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וימת יוסף וכל אחיו וכל הדור ההוא

Yosef died, and all his brothers and that entire generation. (1:6)

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The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 1:8) teaches that as long as any member of the original seventy souls that comprised Yaakov Avinu’s family that descended with him to Egypt was alive, the Egyptians did not enslave them. In other words, shibud Mitzrayim, the bondage to which the Jews were subjected, did not begin right away. Why was this? How did the group of seventy protect their descendants? Horav Aharon Cohen, zl (Rosh Yeshivas Chevron), explains that every member of that unique group enjoyed a close, personal relationship with the Patriarch. As a result, he had greatly influenced and inspired each of them. Thus, each and every one of them had the ability to be mashpia, influence, the coming generation based upon the spiritual ascendancy they had received from Yaakov. It was as if the Patriarch had lived on through them.

The Rosh Yeshivah applies this concept to explain a comment made by Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl: “The misnagdim (a religious movement seen as using yeshivos and scholarship as the focus of their Jewish learning) err, as do the chassidim.” (Chassidim focus their learning around a Rebbe who focuses on emotional displays of piety and halachic stringencies.) He explained: “The misnagdim feel that they do not require (the leadership of) a Rebbe, while the chassidim think that they have a Rebbe.” Obviously, this statement begs elucidation. Indeed, Rav Yisrael did not in any way intend to diminish their Rebbe. On the contrary, he was intimating that just by acting as chassidim of a Rebbe – in name alone – but not clinging to him and learning from him, so that his influence is inculcated into their lives, has little value. It is only when a talmid, student, grows spiritually and ethically as a result of his Rebbe’s influence that he can say that he has a Rebbe. Simple attendance at festivities does not make one a chassid/talmid.

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