishkeit. But consider the following parable: A king once sent his minister to meet with the king of another country. Before he left, the king warned him, "If the ministers of that country make a bet with you, do not accept it!" He warned him again, and a third time, "Whatever you do, do not make any bets with them!" So the minister went and completed his mission, and when he was about to leave, they said to him, "You are a hunchback, aren't you?" "That's not true," he said. "We'll bet you a million silver pieces," they said. He remembered the king's warning, but said to himself, "This is a bet I can't lose. Why shouldn't I accept and gain a million silver pieces for the king's treasury?" He accepted the bet; they took off his clothes and saw that he was not a hunchback. They paid him the million pieces, and he went home satisfied that he had done a good thing. When he told the story to the king, the king said, "When I warned you not to bet, I knew what I was talking about. The ministers of that country bet me 100 million silver pieces that they could make my minister take off his clothes. Now you have brought me a million, but I am losing 99 million!" Here too – said Reb Yisroel – if someone thinks that doing something the Torah prohibited will bring a great benefit, then we must tell him: That benefit that you see, the Torah also saw, and yet the Torah prohibited it. Obviously, the end result will not be benefit, but damage. (Kovetz Maamarim, p. 128)

And Yaakov dwelt in the land where his father lived, in the land of Canaan (37:1).

Rashi says, "Yaakov wanted to live in peace, but the misfortune of Yosef sprang upon him. The righteous want to live in peace. The Holy One, blessed is He, says: The righteous are not satisfied with what is prepared for them in the World to Come, and they want to live in peace in this world!"

Most people understand Rashi to mean that G-d does not want the righteous to live in peace in this world. G-d therefore brought on the misfortune of Yosef to make Yaakov's life less peaceful. We must ask: certainly if a righteous man wants to have wealth and an easy life in order to enjoy this world, we understand why G-d would want him to live more simply and focus on spiritual matters. But Yaakov Avinu surely wanted to live in peace in order to serve G-d better; why then was G-d opposed to this?

In fact, the Rambam (Laws of Teshuva 9:1) says that although the main reward for keeping the commandments of the Torah is in the World to Come, there is also reward in this world as the Torah promises (Vayikra 26:4 and Devarim 11:14). The purpose of the reward in this world is to enable the righteous to live on in peace and continue to be righteous. "The Torah promised us that if we keep it with joy and goodness of heart and we study its wisdom always, He would remove all obstacles to our keeping it, such as sickness, war, famine and the like, and He would bestow upon us all good things that strength us in keeping the Torah, such as plenty, peace, and much silver and gold, so that we should not have to spend all our days on obtaining these bodily needs, but rather be free to study the wisdom and perform the commandments, so that we may merit life in the World to Come."

The Satmar Rav explains Rashi to mean that G-d was saying with approval: "The righteous are not satisfied with what is prepared for them in the World to Come, and they want to live in peace in this world in order to serve Me better! I will give them that peace." But how did the misfortune of Yosef give Yaakov peace?

Yaakov had just come to settle with his family in the Land of Canaan, and he began to worry about the future. He was righteous and had money to live on, but would it always be that way? Maybe his children or grandchildren would be poor and would have to depend on the generosity of the Canaanites or the Egyptians. How could the Jewish people be built on the money of such wicked people? Yaakov wanted to ensure peace and self-sufficiency for his family and his nation.

G-d answered him by causing Yosef to be sold down to Egypt, where he eventually became the ruler and brought all the money in the land under his control: "And Yosef gathered all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan" (Bereishis 47:14). Now all the support that came to Yaakov's family was from a holy and pure source, and on this foundation the Jewish people was built.

A true tzaddik is not satisfied with his own attainment of the World to Come. He may have done many mitzvos and become an outstanding Torah scholar, but he is worried about his family and descendents: who will support them? Who will ensure that they also remain as righteous as I am? Who will ensure that they do not end up being supported by unclean and wicked sources, and thus become like their supporters? When G-d sees that the tzaddik has these concerns, He is pleased and He arranges the world so that the tzaddik's family lives in peace, on a strong and pure foundation. (Chiddushei Torah Mesibos, v. 1 p. 202)