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Vayeishev Q & A

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"וישב יעקב בארץ מגורי אביו בארץ כנען"
“And Yaakov dwelt in the land of his father’s sojournings in the land of Canaan.” (37:1)

QUESTION: “Yaakov desired to dwell in peace, but there sprang upon him the troubles of Yosef” (Rashi). Why did Yaakov now think that he merited to dwell in peace?

ANSWER: When Hashem made the covenant with Avraham, He told him, “Your children will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will be in servitude for 400 years” (15:13). If the exile of Egypt is calculated from the birth of Yitzchak, the total is 400 years. However, if we calculate from the time of the covenant, the exile was to be 430 years (see Shemot 12:40).

Yaakov thought that Hashem’s words to Avraham, “your children,” referred to Yitzchak and Yishmael. In addition, he and Eisav, too, would share the exile. Consequently, he and his father Yitzchak would each suffer approximately 108 years (a total of 215 years) and Yishmael and Eisav, too, would suffer for 215 years, with a sum total of 430 years.

Yaakov married Rachel at the age of 84 and, when he was 91, Yosef was born. Since Yosef was 17 years old at this time, Yaakov was now 108 years old. Therefore, Yaakov thought that he had completely paid his share of the debt of exile and now desired to dwell in peace.

(בית יעקב ר' יעקב הכהן ז"ל טראב – מסלתון ראב"ד ביירות - זרע ברך)


"ויחלם עוד חלום אחר ויספר אתו לאחיו"
“And he dreamt another dream [about the sun, moon and stars bowing to him] and he told it to his brothers.” (37:9)

QUESTION: Yosef’s brothers hated him after he told them the first dream. Why did he continue to antagonize them by relating his other dream?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Berachot 55b) states that we dream at night what we think about during the day.

In relating the first dream, Yosef told his brothers about the material success and wealth he anticipated. Though they all worked together in the field, he would become richer, and they would bow to him. When the brothers heard this, they hated him because they figured that the dream depicted what he thought about during the day.

Yosef was eager to prove to his brothers that the first dream was an act of Heaven and not related to his daytime thinking. Therefore, he told them of the second dream, which was about an impossibility (how could his mother who died bow to him?). He hoped they would believe that just as he did not think about this during the day, he also did not think about the contents of the first dream during the day.

The brothers realized that his dreams were valid and that they were a signal from Heaven. Therefore, upon hearing the second dream, they became jealous of him.

(אור החיים)


"ויספר אל אביו ואל אחיו ויגער בו אביו ויאמר לו מה החלום הזה אשר חלמת"
“He related the dream to his father and brothers; His father scolded him saying, ‘What is this dream that you dreamt!?’” (37:10)

QUESTION: It would have been sufficient to say, “What is this dream!?” What is the reason for the apparently superfluous words asher chalamta” — “that you dreamt”?

ANSWER: A story is told of a man who came to shul one morning and told his friend that he had dreamt that he was becoming the Rebbe of a group of chassidim. His friend said to him, “You fool! If the chassidim would have dreamt that you were becoming their Rebbe, the dream would have some meaning. But if it was you who dreamt and not they, of what significance is it?”

Yaakov knew very well that Yosef’s dreams had profound meaning, and he was also keenly aware of his brothers’ jealousy and hatred towards him. In an attempt to reduce their animosity, he said to Yosef, “Of what meaning could this dream be, asher chalamta — if you were the one who dreamt? Had your brothers or I dreamt that you would rule over us, then we would be worried and concerned. However, if you dreamt of ruling over us and we did not dream this, then obviously your dream was an expression of your own foolish thoughts and of no significance!”

(תפוחי חיים)


"וימצאהו איש והנה תעה בשדה וישאלהו האיש לאמר מה תבקש"
“And a man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying: What do you seek?” (37:15)

QUESTION: Rashi comments: “This is Gavriel.”

In the previous parshah, when Yaakov remained alone, “a man” — “ish” — wrestled with him. Rashi comments that this was Samael, the angel of Eisav (32:25). What influenced Rashi here to interpret the word “ish” in such a different way in regard to Yosef?

ANSWER: By carefully analyzing the two incidents, one can easily draw a conclusion as to who the “ish” was. In both episodes, a righteous person, either Yaakov or Yosef, remained lonely and desolate. When one is in such a situation, and a person comes to offer aid, undoubtedly he is a good angel — the angel Gavriel. However, when he attacks and exploits a person in such circumstances, he is definitely not a good angel, but rather a representative of Eisav.

(מיוסד על עיטורי תורה)


"וישמע ראובן ויצלהו מידם"
Reuven heard and he saved him from their hands.” (37:21)

QUESTION: What did Reuven hear that made him decide to save Yosef from the hands of his brothers?

ANSWER: The preceding pasuk relates that the brothers said, “Let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits, and we will say an evil beast ate him up, and ונראה מה יהיו חלמתיו — We will see what will become of his dreams.” Rashi says, that Rabbi Yitzchak interpreted these words not as a saying of the brothers, but that Ruach Hakodesh — the Holy Spirit — is saying this. Hashem was saying “You are planning to kill him; we shall see what will be with his dreams. Will your plan be realized and he will be dead, or will My words be fulfilled and his dreams will come true?”

The brothers did not hear this Holy Spirit, but Reuven did. Thus, he immediately decided that he was obligated to save Yosef and bring him back to Yaakov.

(פנינים יקרים)


"ויאמר יהודה...מה בצע כי נהרג את אחינו"
Yehudah said... ‘what will we gain if we slay our brother?’” (37:26)

QUESTION: What was Yehudah alluding to with the word "בצע" — “gain”?

ANSWER: The word "בצע" (betza) is an acronym for בקר (morning), צהרים (afternoon), and ערבית (evening). These are the three times a day when a Jew is required to pray to Hashem.

Yehudah told his brothers, “If we kill our brother, Yosef, our hands will be covered with blood and no longer will we be able to pray to Hashem.”

* * *

The letters of the word "בצע" are also the second letters of the names of our Patriarchs אברהם, יצחק, יעקב. Yehudah told his brothers, “If we commit the crime of killing our brother, we will be detaching ourselves from the ways of our ancestors Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov and lose the merits they afford their descendants.”

(מנחם יצחק - תורת שלמה)


"ויאמר יהודה אל אחיו מה בצע כי נהרג את אחינו"
“And Yehudah said to his brothers: ‘What [money — Targum Onkelos] will we gain if we slay our brother?’” (37:26)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Sanhedrin 6b) draws a parallel between the word "בצע" (betza) in this pasuk, and the word "בצע" (botzei’a) in the pasuk: “Ubotzei’a beireich ni’eitz Hashem” — “The brazen robber says a blessing; he has mocked G‑d” (Psalms 10:3) and thus concludes that he who blesses Yehudah is committing blasphemy. Why should Yehudah not be praised for sparing the life of Yosef?

ANSWER: Of course, were it not for Yehudah’s intervention, the brothers could have, G‑d forbid, killed Yosef. For this noble act, he deserves credit. However, our Sages do not approve the rationale he used to convince his brothers. Saying “What money will we gain if we slay our brother?” is tantamount to the popular adage “Crime does not pay.” The Torah does not accept this philosophy, and considers it erroneous. Crimes should never be committed, even if there are financial benefits.

Thus, the Torah is pleased with Yehudah’s actions, but displeased with those who praise his reasoning.


"לכו ונמכרנו לישמעאלים וידנו אל תהי בו"
“Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let not our hand be upon him.” (37:27)

QUESTION: The words “veyadeinu al tehi bo” — “but let not our hand be upon him” — seem superfluous?

ANSWER: The seventh of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not steal,” which refers to kidnapping. According to halachah, one who kidnaps is not put to death unless he makes the person he kidnapped work for him, and then sells him (Rambam, Geneivah 9:2).

In order to prevent the punishment of death, the brothers plotted to sell him to the Ishmaelites, and said “let not our hand be upon him — we should not make him to do any work for us and thus avoid being liable for the death penalty.”

(ישמח משה)


"לכו ונמכרנו לישמעאלים וידנו אל תהי בו כי אחינו בשרנו הוא"
“Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let not our hand be upon him; for our brother, he is our flesh.” (37:27)

QUESTION: What is meant by the words, “he is our flesh”?

ANSWER: According to Gemara (Niddah 31a), there are three partners in the formation of man: Through Hashem, he receives a soul; through the father, the bones, nails, and brain; and through the mother, the skin and flesh.

When Leah was pregnant for the seventh time, after having already given birth to six sons, she “passed judgment on herself: ‘If this one will be a male, then my sister Rachel will not even be like one of the maidservants’ [who had each given birth to two sons]” (Rashi 30:21). Miraculously, the male she carried was transferred to Rachel, and she gave birth to the female Rachel was carrying (Niddah 31b, Maharsha).

Since Yosef was originally carried by Leah, a common denominator shared by the majority of the brothers was that they were his brothers from the same mother. Thus, they all received their flesh from the same source.

(משך חכמה)


"לכו ונמכרנו לישמעאלים....ויעברו אנשים מדינים סוחרים....וימכרו את יוסף לישמעאלים....והמדנים מכרו אותו אל מצרים לפוטיפר.... ויקנהו פוטיפר....מיד הישמעאלים"
“Let us sell him to the Ishmaelites....A group of Midianite businessmen passed; they pulled Yosef out of the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites....and the Midianites sold him to Egypt to Potifar....Potifar bought him from the Ishmaelites.” (37:27-28, 36, 39:1)

QUESTION: To whom was Yosef actually sold, and who sold him to Potifar?

ANSWER: The first strangers who approached the pit were the Ishmaelites. They usually dealt in kerosene and grease and had no knowledge in slave dealings. Afterwards a group of Midianite business brokers passed by. (When one wants to buy or sell something, he contacts a business broker who negotiates the purchase or the sale and shares in the profit.) The Midianites appraised Yosef and, upon their advice, the Ishmaelites bought him for twenty silver pieces. The title for Yosef was made out to the Ishmaelites, who were the real buyers.

The Midianites made an agreement with the Ishmaelites that they would undertake to sell him and share in the profits. Upon arrival in Egypt the Midianites arranged a sale to Potifar. In order to legalize the sale, it was necessary to make a title change. Thus, the Ishmaelites, who held the original title, transferred it to Potifar.

(אור החיים)


"וימכרו את יוסף לישמעאלים בעשרים כסף"
“They sold Yosef to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.” (37:28)

QUESTION: With the money they bought themselves shoes (Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel). Why shoes?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Berachot 35b) states that it is forbidden to derive any pleasure from this world without reciting a berachah. Therefore, when one buys a new garment, one recites a shehecheyanu.

After receiving the money, the brothers were in a dilemma because they would have to make a berachah before enjoying any new thing they would buy. However, making a berachah over an item attained through wrongdoing is tantamount to blaspheming Hashem (ובוצע ברך נאץ ה' Psalms 10:3).

Nevertheless, there is a halachah in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 223:6) that on new shoes one need not make a berachah of shehecheyanu. Therefore, to circumvent the problem of a berachah, they had no other alternative but to buy shoes with the money.

(ילקוט האורים בשם אסיפת הכהן)


"וישב אל אחיו ויאמר הילד איננו ואני אנה אני בא.. ויקחו את כתנת יוסף וישחטו שעיר עזים ויטבלו את הכתנת בדם"
“And he returned to his brothers and said, ‘The child is not here and where shall I go?’ And they took Yosef’s shirt and slaughtered a goatling and dipped the shirt in the blood.” (37:30-31)

QUESTION: Why did they wait for Reuven’s return before dipping Yosef’s shirt in blood, instead of doing it immediately when they took off his shirt?

ANSWER: Every day one of the brothers would be home to assist Yaakov with his needs. On the day Yosef met his brothers in the field, it was Reuven’s turn to be with Yaakov (Rashi, 28:37). As soon as the brothers saw Yosef, they conspired to slay him. Being the oldest, Reuven realized his responsibility to save him. Thus, he instructed his brothers to throw him into the pit and not to place a hand upon him.

When Reuven came home, his father probably asked him if he had met Yosef and how he was. Reuven told him that they had met and that all was well with him.

Originally, the brothers did not want to lie to their father by telling him that Yosef had been killed by a beast. Should Yaakov have asked them about Yosef, they would have merely said, “We are not our brother’s keeper; we did not see him and we have no knowledge of his whereabouts; possibly he was devoured by a beast.”

However, when Reuven returned and saw Yosef missing from the pit, he exclaimed, “If the lad is not here, how will I be able to face my father? I have already told him that I have seen him and that all was well with him. Father will definitely suspect that we killed him and hold me responsible!”

To help Reuven out of his dilemma, the brothers then fabricated an alibi that after they had seen Yosef, he had vanished, and that apparently he had been killed by a wild beast. They said further, “The shirt we found substantiates this.”

(בית יעקב - שתי ידות)


"הכר נא הכתנת בנך היא אם לא ויכירה ויאמר כתנת בני חיה רעה אכלתהו טרף טרף יוסף"
“‘Recognize please if this is your son’s shirt.’ He recognized it and said, ‘It is the shirt of my son; a savage beast devoured him! Yosef has surely been torn to bits!’” (37:32-33)

QUESTION: How did Yaakov know an animal killed Yosef and not a person?

ANSWER: Pharaoh wanted to destroy the Jewish people, so he ordered the midwives to kill all the newborn male children. When he reprimanded them for not following his orders, they replied that the Jewish women are unique, ".כי חיות הנה" The Gemara (Sotah 11b) explains their answer to mean that the Jewish people are likened to “chayot” — animals — Yosef to an ox, Yehudah to a lion, Yissachar to donkey, etc., and, in general, the Jewish people as a whole are referred to as a lioness. Just as an animal does not need help in giving birth, so the Jewish mothers.

When the brothers asked Yaakov, “Is this your son’s shirt?” it puzzled him very much that they did not refer to him by his name, “Yosef.” This brought him to the conclusion that the brothers really hated Yosef, to the extent that they would not even mention his name.

Not wanting to accuse them openly, he said “a wild animal,” alluding that his children, who are likened to different animals, must have killed him. He supported his theory by the fact that "טרף טרף יוסף" — “they tore up Yosef’s [name]” — and did not mention Yosef’s name when talking about him.

(כלי יקר - מעינה של תורה)


"וימאן"
“He flatly refused [the request of Potifar’s wife].” (39:8)

QUESTION: Why is the cantillation (trop) on the word "וימאן" a shalshelet?

ANSWER: When Yosef came home, Potifar’s wife tried to persuade him to violate the Torah. Before his eyes was the image of his father warning to him, “If you commit a sin your name will not be mentioned on the choshen — breastplate — worn by the Kohen Gadol (Sotah 36b).” So he flatly rejected her advances.

The cantillation of shalshelet indicates that the word should be sounded with a three-tiered tremolo tone. Accordingly, the word "וימאן" is an acronym for the three reasons Yosef turned down Potifar’s wife:

"וַיַרְא יוסף מראה אביו נגדו" — “Yosef saw his father’s image in front of him.”

"ויאמר יעקב מחשן אתה נמחק" — “Yaakov said, ‘Your name will be omitted from the breastplate.’

"וַיִרָא יוסף מִטַמֵא את נפשו" — “Yosef was afraid he might defile his soul.”

(שמעתי מהרב אלי' נחום ז"ל שקלאר)


"ואיך אעשה הרעה הגדלה הזאת וחטאתי לאלקים: ויהי כדברה אל יוסף יום יום ולא שמע אליה לשכב אצלה להיות עמה"
“‘How then can I perpetrate this great evil and sin against G‑d?’ And it came to pass, as she spoke to Yosef day by day, he would not listen to her to lie beside her, to be with her.” (39:9-10)

QUESTION: On the words ”lishkav etzlah” — “to lie with her” — Rashi comments “even without intercourse.” On the words ”liheyot imah” — “to be with her” Rashi comments: “In the world to come.”

1) What would she accomplish if he would just lie beside her?

2) How did Potifar’s wife expect to be with Yosef in Olam Haba if they would commit a sin?

3) Yosef told her: “How can I do this great evil?” He should have said: “I cannot do any evil!”

4) “Vechatati Leilokim” — “and I sinned against G‑d” — is in past tense. Should he not have said “Ve’echeta Leilokim” — “I will sin against G‑d” — in the future tense?

ANSWER: Potifar’s wife knew very well that Yosef was a great tzaddik, and had never in his life violated Torah law. Consequently, among all the mitzvot he performed, he was lacking the fulfillment of the mitzvah of teshuvah. Therefore, she encouraged Yosef to do one aveira (transgression) through her and immediately afterwards do teshuvah. Hence, he would be fully deserving Olam Haba, and she, too, would have Olam Haba as reward for her assistance. Yosef’s reply was twofold:

1) “Why do such a great evil as adultery for the purpose of fulfilling afterwards the mitzvah of teshuvah?”

2) “In reality, I already sinned at a much earlier stage in my life. The reason I am now in Egypt is because I spoke lashon harah — slander — about my brothers (Rashi 37:2). Thus, to commit an additional sin would be purposeless.”

(שו"ת תירוש ויצהר סי' מ"א)


"ויעזב בגדו בידה וינס ויצא החוצה"
“He left his garment with her and fled and went outside.” (39:12)

QUESTION: The word “vayeitzei” (ויצא) seems extra. Should it not have just said, "וינס החוצה" — “and he fled outside”?

ANSWER: As Yosef entered the house of Potifar, he had a vision of his father standing before him. This prevented him from doing anything contrary to the Torah, and he quickly ran out of the house. The pasuk alludes to this with the word ויצא"," which is the acronym of "וירא יוסף צורת אביו" — “Yosef saw the countenance of his father.”

(הפלאה שבערכין, על הערך דיוקן)

* * *

ANSWER: When Yosef was about to yield to his master’s wife and commit a sin, suddenly “nir’eh lo demut deyukno shel aviv” — “the image of his father’s visage appeared to him” — and he immediately fled and went outside (Bereishit 39:11, Rashi). Seeing the image of his father convinced him to run away and not, G‑d forbid, violate Torah law.

The word “desha” (דשא) is an acronym for “deyukno shel aviv” (דיוקנו של אביו) — “the image of his father.” David prayed that he should merit at all times to see the image of his “Father” in Heaven, and thus he would always be “al mei menuchot” — “besides still waters” — i.e. live a tranquil life free of temptation and sin.

(תפארת שמואל - מאלכסנדר, דברי שמואל - מסלונים על חנוכה)

* * *

Another interpretation of the words “nir’eh lo demut deyukno shel aviv” — is that “es iz im gefelen gevaren” — “he took a liking” — and came to the realization that a Jew’s appearance should resemble that of Yaakov. Contrary to his attempts to modernize himself (see Rashi 37:1) he now realized that the better way for a Jew is to emulate the lifestyle of Yaakov, which will protect from assimilating in a society which is alien to the Torah way of life.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי, ע"ד "רואה אני דברי אדמון", כתובות ק"ה ע"ב)


"חטאו משקה מלך מצרים והאפה לאדניהם למלך מצרים"
“The butler of the king of Egypt and the baker sinned against their lord the king of Egypt.” (40:1)

QUESTION: It seems strange that the baker and the butler should both sin against Pharaoh at the same time. Moreover, a fly in a cup of wine which is placed on the king’s hand is much more disgusting than a pebble in a slice of bread in the basket. Why, then, was the baker punished more harshly than the butler?

ANSWER: The butler and the baker both worked for Pharaoh and hated each other. Once, they got into a fight and each one thought of a vicious plan to get the other one into serious trouble with the king. When the butler was not watching, the baker put a fly into Pharaoh’s cup of wine. When the baker was off guard, the butler put a pebble into dough from which bread was to be baked for Pharaoh.

To drag the king into their personal quarrel and use him as a means to gain vengeance against each other was a very serious offense. Moreover, since the baker’s act would actually have had a worse effect on Pharaoh, he was the one put to death.

(שער בת רבים - ליל שימורים)


"גם פה לא עשיתי מאומה כי שמו אתי בבור"
“Here, also, I have done nothing for them to have put me in the pit.” (40:15)

QUESTION: The words "כי שמו אתי בבור" — “for them to have put me in the pit” — seem superfluous. Would it not be sufficient for him to say, “I have done nothing”?

ANSWER: It is quite common for an inmate to constantly claim that he is innocent. However, his words are unconvincing because most prisoners are actually guilty.

Yosef wanted to impress the butler that he was unique among the others in the dungeon and that he truly had committed no crime. He related his ordeal with his brothers and their desire to kill him. They threw him into a pit (בור) filled with snakes and scorpions. Normally anyone would have been bitten to death, but the all-merciful G‑d in heaven intervened and miraculously saved him. (See Rashi 37:24) Eventually, he was taken from the pit and brought to Egypt.

Thus, he told the butler, “The episode of the pit, which occurred some time ago, should prove now that I am a totally innocent person and not one to violate any laws of Torah or society.”

(ר' אהרן האלבערשטאם זצ"ל מצאנז)


"וישב את שר המשקים על משקהו...ואת שר האפים תלה כאשר פתר להם יוסף"
“The butler was returned to his position, and the baker was hung in accordance with Yosef’s interpretation.” (40:22- 23)

QUESTION: What clue in their dreams led Yosef to this interpretation?

ANSWER: Yosef carefully studied their words. The butler said, “The cup of Pharaoh was in my hand; I took the grapes; I squeezed them; I placed the cup on Pharaoh’s palm” (40:11). Yosef saw that the butler dreamt about doing things. Since one can only do things if he is alive, Yosef saw in his dream a sign of life.

The baker told Yosef, “On my head were baskets full of baked goods and a bird was eating from the baskets.” The dream was lacking human activity. He did not say who baked the goods, who put the baskets on his head, nor did he do anything to chase the bird away. Moreover, a bird is usually afraid of a person and will not come near food which a person holds.

Yosef said to the baker, “You were carrying a basket of baked goods and a bird was eating from them. Obviously, the bird did not consider you to be alive. Consequently, your dream indicates that Pharaoh will soon put you to death.”

(עיטורי תורה)


"ולא זכר שר המשקים את יוסף וישכחהו"
“The butler did not remember Yosef, and he forgot him.” (40:23)

QUESTION: If he did not remember him, obviously he forgot him! Why the two expressions of forgetting: “velo zachar” and “vayishkacheihu”?

ANSWER: Yosef originally asked the butler to mention him to Pharaoh. The ungrateful butler, whose life was saved through Yosef’s interpretation, did not return the favor to Yosef.

In addition, the Torah tells us that Yosef immediately regretted asking the butler to do him a favor. He forgot about the butler entirely and put all his faith in Hashem. Thus, each one forgot about the other.

(בינה לעתים דרוש י"ח)

Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky has been a pulpit rabbi for over thirty years, and is author of more than ten highly acclaimed books on the Parshiot and holidays. His Parshah series, Vedibarta Bam, can be purchased here.
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Danielle Earley November 23, 2013

Story This interpretation was a little hard to follow. I still do not understand why the Baker was killed. Did the Pharoah see the stone as a purposeful assault, or did Joseph dream about the stone. It just shows my ignorance about the story. Sorry for the confusion. I am a young one. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn March 9, 2013

what's the source for question number one that the butler and the baker hated each other and got into a fight? Reply

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