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ויהי בעת ההיא וירד יהודה מאת אחיו

It was at that time that Yehudah went down from his brothers. (38:1)

Chazal (Midrash Rabbah 85:1) make a fascinating observation, one over which we, as Jews living b’ikvessa d’Moshicha, during the epoch of Moshiach, should carefully ruminate again and again. The Torah relates that Yehudah went down from his brothers and turned away toward an Adulmite man whose name was Chirah – a seemingly benign statement. Chazal explain that Hashem was quite “occupied” during this seemingly innocuous period. The Midrash opens with a pasuk from Yirmiyahu (29:11) which implies (as per Chazal’s interpretation) that Hashem knows what is going on in everyone’s mind. He knows that while others are each individually engaged…

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וישב ראובן אל הבור

Reuven returned to the pit. (37:29)

Chazal (Midrash Rabbah 24:19) ask: “Where was Reuven that he had to return?” One opinion in the Midrash contends that he was occupied with his sackcloth and his fasting as part of his penance in repenting for the deed concerning Bilhah (when he rearranged his father’s bed). Chazal record Hashem’s response to Reuven’s teshuvah, repentance: Hashem said, “No man has heretofore sinned before Me and repented. You are the first to take the initiative with regard to repentance. By your life, your descendant (Hoshea HaNavi) will one day rise and take the initiative with regard to repentance. (As it says:…

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ויראו אחיו כי אותו אהב אביהם מכל אחיו וישנאו אותו ולא יכלו דברו לשלם

His brothers saw that it was he whom their father loved most of all his brothers, so they hated him; and they could not speak to him peaceably. (37:4)

When two people do not get along, their inability to maintain an honest discourse which has nothing to do with their disagreement is an indication of their antipathy towards one another. The brothers, regrettably, could not carry on a friendly conversation even about matters unrelated to their discord. On the other hand, as Rashi observes, their incapacity to have a conversation showed their virtue: Their integrity did not allow them to evince a show of friendliness. If they did not feel it – they did not show it. Unfortunately, their refrain from speaking also caused them to avoid rebuking Yosef…

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וישראל אהב את יוסף מכל בניו... ויראו אחיו כי אתו אהב אביהם מכל אחיו וישנאו אתו... ויקנאו בו אחיו ויתנכלו אתו להמיתו

And Yisrael loved Yosef more than all his sons… His brothers saw that it was he whom their father loved most of all his brothers, so they hated him… So his brothers were jealous of him… They conspired against him to kill him. (37:1,3,4,11,18)

Writing about the lives of our Avos and Imahos, Patriarchs and Matriarchs, is extremely difficult and must be done with great trepidation. To present them on a mortal level equal to us not only denigrates them, but it is ludicrous. In the pesichah, preface, to Leket Sichos Mussar (the shmuessen, ethical discourses, of Horav Yitzchak Aizik Sher, zl, Rosh Yeshivas Slabodka, and son-in-law of the Alter, zl, of Slabodka), the Rosh Yeshivah observes that our approach toward studying Torah narrative dates back to when we were young children in cheder, elementary school. The terminology and nuances that served us then…

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ותאמר הכר נא למי החתמת והפתילים והמטה האלה ... ויכר יהודה ויאמר צדקה ממני

And she said, “Identify, if you please, whose are this seal, this wrap and this staff.” Yehuda recognized and he said, “She is right. It is from me.” (38:25,26)

Yehudah and Tamar were progenitors of Malchus Bais David, the Davidic dynasty, and Moshiach Tziddkeinu, who descends from it.  When one peruses the story of Yehudah’s encounter with Tamar: how Tamar was prepared to die rather than shame Yehudah; and Yehudah’s ultimate public confession despite the humiliation that would ensue, we see that the entire incident revolves around the middah, character trait, of bushah, shame. Tamar refused to shame Yehudah, because she understood that if word would get out that someone of his spiritual distinction was involved in a less-than-licit affair, it would humiliate not only him, but also what…

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והבור ריק אין בו מים

The pit was empty; no water was in it. (37:24)

Rashi comments: There was no water in the pit, but there were serpents and scorpions in it.  Horav Elyakim Schlessinger, Shlita explains the halachic ramifications that vary between a pit filled with water and one filled with poisonous serpents and scorpions. It was Reuven who suggested that rather than take action outright against Yosef, they should put him into a pit.  Had there been water in the pit, it would not be a direct act of murder. Throwing Yosef into a pit filled with poisonous creatures, however, is no different than tying a person up and placing him in front…

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וישראל אהב את יוסף מכל בניו כי בן זקנים הוא לו ... וישנאו אתו ... ויקנאו בו אחיו

Now Yisrael loved Yosef more than all of his sons since he was a child of his old age… so they hated him … so his brothers were jealous of him. (37:3,4,11)

The controversy that ensued between Yosef and his brothers was much deeper than sibling rivalry. Certainly, it was understandable that their father favored the son born to Rachel Imeinu after years of barrenness. Yosef was an exceptional young man who studied Torah with his father and had much in common with him. Under normal circumstances, they would have overlooked their father’s love for Yosef, but they felt that Yosef was a rodef, pursuer, who was bent on destroying them and assuming their spiritual position. They simply could not ignore this. Nonetheless, we wonder how the brothers questioned the daas Torah,…

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וישב יעקב בארץ מגורי אביו

Yaakov settled in the land of his father’s sojourning. (37:1)

Chazal infer from the variation in the text describing Yaakov’s taking up residence, vayeishev, he settled, from that of his father, migurei, sojourning, which implies wandering that Yaakov sought to settle, finally to relax in one place with a roof over his head and not worry about what tomorrow would bring. No one questions that Yaakov Avinu had his fill of struggles and troubles.  Would it be so terrible for him to have a little tranquility? Chazal, quoted by Rashi, say: Yaakov bikeish leisheiv b’shalvah, the Patriarch wanted to settle down in tranquility. As a result, Hashem sent the Yosef…

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ויהי בעת ההיא וירד יהודה מאת אחיו

It was at that time that Yehudah went down from his brothers. (38:1)

Rashi explains that the juxtaposition of Yehuda’s brothers deposing him and the loss of his wife and two sons upon the story of Yosef (in fact, it is placed right in the middle of the Yosef incident) teaches us that one who commences a mitzvah (Yehudah undertook to save Yosef, but did not complete his mission), but does not complete it, will bury his wife and children. It seems like a harsh punishment. After all, at least he started the mitzvah, while others did not even bother to get involved. Yet, he is punished; they are not. What is even…

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וימכרו את יוסף לישמעלים בעשרים כסף ויבאו את יוסף מצרימה

They sold Yosef to the Yishmaelim for twenty silver pieces and they bought Yosef to Egypt. (37:28)

The Midrash (cited by Sefer Ha’Yashar) teaches that when the Arab caravan taking Yosef to Egypt passed by Rachel Imeinu’s grave, Yosef ran out to it and prayed. He fell on the tombstone and pleaded, “Mama, Mama! Look at the suffering your son is experiencing. Please, stand before Hashem and plead with Him that He allow me to return to my father (Yaakov Avinu). Do not refrain from helping me!” A young man, orphaned from his mother, was wrongfully sold into slavery. To be relegated to living in a country in which debauchery and hedonism are a way of life…

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