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Parsha Pearls: Parshas Vayigash

The Holy Tongue or Modern Hebrew?
Don’t Straddle Both Sides of the Fence
Zionists Endanger the Jewish People

“And behold, your eyes and the eyes of my brother Binyamin see that it is my mouth speaking to you.” (45:12)

Rashi says that Yosef was speaking now in the Holy Tongue, and that was the proof that he was truly their brother Yosef. But the Ramban argues that Hebrew was spoken by all the peoples of the Land of Canaan, and surely many Egyptians spoke it, especially those in high government positions. What, then, was the proof that this ruler was really Yosef?

It may be that Rashi disagrees with the Ramban and holds that only Avraham Avinu and his family used the Holy Tongue. The Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer (chapter 24) says that when the people of Bavel build their tower, Hashem descended with 70 angels, put the 70 languages into the mouths of the nations, and appointed an angel over each language. Only Avraham, 48 years old at the time, was left with the original Holy Tongue that everyone had spoken until then.

Or, even if Rashi agrees that the Canaanites spoke Hebrew, it was not the same Hebrew that Yaakov and his family spoke. Rabbeinu Bachya (Bereishis 18:3) writes at length about the greatness and precision of the Holy Tongue and its nekudos (vowels). If someone changes even one sound, such as kometz to pasach, the entire meaning of the words changes, and sometimes it can be blasphemous or heretical. The Shelah (v. 1 p. 19) writes that Hebrew is called the Holy Tongue because all its letters and words have spiritual sources in the holy worlds above. The words are used to refer to physical objects in this world, but this is only in a borrowed sense; truthfully, each word is the name of a spiritual concept in the upper worlds.

Thus Yosef’s brothers were able to tell that he was speaking the true Holy Tongue, with precision, and in accordance with its Heavenly sources. This was a language only revealed to the Avos and their descendants, not the Canaanites or the Egyptians. (Divrei Yoel, p. 413)

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The Shomer Emunim (Rabbi Ahron Roth, 1894-1944) scrupulously avoided any words that came from the Zionist language, modern Hebrew. Once he was at an engagement meal and was honored with reading the tenayim (engagement contract). The tenayim said that the bride’s side promised to give “rehitim” (furniture). When the Shomer Emunim reached this word, he stopped reading and said, “This is a Zionist word! Although we find the word used in the Tanach (Shir Hashirim 1:17) and by Chazal (quoted by Rashi on Shir Hashirim), it has not been used for a long time, and so whoever uses it today is using it because of the influence of modern Hebrew!” (Furthermore, the original meaning of the word was beams or bolts, not furniture.) Then he tore up the document and told them to rewrite it. “But what word should we use for ‘furniture’?” they asked. He replied that they should use the Yiddish word “mebbel.” (Mishkenos Haro’im, p. 743)

Whenever the Shomer Emunim spoke about modern Hebrew, he would say, “I myself once stumbled and used a modern Hebrew word. A certain man who did not know Yiddish gave me an honor. I said to him, ‘Todah,’ using the Ashkenazic pronunciation. To this day I am still doing teshuva for that.” (ibid.)

Once the Brisker Rav was going over his household expenses with his daughter, and she had written, among the items bought, the word “mivreshes.” The Brisker Rav asked her what “mivreshes” meant. Just at that moment, his talmid Reb Mordechai Solomon came in. “Reb Mordechai, what is a ‘mivreshes’?” asked the Rav. “The original Yiddish word was ‘bersht’ (brush),” said Reb Mordechai, “but the Zionists changed it to ‘mivreshes.’” Then the Brisker Rav said to his daughter, “If so, erase ‘mivreshes’ and write ‘bersht.’” (Uvdos Vehanhagos Leveis Brisk, v. 2 p. 192)

His sons and his grandsons with him; his daughters and granddaughters and all his seed he brought with him to Egypt. (46:7)

The Ohr Hachaim says (here and at the beginning of Shemos) that the Torah lists the names of the Bnei Yisroel who came down to Egypt in order to praise them, for they accepted the yoke of exile willingly. This is in contrast to Esav, who ran away from it. The Torah says (36:6), “And Esav went to a land away from Yaakov his brother,” and Rashi says that he did not want the Promised Land nor the debt of exile that came with it, both foretold to Avraham. The Midrash (Shemos 1) says that the slavery began only after all the original 66 souls who descended to Egypt had died. This lightening of the exile during their lifetimes, says the Ohr Hachaim, was a reward to them for accepting the exile. However, the daughters and granddaughters did not go on their own; Yaakov had to bring them, as the second half of the verse says. Thus, Serach the daughter of Asher and Yocheved the daughter of Levi did live to see the slavery. Yocheved was an unborn baby and Serach may have been very young at the time they entered Egypt, so they cannot be blamed for their actions. Nevertheless, they lacked that extra merit of going willingly to fulfill the decree of the King.

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The Maharal in Gevuros Hashem, chapter 60, explains the mitzvos of the Pesach offering, matza and maror as symbolizing the fact that exile and redemption are two sides of the same coin and are peculiar to the Jewish people:

“The Pesach offering symbolizes the fact that we belong to the Holy One, blessed is He, and that only because of this can we escape the custody of nations such as Egypt, for Hashem is the G-d over all powers and all nations, and He takes us out from their domain. And just as our belonging to Hashem is the reason He redeems us, so also it is the reason why Israel experiences exile more than all other nations. For each nation has a special angel, and how can one angel be subjugated to the other? But Israel has no angel, but rather when they are living up to their full spiritual potential, they belong to Hashem; and when they are not living up to their full spiritual potential, Hashem leaves them and they enter the domain of other nations. Do not say that Israel is equal to the nations, to the point where they would be, G-d forbid, in the domain of an angel – and then no nation would be able to subjugate it, as is the case with two equals who received portions. No, Israel received no portion, but they are the portion of Hashem, the Creator of all. The concept of portion does not apply to Hashem. And Israel has nothing to do with portions, that they should receive a portion together with the nations. Therefore they are fit for redemption: to go out from the dominion of the nations, since they belong to Hashem… Therefore, why should a person be surprised at the length of the exile? Something so peculiar to us is not easily removed… And that is why the Pesach offering is eaten together with matza and maror – this thing is very, very clear – for both these aspects are due to their being in Hashem’s portion. Because of this high status, they experience both redemption from the dominion of the nations [symbolized by matza] and subjugation under the dominion of the nations [symbolized by maror].”

And Yehuda approached him, and said, “Please, my master, let your servant speak a word in the ears of my master, and be not angry with your servant, for your likes are like Pharaoh.” (44:18)

Rashi says that Yehuda spoke harshly to Yosef. But why was Yehuda so angry? Hadn’t he just said that all the brothers were willing to be slaves as punishment for stealing the silver cup? Yosef was the one who had been lenient when he said, “Far be it from me to do that! The man in whose sack the cup was found will be my slave, and you will go up in peace to your father.”

Furthermore, what is the meaning of the words “for your likes are like Pharaoh”? He should have simply said “for you are like Pharaoh”.

Furthermore, why did Yosef say “Far be it from me to do that!” Rashi on 44:10 tells us that the Egyptian law was indeed that if one member of a group was caught stealing, the entire group was sold into slavery. Certainly a ruler has the power to grant clemency and bend the rules, but the words “far be it from me” are not appropriate.

The Satmar Rav explains that Yosef was acting as a Jew, saying: “Far be it from me to follow Egyptian law and go against the Torah! I will take only Binyamin as a slave.” Therefore Yehuda spoke harshly and said, “If you are following the Torah, the Torah says that only a thief who has no money to pay back becomes a slave, but Binyamin has money to pay back.”

Although Hashem prevented Yehuda and his brothers from recognizing this ruler as their brother Yosef, they did see that he had some holiness in him and was following the Torah. On the other hand, when it came to Binyamin’s form of punishment he was acting like an Egyptian. He was straddling two sides of the fence.

Those who straddle two sides of the fence are more dangerous than those who are only on the wrong side of the fence, because they lead others astray. The first of the Ten Commandments is to believe in G-d, and the second is not to worship any other gods. One who keeps the first without keeping the second is a greater threat to the Jewish people. This is why Eliyahu told the Jews on Mt. Carmel (Melachim I 18:21), “Until when will you straddle both sides of the fence? If Hashem is G-d, follow Him, and if the Baal, follow him!” And that is why Yehoshua said to the people (Yehoshua 24:15), “And if it is bad in your eyes to serve Hashem, choose whomever you want to serve, the gods your fathers worshipped on the other side of the river, or the gods of the Emorites in whose land you live.” Eliyahu and Yehoshua were not encouraging idol worship, but were teaching the people that they had to make a clear choice: Hashem or idolatry. Serving both was not an option. (Akeidah, Vaeschanan 89)

The Kli Yakar on Devarim 25:13 says that the prohibition to have in one’s pocket “two stones, a large and a small” means that one may not have both an accurate and an inaccurate measure. If one has only inaccurate measures, everyone will know he is a cheater and no one will trust him. But the more dangerous cheater is the one who sometimes uses an accurate measure in order to appear honest.

Yehuda and his brothers knew that G-d had decreed that they must live in exile under the Egyptians, and they were willing to accept the decree. They could live under a Pharaoh who followed all Egyptian practices and posed no spiritual danger to them. But this Egyptian ruler was straddling both sides, following the Torah partially and Egyptian law partially. Under such a ruler they could not live, and this is why Yehuda spoke harshly to him.

He also said, “For your likes are like Pharaoh,” meaning that someone like you, who follows a mixture of Torah and Egyptian law, will eventually become a complete Egyptian like Pharaoh, with no holiness at all. However, there are rare exceptions to this, and so Yehuda did not want to say directly, “You are like Pharaoh.”

When Pharaoh first met Yosef, he said, “Can we find anyone like this, a man who has the spirit of G-d in him?” Why didn’t he say, “Can we find a man who has the spirit of G-d in him like this one?” The answer is that Yosef was able to speak all seventy languages, because the angel Gabriel came to him the night before and taught him the languages. But Pharaoh did not know about the angel, and so he assumed that Yosef had learned all those languages by studying the non-Jewish literature and idolatrous texts. Thus he said, “Can we find anyone like this, who has studied all these texts, and yet has the spirit of G-d in him?” Pharaoh recognized Yosef as an exception. In a similar way, the Chassid Yaavetz writes that studying philosophy as very bad and is sure to bring spiritual destruction upon the Jew. Then he adds, “Do not ask me, what about the Rambam, who studied philosophy yet remained a great tzaddik? The Rambam was holy from the womb and a miracle occurred for him, like a man who eats snakes and scorpions and derives nourishment from them.”

So Yehuda said, “I recognize that you have some holiness in you and I am not sure if you will end up being like Pharaoh. But someone like you will end up like Pharaoh!” (Divrei Yoel, p. 431)

And G-d said to Yisroel in visions of the night, and He said, Yaakov, Yaakov, and he said, here I am (46:2).

“Night” is a metaphor for exile; thus “visions of the night” means that this prophecy was the vision of exile. G-d called him “Yaakov” to teach him that in exile he must hold himself low, like the heel (“eikev”, heel, is included in the name “Yaakov”). (See Shem Mishmuel, quoted in Parshas Shemos, p. ??) Yaakov was commanded to accept upon himself the exile and to make a declaration similar to the declaration traditionally made before fulfilling a mitzvah: “Behold, I am prepared and ready to accept upon myself the yoke of exile and the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven.”

Once Yaakov accepted this, G-d continued with the next verse: “And He said, I am G-d, G-d of your father; do not fear going down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there.” Here G-d reveals to him one of the great purposes of the exile: the purification of the sparks of holiness that fell from the holy source. By elevating these sparks, Yaakov’s descendents would become a great nation. (Ohev Yisroel)

We see here that only after Yaakov Avinu accepted the exile as a command of G-d, was he privileged to receive the promise of the great benefit that would come of exile: the purification of the sparks. But someone who resists the exile and tries to end it, although in the end he will not succeed and will be forced to endure exile anyway, will not enjoy any of its benefits.

And Yosef could not tolerate all who stood before him, and he called out, “Remove all men from before me!” And no man stood with him, when Yosef made himself known to his brothers. (45:1)

Rashi explains: Yosef could not stand the idea that Egyptians would be standing there and hearing how his brothers were embarrassed when he made himself known to them. Since Yosef’s revelation was an implicit rebuke to his brothers, who had sold him into slavery, Yosef did not want the Egyptians to be present. In an internal Jewish matter, non-Jews must not be involved. From their point of view, all Jews must be united.

Indeed, we find that when the sin of selling Yosef became known to the non-Jewish world, they used it as an excuse to persecute the Jews: the Yom Kippur Machzor tells how the Roman emperor Hadrian tortured and killed the ten greatest rabbis of his time in retribution for the crime of Yosef’s brothers.

The Gemara (Bava Basra 99a) cites a contradiction as to how the Cherubim stood on the lid of the Holy Ark. According to Shemos 25:20, they faced one another; according to Divrei Hayamim II 3:13, they faced away from each other, toward the walls of the Temple. The Gemara resolves this: when the Jewish people fulfilled the will of Hashem, the Cherubim faced each other as a sign of Hashem’s love for them. When the Jewish people sinned, they faced away from each other.

But in Yuma 54b, the Gemara tells us that when the Babylonians destroyed the Temple, they entered the Holy of Holies and found the Cherubim facing each other in an embrace. They took them out to the street and said derisively, “Israel, whose blessing is a blessing and whose curse is a curse, should be interested in such things?” This is the meaning of the verse in Eicha 1:8: “All those who honored her now despised her, for they saw her exposure.”

The Ritva and other Rishonim ask: How could the Cherubim have been facing each other at the destruction of the Temple? Weren’t the Jews sinning then? A prominent rosh yeshiva answered: Yes, Hashem was angry with the Jews at that time, but that wasn’t the gentiles’ business. From their viewpoint, the Jews were still the holiest of nations, and Hashem was still as close to them as ever. When the Father rebukes His children, He does so in the privacy of His home, but for the outside world, He shows the same love for the Jewish people as always.

Yet there are times when it is important to express disapproval of other Jews in front of the non-Jewish world. When a Jew commits a crime against the gentiles, and the gentiles know about it already and are angry about it, this creates a danger to all Jews. That Jew is classified as a rodef – and we must disassociate ourselves from him in order to save the rest of the Jewish people.

The source for this is the Rambam, Yesodei Hatorah 5:5. The Rambam says that if the gentiles surround a group of Jews and say, “Give us one of you, or else we will kill all of you,” then they are forbidden to hand anyone over. But if the gentiles say, “Give us so-and-so, or we will kill all of you,” then it depends: if that so-and-so is liable to die, then we hand him over, but if not, we do not hand him over. The Rambam’s source is the Yerushalmi, Terumos 47a.

The Kesef Mishneh cites the question of the Ramach: The Gemara says (Pesachim 25b) that the reason why one must give one’s life rather than kill another person is the logical argument, “How do you know that your blood is redder than his?” But in this case, where the gentiles select a particular person who is not liable to die, why is it forbidden to give him over? Here the logic does not apply, for if they do not give him over, the gentiles will kill all of them, including that person! The Kesef Mishneh answers that the logical argument about whose blood is redder is not the real reason for the law; Chazal received a tradition from Sinai that we may not hand over a fellow Jew, whether it makes sense logically or not.

If this is so, why is it permitted to hand over a Jew who is liable to die? We must answer that if the Jew was liable to die, then he had no right to hide from the gentiles among his Jewish brethren. By hiding there, he has endangered his brethren’s lives, and thus he has the status of a rodef, one who pursues another Jew to kill him. One may even kill a rodef, so certainly it is allowed to hand him over to the gentiles. But if he not liable to die, and the gentiles just selected a Jew at random, then he is not a rodef, for at the time he joined the group of Jews, the gentiles were not trying to kill him. According to this explanation, it is clear that when the Rambam says “if the Jew was liable to die,” he does not mean that the Jew must have committed some serious crime that carries the death penalty in Jewish law, or even in non-Jewish law. That is not the point. The question is only whether the gentiles were after him previously, before he joined his brethren, or only now they have selected him at random as their victim.

Now we must consider the following case. Let us say that a Jew committed a crime for which the gentiles, if they catch him, will kill him. But the gentiles do not know exactly who the criminal is. They accuse the entire Jewish community of the crime, and threaten to kill all of them unless they turn in the criminal. The Jews know who the criminal is. Should they turn him in? According to the above, the answer is yes, for since that Jew committed a capital crime and then hid among his brethren, he has endangered the lives of all the Jews, and is therefore a rodef. This is stated explicitly by the Taz in Yoreh Deah 157:8.

The first famous incident when this law was put into practice is recorded in Shoftim 15:9. The Philistine army besieged the Jews and demanded that they hand over Shimshon, who had killed many Philistines. The Jews came to Shimshon and said, “Don’t you know that the Philistines are ruling over us? What is this you have done to us?” The Malbim explains this based on the Rambam quoted above. When the Rambam says “liable to die,” he means that the gentile government has decided to kill him, says the Malbim. Therefore Shimshon, through his violent actions against the Philistines, was a rodef on the Jewish people, and it was permitted to give him over. (Shimshon replied, “As they did to me, so I did to them,” meaning that he had thought that his violence was only on a personal level and would not affect the relationship of the Jews to the Philistines.)

This is all the more true if what is involved is not literally turning in the rodef, but disassociating ourselves from him in such a way that the gentiles will not get confused between him and the rest of the Jewish people. This can be done by denouncing his sins in front of the gentiles. Yosef’s brothers had committed a crime only against him, not against the Egyptians, so there was no need for the Egyptians to witness his rebuke to them. The Jews at the time of the destruction of the Temple had committed sins against Hashem and amongst themselves, not against other nations, so Hashem’s rebuke to them was none of the nations’ business. But when a group of Jews offends the gentiles in such a way that they want to kill them, and this group pretends to have the support of all Jews, it is a mitzvah to show the gentiles that we disapprove of them.

This was why at the height of the Jewish zealots’ war against Rome, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai came to the Roman emperor Vespasian, addressed him respectfully and apologized for not having come earlier (Gittin 56b). He disassociated himself from the zealots, saying: “It was the zealots among us who did not let me come out to surrender to you.”


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