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ותסר בגדי אלמנותה מעליה... ותשב בפתח עינים

So, she removed her widow’s garb from upon her… and she sat at a crossroads. (38:14)

The term pesach einayim literally translated, means “at an entrance of eyes.” Here, it is interpreted as parashas derachim, crossroads, because it is point where a traveler must open his eyes and decide which road he will take. The parashas derachim is called pesach einayim, because one cannot continue on the road unless his eyes are open, so that he can determine the best road to take. Horav Tzvi Hirsch Ferber, zl (Kerem HaTorah) relates that years earlier (he published his sefer in 1914), in such Jewish bastions of Torah and avodah, one road existed (which was used by the…

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ויקרע יעקב שמלתיו... ויתאבל על בנו ימים רבים

Then Yaakov rent his garments… he mourned for his son many days. (37:34)

Rashi explains the term yamim rabim, many days: twenty-two years, which lasted from Yosef’s sudden departure until Yaakov Avinu went down to Egypt. This specific time was by design (as is everything) to coincide with the twenty-two years that Yaakov Avinu did not fulfill the mitzvah of Kibbud av v’eim, honoring his father and mother. Yaakov Avinu experienced twenty-two years of agony and mourning over the painful loss of a son, as middah k’neged middah, measure for measure, for his lack of fulfilling the mitzvah to honor his parents. At first glance, Yaakov’s departure from home by his mother’s instruction…

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וישמע ראובן ויצלהו מידם

Reuven heard and he rescued him from their hand. (37:21)

Reuven suggested the brothers throw Yosef into a pit, rather than personally execute corporeal punishment against him. [The Shevatim, tribes/brothers, convened a bais din, judicial court, to determine if Yosef was, in fact, guilty of rendering false testimony against them, or a rodef, pursuer, who wanted to do them harm. In any event, they did not make their decision lightly.] It is difficult to understand how Reuven’s suggestion that the brothers instead fling Yosef into a pit swarming with dangerous creatures was an act of saving Yosef. Was he not selecting one form of death over another? The Ohr HaChaim…

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וילכו אחיו לרעות את צאן אביהם בשכם... ויאמר ישראל אל יוסף... לכה ואשלחך אליהם... ויבא שכמה

Now, his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock in Shechem… and Yisrael said to Yosef… “Come, I will send you to them,” and he arrived in Shechem. (37:12,13,14)

Despite the brothers negative association with Shechem, a region where they had killed the male inhabitants of an entire city, they put their trust in Hashem, who caused the pagan residents of the area to fear them. Perhaps they remonstrated to themselves that their actions were not a disgrace. They acted in a manner which they felt was appropriate. Rashi notes that Shechem was a makom muchan l’puraniyos, a place prepared for adversity: there, the tribes acted sinfully; there, the people of Shechem violated Dinah; there, the malchus Bais David, kingdom of David Hamelech, was divided. Rashi’s order of events…

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והנה אנחנו מאלמים אלמים בתוך השדה והנה קמה אלמתי וגם נצבה

Behold! We were binding sheaves in the middle of the field, when, behold! My sheaf arose and remained standing. (37:7)

The Torah’s narrative teaches us how Hashem’s ways (of dealing with the world and with us) must be accepted with love. A superficial, cursory perusal of the stories in the Torah will not do anyone justice; the reader is left clueless, and the profundity of the narrative remains concealed and ambiguous. The Midrash and Zohar, the Talmud and its many commentators, offer us powerful insights into the behind the scenes workings of the narrative, their hidden meaning, and the message for the reader. Concerning Yosef HaTzaddik, Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 84:10) teach, Kamah alumasi; my sheaf stood up – “My alumah,…

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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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