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(5743) Because they (the brothers) sold Rachel's firstborn (Yosef), for twenty pieces of silver, each one must redeem his firstborn son with twenty pieces of silver (which is five shekalim) . . each one gives two pieces of silver (which is Machatzit HaShekel) (Tal. Yerushami Shekalim 2:3 (end)) 



1. In conjunction with the episode of Yosef’s brothers selling him for “twenty silver pieces” (Gen. 27:28)

It states in the Talmud Yerushalmi:

“Because they sold firstborn of Rachel (Yosef) for twenty silver pieces, each one redeems his firstborn for twenty silver pieces (which is five Selaim). . Because they sold the firstborn of Rachel with twenty silver pieces and each one received a Tev’a (a coin worth two pieces of silver– which is half a shekel (half a Sela)) therefore each one gives for his Shekel a Tev’a”.

In other words, because of the act of sale of Yosef the Yidden are obligated in two types of “recompense” (תשלומיו׳) – redeeming the firstborn and giving the half-shekel (Machatzit HaShekel).

The commentators explain the connection between them:

  • Machatzit HaShekel is “an atonement pledge for his soul“. As is known, because of the sin of the sale of Yosef, the punishment of Galut for generations was decreed. This means that the sale of Yosef was a “lasting sin” (חטא נמשך) which requires an atonement for generations – the “atonement pledge for one’s soul“ of the Machatzit HaShekel which the Yidden must give.
  • The reason for Pidyon HaBen –

as it states “G-d killed every first-born in the land of Egypt, . . I am therefore sacrificing to G-d . . the first-born of my sons I redeem“ –

is connected, in that the sale of Yosef (the firstborn of Rachel) caused that that the firstborn of Yisroel should also be in danger. However, “G-d performed for them a miracle, and therefore redeeming was required for generations“.

One must understand:

Why did the sin of Yosef’s sale cause that the Yidden should be obligated in two (types) of payment – both Pidyon HaBen and Machatzit HaShekel?

2. Another question:

In the Talmud Yerushalmi both aspects of recompense come in continuation to different reasons for the Machatzit HaShekel:

  • “Because they sinned at half of the day (noon) they give Machatzit HaShekel . .
  • Because they transgressed the Ten Commandments .. they must give ten Geira (and afterward) . .
  • Because they sold the firstborn of Rachel . . each one redeems his firstborn . .
  • Because they sold the firstborn of Rachel gives his shekel as a Tev’a (a half-shekel/ Machatzit HaShekel)”.

It is seemingly not understood:

How is it fitting here, where the section discusses Machatzit HaShekel that it states the aspect of Pidyon HaBen - “he redeems his firstborn”?

Moreover: the Talmud Yerushalmi prefaces this aspect (Pidyon HaBen) before the aspect of “each one gives for his Shekel a Tev’a” (Machatzit HaShekel)?

One must therefore say that these are not two separate aspects, but rather that they come in conjunction to one another. So much so, that in order to understand how the sale of Yosef is a reason for Machatzit HaShekel, one must know beforehand that the sale of Yosef is a reason for Pidyon HaBen.

3. One must also understand:

  1. One can understand the reason why Machatzit HaShekel is an aspect of payment for a harsh sin (sale of Yosef). For the verse emphasizes that this is “an atonement pledge for his soul“. However, Pidyon HaBen is, seemingly, the opposite. It is an aspect of good and holiness as it states “Sanctify to Me all the firstborn“. A firstborn possesses a holiness, and therefore one must redeem him.

Therefore, how is it applicable that the sale of the firstborn of Rachel should bring an aspect, which is connected with “Sanctify to Me all the firstborn”?

  1. With regard to the reason of the Machatzit HaShekel- “each one received a Tev’a“ (Machatzit HaShekel) – the commentators note that only nine of Yosef’s brothers partnered in the sale. “Binyamin was not with them” and even Reuven was not there at the time of the sale (as is told in the verse). Therefore, the amount of the Machatzit HaShekel (which is a tenth of twenty silver pieces) does not add up.

This is answered in two ways:

  1. Even Reuven is counted. For “even though Reuven was not at that time with them, nevertheless, they left for him his portion. For they thought that he would not disagree with their deed”

(This is especially so according to what is stated in Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer that after they told Reuven about the sale of Yosef, that “Reuven heard . . and was silent”).

  1. Yosef himself is counted as if he had a part in his sale. For he was the one who “caused (the sale) through jealousy, in the first place”.

However, it is not straightforward:

Every aspect in Torah is the epitome of precision. Therefore, since the actual sale was conducted only through nine of Yosef’s brothers – the opposite of Reuven‘s and (certainly) Yosef’s will, why should this aforementioned remote relationship of Reuven or of Yosef, be considered as an equal partnership with the other nine brothers? So much so that the twenty silver pieces were divided into ten equal pieces?

4. The plain difference between the two manners of “payment” for the sale of Yosef – Pidyon HaBen and Machatzit HaShekel – is:

  • Pidyon HaBen is the amount of payment according to the “worth” (ערכו) of Yosef (how much he was sold for) – five Shekalim.
  • Whereas with regard to Machatzit HaShekel, the payment is according to the amount which each of Yosef’s brothers “received” from the sale – a half-Shekel.

Therefore it is understood, that these two payments are connected with the two different parts in Yosef’s sale:

  • Machatzit HaShekel is “an atonement pledge for his soul“ for the blemish which the sale effected in the Shvatim (due to their benefit (הנאה) from Yosef’s sale).
  • Whereas, corresponding to the “effect” that the sale had on Yosef (who was sold as a slave) – one must redeem one’s firstborn.

According to this one can answer the aforementioned question,

Namely, how could the sale of Yosef (the firstborn of Rachel) cause for the Yidden (in a positive manner) the aspect of Pidyon HaBen.

that even though, with regard to the Shvatim, the sale of Yosef was a sin and descent, nevertheless, for Yosef himself, it effected a virtue that manifests itself in the aspect of a firstborn, as will be explained.

5. With regard to Yosef’s sale, it states in the Zohar:

“The Holy One blessed be He, caused all this in order to fulfill the decree that was decreed at the Covenant between the Parts”.

In other words, G-d caused that that Yosef’s brothers should sell him, in order that the decree of the Covenant between the Parts be fulfilled. Namely that the Yidden should go into Galut Mitzrayim.

The Zohar explains that the reason why Yosef had to come to Egypt through his brothers selling him –

For seemingly, in order to carry out the decree of the Covenant between the Parts, Yosef could have come to Egypt in a manner where “the hands of his brothers, were not upon him” -

Is because, through the sons of Yaakov having dominion over Yosef (through their throwing him into the pit and selling him “as a master sells his slave”) before he come to Egypt, he became a “slave to his brothers”.

This forewarned that when the Bnei Yisroel later descended into Egypt, the Egyptians did not have complete dominion over the Yidden (like they had over all their other slaves that “a slave could not flee from Egypt”).

On the contrary. Since the Egyptians became Yosef’s slaves and Yosef was a “slave of the sons of Yisroel - Bnei Yisroel“ it comes out that “Yisroel ruled over all of them”.

6. From this explanation of the Zohar one comes to a deeper understanding in the aspect of the sale of Yosef which is emphasized in the verse. Namely, that notwithstanding the non-good intent which Yosef’s brothers had, nevertheless, in actuality, good came out of it, as it states “for it was to preserve life that G-d sent me (here) . .to insure your survival in the land, and to keep you alive for a great deliverance“.

Thus, not only was the sale a cause and reason for the good outcome for the Yidden (through that which Yosef later became a viceroy to the king), but even the sale itself gave a power to “to insure your survival in the land, and to keep you alive for a great deliverance“– the Geulah from Egypt.

Therefore, it comes out the sale of Yosef effected two opposites:

  • Due to Yosef’s brothers, whose intent (with the sale) was that he become a slave, the sale led to the Galut of Egypt.
  • And due to that which “The Holy One blessed be He, caused all this“, from the perspective of G-d’s Intent and Will in this – the sale (through Yosef’s brothers) gave a power for the Geulah.

This is the connection between the sale of the “firstborn of Rachel” with the aspect of Pidyon Bechor.

Since the sale of Yosef accomplished that Yosef was “acquired” (קנוי) to (the Shvatim –namely to those who are) obligated in Mitzvot (Mila, and so forth); and in the holy land, the Egyptians cannot have any rulership over him. And through this, all the Yidden, afterward, remained higher than the dominion of Egypt.

From this, the aspect of “firstborn” also came about. For a firstborn is “acquired to G-d”, as it states: “he is Mine”. And the giving of “the first of his fruit . . to the domain of his Creator“ reminds a Yid (in the words of the Chinuch) that “everything is His (G-d’s)”. Everything that a Yid obtains belongs to G-d.

7. According to this, one can understand why the Sages were precise in noting with regard to the atonement for the sale of Yosef, that ten of Yosef’s brothers took part in it. (Even though Reuven (and certainly Yosef (did not agree to the sale) -

For in order that Yosef’s sale accomplish in Yosef this good aspect– namely the virtue of Geulah (that the Egyptians should not have any dominion on him) –

they had to (specifically) rely on the power of a Tzibbur (a community of ten Yidden).

Ten Yidden coming together, causes the “resting of the Shechinah” – namely that a G-dly light that is higher than the world (and even from the angels) rests (upon the world). From this, the power is drawn down to remain higher than the Egyptians, and from the boundaries and borders of Galut.

One could say that this is why (when, “G-d caused all this”) it was not sufficient that (just) nine brothers sold him, but rather that there had to be ten – a combination of a tenth (Reuven or Yosef, as aforementioned).

For this reason itself, only nine people joined, visibly, in the sale. For if all ten brothers would have joined together in a revealed manner, the “resting of the Shechinah” would also have been revealed. Then, at the very onset, it would not have come to Yosef‘s being sold as a slave.

In order that Yosef be sold as a slave, (at the very least) in a revealed and outward manner, the visible partnership was just of nine brothers. However, on the other hand, since, in a hidden manner (בהעלם), the sale was with the partnership of ten brothers, this accomplished that in truth and in Pnimiyut, Yosef (and through him - all Yidden) remained higher than the dominion of Egypt.

8. According to this, it fits why the “an atonement pledge for his soul“ for the sale of Yosef is Machatzit HaShekel, from which only a communal offering may be bought, not that the offering of a private individual.

The atonement for the sale of Yosef is accomplished through bringing out visibly, the inner aspect of the sale of Yosef. Namely, the power of the Tzibbur which is drawn down into the sale and which has placed within it the virtue of Geulah (as aforementioned) – the opposite of the aspect of slavery and Galut.

This is also one of the aspects which are alluded to in the name half-Shekel (Machatzit HaShekel) (not ten Geira, and so forth). Namely, that a Yid discerns that he, as an individual, is just a half, a half of a thing. In order to become a full thing (a full-Shekel), he must unite with another Yidden.

This feeling of being a half-shekel, which leads to combining, attachment and unity of Yisroel and Ahavat Yisroel, rectifies the sin of the sale of Yosef whose cause was the opposite of love – as it states : “and his brothers hated him etc.”.

With this it is understood why before the Talmud Yerushalmi cites the aspect that the sale of Yosef was the cause of the payment of the Machatzit HaShekel, it prefaces that the sale of Yosef caused the aspect of Pidyon HaBen. For the preface that the sale of the “firstborn of Rachel” accomplished the aspect of “firstborn” by Yidden, gives an understanding in the second aspect, namely how Machatzit HaShekel (from which communal offerings are bought) rectifies the aspect of the sale of Yosef.

9. As mentioned previously (Par. 3) there are two manners in the counting of the ten brothers (who took part in the sale of Yosef):

  • Whether it includes Reuven (from that which “he heard . . and was silent “ or
  • Whether it was with the inclusion of Yosef (since he caused the sale).

According to the aforementioned –

(Par. 7), that their partnership was in order to accomplish an aspect of Tzibbur (and therefore – caused the “resting of the Shechinah” in this aspect –

there is, from the two aforementioned views, a wondrous lesson in the greatness of the aspect of Ahavat Yisroel:

From the first explanation – Reuven’s partnering in the sale – one learns that one must not separate, and also afterward, that one must join, even with one whose conduct is not proper.

Reuven, expressly, did not agree with the conduct of his brothers, and wanted to save Yosef and bring him back to his father. Nevertheless, after the deed, he did not separate from them, but rather just “heard . . and was silent”. In addition, later on it states: “And they took (Yosef's coat) . . And they sent it (and brought it to their father)“, all of them together.

This is a lesson for a Yid, that even when he is dealing with “your fellow” (רעך) who is in the level of “merely a created being" (בעלמא בריות). Moreover, that (according to the (physical) eyes of the one looking) he is in the category of “far from G-d‘s Torah and His service” – nevertheless, he must, at the very beginning, have the conduct of “love your fellow as yourself” (ואהבת לרעך כמוך), and not give up on him or abandon him. Moreover, he must seek the most fitting way (פאסיקן) to influence him to “come near to Torah”.

10. Afterwards, one comes, in this, to an even greater innovation – (one that is learned) from the second explanation:

Even when it is speaking of one who caused him pain, and so much so that it reaches the level of pain that Yosef suffered (געליטן) from this brothers – one must also have for him a feeling of Ahavat Yisroel.

And this is not just that, after the deed, he does not have any animosity (פאראיבל) towards him. But rather even during the matter itself – he follows the Mishnah’s dictum “judge every person as meritorious“ (וֶהֱוֵי דָן אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת). And more than that “Be humble of spirit before everyone“  (וֶהֱוֵי שְׁפַל רוּחַ בִּפְנֵי כָל אָדָם). In addition, it is simple that he does not flee from him (אנטלויפט) or abandon him etc. (similar to that which Yosef is considered as one of those that partnered in the sale).

This is especially so when he contemplates the explanation of the Alter Rebbe in Tanya that everything is with Divine Providence (פרטית בהשגחה), and even though the other person has choice (and he receives a punishment for acting in such a manner), nevertheless “with regard to the person harmed, this (incident) was already decreed in heaven“.

Therefore, it comes out that in truth, it is indeed the one harmed who is at fault for the damage that the other person did (similar to Yosef, according to the aforementioned commentators, that he caused his sale).


Since everything that G-d does is for the good, in this damage, there is a benefit (טובה) for him (like the Zohar’s explanation with regard to Yosef (as aforementioned) that the act of the sale itself accomplished the Geulah).

Therefore, he is not angry with the other person. On the contrary, through that which he acts with him in a manner of “love your fellow as yourself”, this assuages the damage, so much so that it nullifies it.

(Similar to what was explained above, that through that which Yosef partnered with the Shvatim, the power of freedom was extended to him, as aforementioned)

Through increasing in Ahavat Yisroel, so much so that it is in a manner of “baseless love” (חנם אהבת), it will nullify the cause of Galut – “baseless hate” (חנם שנאת). This will automatically and immediately nullify the result – the Galut itself. And in the words of Rambam “and they will be immediately redeemed” (ומיד הן נגאלין).

With the coming of our righteous Moshiach, speedily and in our days, mamosh.

M’Sichas Yud-Gimel Nisan 5738, Shabbat Parshat Vayeshev 5742


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