Vol 35.26 Vayeshev - Chanukah                   Spanish French Audio  Video

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Chumash-Vayeshev       Chumash-Mikraot Gedolot-Bereshit       Haneirot Halalu hymn


Explanation of the debate of Rashi and Ramban (Gen 37:27) whether or not Joseph went to see his brothers knowing that they wanted to kill him - according to halacha

Similarity of the Mesirat nefesh of Joseph to the Hasmoneans in the time of Chanukah;

Exactness of the wording of the Haneirot Halalu hymn that the salvation was "through Your holy priests"



1. It states in the Parsha (Gen 37:27):

“And the man said, "They have traveled away from here, for I overheard them say etc.’

Rashi states:

(In conjunction to his previous comment “Then a man found him: This is (the angel) Gavriel”)

They have traveled away from here: They removed themselves from brotherhood”.

Let us go to Dothan’: to seek regarding you legal pretexts (נִכְלֵי דָתוֹת), by which they could put you to death. According to its simple meaning, however, it is a place-name, and a Biblical verse never loses its simple sense”.

Ramban cites Rashi’s words and writes:

“It is not the intent of the rabbis to say that the man expressly told him, ‘They have departed from any feeling of brotherhood and they have gone to stir up charges and pretexts against you’. For if so he would have avoided going there and would not have endangered himself. Instead, their intent is to say that ‘the man’ – Gavriel – who told it to him, told the truth, but he spoke words having a double meaning, both of them true, Yosef however, did not grasp the hidden meaning therein, and followed the obvious”.

However, from Rashi’s words it appears that according to the homily “They removed themselves from brotherhood . . they sought legal pretexts by which etc.“, that this was the actual words of Gavriel to Yosef.

This is also expressly stated in Rashi on the Talmud where he states:

“His brothers kidnapped him from Shechem as it states: ‘So he sent him from the valley of Chevron, and he came to Shechem’ and they were pasturing there. Dothan is not a place. For although it states ‘And the man said, "They have traveled away from here etc.” this is what he said to him: ‘You say ‘I am looking for my brothers’ Yet they have departed from this brotherhood and they do not consider themselves as your brothers. For I have heard that them say: “let us go and seek charges and judgments how to kill him, if he comes to us”.

Even according to the precise wording of Rashi in his commentary on Torah here, where he concludes “a Biblical verse never loses its simple sense“. This implies that, in the study of the matter according to the simple meaning (Pshat), the explanation: “They removed themselves from brotherhood“, does not negate that “Dothan” is the name of a place, but rather that there are two explanations in this.

Nevertheless, it appears, seemingly that Rashi’s intent here in not like the Ramban’s words.

(Namely, that the angel just said “They have traveled away from here. . Let us go to Dothan”, but that in these words he hinted that “They have departed . . to seek regarding you legal pretexts etc. “. However, Yosef “did not grasp the hidden meaning therein“)

For from the plain wording of Rashi

They have traveled away from here: They removed themselves etc., Let us go to Dothan: to seek regarding you legal pretexts“

(And he does not write “he hinted that they had departed from brotherhood . . to seek regarding you legal etc. and so forth)

it implies that these words are included in the simple meaning of the words that were said to Yosef.

In addition, the reason that Rashi adds

“According to its simple meaning, however, it is a place-name, and a Biblical verse never loses its simple sense “

Is because, even though the intent of the angel was to intimate that their departing was “to seek regarding you legal pretexts”, nevertheless, Yosef’s brothers did actually go to another place (whose name was Dothan).

However, from the precision of the words “They have traveled away from here” and the lengthy words “I overheard them say, 'Let us go to Dothan“, it is understood, that he also told him about the manner of their going which was “ to seek regarding you legal pretexts by which they could put you to death”

According to this explanation of Rashi, Yosef went to seek his brothers, even though he knew that they wanted to kill him.

(One could add that even according to the explanation of Ramban, the intent of the verses here is to emphasize that Yosef strove to honor his father and suffered much because of this.

As Ramban explains in the verse “he sent him from the valley of Hebron“ that

“Scripture mentions the place from which Yosef was sent, in order to indicate that there was a great distance between father and son, and that this was the reason why the brothers did him evil: they were distant, far from their father. It also serves to relate that however, out of respect for his father, strengthened himself to go after them to a distant place, and he did not say ‘How shall I go when they hate me?’”

Moreover on the verse:

“Then a man found him, and behold, he was straying in the field”,

he writes:

“Scripture mentions this at length in order to relate that many events befell him which could properly have caused him to return, but he endured everything patiently for the honor of his father”

However, according to Rashi, we find even more than this. Namely, that the verse comes to tell us that not only did Yosef “endure much for his father’s honor” (like Ramban‘s words) but that he went to a place of actual danger in order to fulfill the will of Yaakov)

2. One could say that the debate of Rashi and Ramban is dependent on the dispute of the Rishonim in the law of “transgress and do not be killed” (יעבור ואל יהרג):

It is a widespread Halacha, that in all the sins in the Torah, except for the worship of other gods, forbidden sexual relations, and murder (ע"ז וגילוי עריות ושפיכת דמים), that if they say to a person, transgress this sin or die, that if it is in private, the person should transgress the sin and not be killed for it. However, if he wants to be strict on himself and be killed, the Rishonim differ in the matter:

According to Rambam

“If anyone about whom it is said: "Transgress and do not sacrifice your life," sacrifices his life and does not transgress, he is held accountable for his life “

However, there are those (Tosafot) who say that the dictum “transgress and do not be killed” means that “he has the option to transgress in order that he not be killed”, and “wholly righteous and many people (שלמים וכן רבים) maintain that if he is killed and does not transgress, it is considered righteousness for him” (צדקה תחשב לו).

According to this, one could say that in this, Rashi and Ramban disagree in the explanation of these verses:

  • According to Ramban, whoever falls under the law of “transgress and do not be killed” yet allows himself to be killed, and does not transgress, is held accountable for his life.
  • Whereas Rashi maintains that he has the option whether to transgress (שהרשות בידו לעבור) in order that he not be killed. However, if he is killed, and does not transgress it is “considered righteousness for him“.

Therefore, in our case, since the Mitzvah of Honoring one’s parents (כיבוד או"א) is not one of the three cardinal sins that a person should die for and not be killed,

(and more than this, that even at the time of a decree (בשעת הגזרה), where the law is “sacrifice one's life rather than transgress”, even on other Mitzvot (not the three cardinal sins), one could say that “they did not say this (i.e. sacrifice one's life) except with regard to forcing one to transgress a Negative commandment but not that when they decreed to nullify a Positive commandment“).

it is simple that Yosef was not obligated to endanger himself.

Therefore, Ramban explains that the words of the angel were not expressly said to Yosef. For if he would have known that there was a danger in the matter, it would have been forbidden for him to endanger himself.

Whereas according to Rashi, even though he expressly heard from Gabriel that they sought legal pretexts by which they could put him to death, nevertheless, he went and endangered himself in order to fulfill his father’s mission.

For although according to the law, the ruling is “transgress and do not be killed”, this is just an option (רשות). Therefore, since if he allowed himself to be killed rather than transgress, it would be “considered righteousness for him“, he therefore went, even though there was danger involved.

3. However, one must examine this:

According to Rashi in the Talmud, where he states that the brothers did not travel from Shechem

(for Dothan is not the name of a place)

but rather that he did not find them in the place where they went, it is understood why, even when Gabriel told him that they had departed from brotherhood, and sought legal pretexts etc., that he still continued to fulfill his father’s command of “Are your brothers not pasturing in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them . . Go now and see to your brothers' welfare“.

However, according to Rashi on Torah, where

a Biblical verse never loses its simple sense, and

“Dothan is the name of a place”, and the brothers already travelled from Shechem and went to another place, there was no fulfillment of his father’s mission and command by searching for his brothers in another place (for Yaakov told him “your brothers not pasturing in Shechem“).

Plainly, one could say that the reason that Yaakov mentioned Shechem was just to show him the destination. The actual command however was, “Go now and see to your brothers' welfare and the welfare of the flocks". (as the Or HaChaim writes). Therefore, the fulfillment of Yaakov’s words would be when he found them, wherever they were.

One must really examine this entire travelling:

After Yosef heard from Gabriel that they removed themselves from brotherhood and they sought legal pretexts by which they could put him to death, his subsequent travelling, not only entailed placing himself in danger in order to fulfill his father’s mission, but even more than this. It placed in doubt the entire fulfillment of the command. For Yaakov’s mission was not on the travel itself, “Go now and see to your brothers' welfare and the welfare of the flocks”. Rather the primary intent was that Yosef should ”bring me back word“. If so, what place was there to go when the command “bring me back word“ would not be fulfilled?

4. One could explain this according to that which is written in the codifiers who state that even according to Rambam’s view, namely that whoever who falls under the ruling "Transgress and do not sacrifice your life", means that he is forbidden for him to sacrifice his life in order to avoid transgressing,


“If he is a great person and pious and G-d fearing, and he sees that the generation is derelict in this matter (פרוץ בכך) he is allowed to sanctify G-d’s Name and to sacrifice himself, even on a slight Mitzvah in order that the people see him and learn from it etc.”

One could say that the obligation of Mesirat Nefesh in this condition is not for the sake of the fulfillment of the specific Mitzvah, for which he is sacrificing his life, but rather it is to sanctify G-d’s name to nullify the dereliction of the generation.

According to this (according to Rashi’s view) that Yosef saw in his brothers’ conduct, a lacking in the honor of one’s father (כיבוד אב). Moreover, that this was not just due to the events that occurred,

(Like that of Shimon and Levi, who killed all the men of Shechem, which was not in accordance with Yaakov’s wishes, as it states : “You have made trouble for me, making me obnoxious to the inhabitants of the land . . and I am few in number“. Or, that of Reuven who “disturbed his father’s sleeping arrangement“),

but rather because of his brothers hatred of him. For since their hatred of him stemmed from Yaakov’s love for Joseph, as it states:

“And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons . . And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him“,

 this was a blemish in the honor of his father. Therefore, Joseph maintained that the law, namely that ‘when the generation is derelict in something, that one is allowed to sacrifice his soul for this’ pertained. Therefore, he maintained that they should see that he is willing to sacrifice his life, without any accounting etc., and that “they would learn (from this) etc.”

Therefore, it did not matter to him if perhaps the command would not be fulfilled. For the Mesirat Nefesh, in this situation was in order to sanctify G-d’s Name, as aforementioned.

As is well known, the Shaloh writes (in our Parsha) that all the festivals have a connection to the Parshiot in which they occur. He explains there, at length, the connection of Chanukah to this story in our Parsha, as it states:

“From the aspect of Yosef’s dealings with his brothers, where he went to seek the welfare of his brothers etc.”, Moreover, “The aspect of Yosef will also be in the Hasmonean kingdom in the days of Greece . . for we were considered as sheep to the slaughter, to sacrifice our lives for the sanctification of His great Name. This is the flock of Yosef (צאן יוסף) and Chana and her seven sons, who are trustworthy witnesses to the holiness of G-d’s Name etc.”

According to this, one could add that even the manner of Yosef’s aforementioned Mesirat Nefesh (where he was not obligated to do this according to law, and moreover, that this was above all accounting) we similarly find in Chanukah.

Rambam writes in the beginning of Hilchot Chanukah:

“In (the era of) the Second Temple, the Greek kingdom issued decrees against the Jewish people, (attempting to) nullify their faith and refusing to allow them to observe the Torah and its commandments. They extended their hands against their property and their daughters; they entered the Sanctuary, wrought havoc within, and made the sacraments impure. The Jews suffered great difficulties from them, for they oppressed them greatly“.

From the plain meaning of his words, it appears that the law of the condition of the days of Chanukah was like the time of a decree (כשעת גזירה) that Rambam writes of in Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah.

For the differences between the other Mitzvot versus the three cardinal sins: whether it is in public or private etc. - only apply when it is not the time of “oppression of our faith” (בשעת השמד).

Rambam continues:

“However, in times of a decree (oppression of our faith) i.e., when a wicked king like Nebuchadnezzar or his like will arise and issue a decree against the Jews to nullify their faith or one of the Mitzvot - one should sacrifice one's life rather than transgress, even if it is one of the other Mitzvot”.

According to this, we find that at that time Bnei Yisroel were obligated to sacrifice their lives. And especially since, in addition to the decrees on Mila, Shabbat and the sanctification of the New Moon (as it cited in many places), they also said “Write on the horn of an ox that you have no share in the G-d of Yisroel” (Jerusalem Talmud, Chagigah 2:2).

However, there is room to examine this:

In our case the Hasmonean sons were few against the many and weak against the mighty (and therefore, could not possibly be victorious according to natural means). Therefore, it was not applicable to say that they were obligated in this, according to law.

For even if one were to say that going to war, in general, is not in the realm of Mesirat Nefesh, for this is a component of every war, namely to place oneself in danger,

(If so, this itself, namely that Torah permits going to war (even an optional war) - precludes the laws of war from the laws of Mesirat Nefesh)

nevertheless, in this manner, where there is no possibility, at all, that they would be victorious, according to natural means - this is a certain danger. Therefore, there is seemingly no permissibility to go out to a war, such as this.

However, for the Hasmonean sons, this was Mesirat Nefesh, without boundary or measurement.

Therefore, they went with Mesirat Nefesh, even with regard to aspects, that according to the dictates of Torah, there is no place to have Mesirat Nefesh.

This is like our case, where they went to war (certain danger) against the Greeks

(In addition to the actual fulfillment of Mila, and sanctifying the New moon, according to those views that we do not say “transgress and do not be killed” except with regard to transgressing a Negative commandment and not if they decree to annul a Positive commandment, as aforementioned.)

6. According to this one could explain that which we say in the text of the “Haneirot Halalu” hymn prayer that the “the saving acts, miracles and wonders“ were “through Your holy priests“.

So too, Rambam precisely states:

“Until the G-d of our ancestors had mercy upon them, delivered them from their hand, and saved them. The sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priests, overcame (them), slew them, and saved the Jews from their hand.”

Seemingly, one could examine this. What does it matter that the salvation was “through Your holy priests“, the “The sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priests“?

Yet one could say that, that this emphasized that the permissibility to have Mesirat Nefesh such as this, at that time, so much so, that it was in a manner of openly waging war against the Greeks,

(and not just Mesirat Nefesh to observe Mitzvot),

was because they were “Your holy priests“, the “The sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priests“. Therefore, their status was like “a great person and pious and G-d fearing“ who sacrifices his life at all times and in whatever situation, even when this is not mandated according to the obligations of Mesirat Nefesh, according to Torah.

From this reason itself, “saving acts, miracles and wonders“ were performed for our ancestors. For with the power of the “holy and high priests“ (הכהנים הקדושים והגדולים), their Mesirat Nefesh reached higher than the bounds of nature.

7. This aspect fits with that which is explained in another place, regarding the precise wording of the text of the V'al Hanissim prayer, that the “the wicked Hellenic government rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the statutes of Your will“.

In other words their main war was against the spirituality (and G-dliness) of Torah and Mitzvot. This is what is meant by the specific words “to make them forget Your Torah“. For the Greeks did not care (so much) if Yisroel studied Torah. However, they wanted that the Torah study be due to the intellectuality of Torah as it states “for that (Torah) is your wisdom and your understanding before the nations“. Through this, they would come “to forget Your Torah“ – to make the Jews forget, G-d forbid, that the Torah is G-d’s Torah.

The same was with Mitzvot. The Greeks' war was against the G-dliness of the Mitzvot - that they represent G-d’s will. This is what is meant by “violate the statutes of Your will“) (להעבירם מחוקי רצונך).

(Specifically “statutes” and specifically “Your Will” (חוקי דוקא ורצונך דוקא)

There are two aspects in this

  1. The Greeks agreed to the Mitzvot of Testimonies and Laws (עדות ומשפטים), since they are intellectual commandments. Their primary war was against the Statutes (חוקים), which are above reason- supra-rational.
  2. Within the Statutes themselves, they would allow its observance if it was based on any logical reason.

(For example, as Rambam explains, there certainly is an underlying reason for a Mitzvah, since it is G-d’s command. However, the reason is very deep (הטעם הוא עמוק ביותר). Therefore, we rely on G-d -the Commander of the Mitzvah – that there is a reason and logic therein etc.)

Their primary war was against the “(statutes of) Your will“. Namely against fulfilling statutes solely because they are G-d’s Will, as it states “I have engraved a rule, I have decreed a decree“ (חוקה חקקתי גזירה גזרתי), and “I have decreed it, and you are not permitted to question it“ (אין לך רשות להרהר אחרי).

With this one can understand the words of the Talmud:

“When the Greeks entered the Heichal, they defiled all the oils in the Heichal“ (כשנכנסו יוונים להיכל טמאו כל השמנים שבהיכל)

The implication of these words is that when they entered the Heichal they attempted to defile the oils. Seemingly, they should have destroyed the oil. Why did they just defile it?

However, according to the aforementioned, one could explain that “oil” represents wisdom. The Greeks concurred that there should be the aspect of wisdom (oil) among the Jewish people. However, they wanted this “oil” to be tainted - “impure oil”, where one did not feel the G-dliness of the Torah. For the Torah is “Your Torah“ - G-d’s Torah - and the Mitzvot are “the decrees of Your will“.

This is the great miracle of Chanukah, namely that they found pure oil.

Moreover, the oil was from a cruse that was sealed “with the seal of the Kohen Gadol”. According to the aforementioned (in the intent of the Greeks), it is understood, that the war against this, and certainly (וכ"ש וק"ו), the victory of this war, came specifically through the Avodah of Mesirat Nefesh.

And within Mesirat Nefesh itself, a type of Mesirat Nefesh that is completely above reason and intellect.

(Completely opposite from the view of the Greeks that everything must be specifically according to reason).

This is alluded to in the “cruse of oil” that was sealed with the seal of the Kohen Gadol. For the aspect of the Kohen Gadol, who is called “the holy of holies”, is to be nullified to G-d (ביטול להקב"ה), to the point of Mesirat Nefesh, completely above reason and intellect. This was the victory of the days of Chanukah, namely that they found a cruse of pure oil sealed with the seal of the Kohen Gadol, who had this Mesirat Nefesh among Bnei Yisroel (through the Chashmonayim, “Your holy Kohanim“) and with this power they vanquished the Greeks.

This aforementioned point, with regard to the war of the Chashmonayim against the Greek kingdom. Namely, that it was Mesirat Nefesh completely above reason and intellect (even more than what is obligated according to the intellect of Torah) is consistent (עולה בקנה אחד) with the essence of the miracle of the candles. For there, they found they found a cruse of pure oil sealed with the seal of the Kohen Gadol, and they lit the menorah from it, for eight days, and they established the eight days of Chanukah “to give thanks and praise to Your great Name“.

MSichas Shabbat Parshat Miketz 5724

Shabbat Parshat Vayeshev 5743

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