Posts Tagged: Ohr HaChaim


[Based on an idea from Rav Pinchas Friedman]

After Yosef reveals his true identity to his brothers, the Torah states (Breishis 45: 14): “He fell upon his brother Binyamin’s neck and wept; and Binyamin wept upon his neck.  He then kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and afterwards his brothers spoke with him”.

Rashi explains that Yosef wept over the two Batei HaMikdash that were destined to be built in Binyamin’s territory and would ultimately be destroyed; Binyamin wept over the Mishkan of Shiloh that was destined to be built in Yosef’s (Ephraim’s) territory and would ultimately be destroyed.

These two brothers had not seen each other for 22 years; one would have thought that after such a prolonged separation they would have caught up a bit and reminisced about the good times back in Canaan. Instead, they wept on each other’s necks over the Batei HaMikdash/Mishkan that would be destroyed in their respective lands many years in the future.

The Ksav Sofer explains that Yosef and Binyamin wept because they knew that the hatred that divided the brothers and resulted in the sale of Yosef, would resurface over and over again and ultimately lead to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash.

Rabbi Yechezkel of Kazmir notes that upon close examination of Rashi’s words, it is clear that neither brother wept over the destruction of the makom kadosh in his own territory, but rather over the makom kadosh located in his brother’s territory.
Yosef wept over the two Batei HaMikdash located in Binyamin’s territory that were destined to be destroyed, while Binyamin wept over the Mishkan in Shiloh located in Yosef’s territory that was destined to be destroyed.  They exemplify brothers who love one another, and who share in each other’s pain and sorrow when darkness befalls, and rejoice in their good fortune and happiness when the sun shines again.

Reb Yechezkel connects the emotions shared by Yosef and Binyamin with something else Yosef imparts. Before the brothers leave to go back to Yaakov, Yosef tells his brothers (Breishis 45:24)
וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם אַל תִּרְגְּזוּ בַּדָּרֶךְ

He advises them “not to become agitated on the way”.  The pshat explanation, provided by Rashi, is that Yosef tells his brothers not to fight with each other regarding which of the brothers was responsible for the sale of Yosef — this is certainly a good lesson that we should avoid assigning blame and quarreling with our brothers over sins of the past.Offering a more drash approach, Reb Yechezkel says that there are many different ways and methods of serving Hashem.  If I see that my fellow Jew is not serving Hashem in the same manner that I do, I should not therefore become annoyed with him. It seems that Yosef wisely instructs and warns his brothers and their descendants (us): אל תרגזו בדרך — do not become agitated on the way; if you wish to correct the serious flaw of sin’at chinam and usher in the geula and Bayit Shlishi, do not get consumed by zealotry.  Rather than being bothered by another Jew’s method of serving Hashem, learn to accept him and his Torah lovingly, and continue on your own derech.  We all serve the same Creator and every Jew has his/her own unique way of serving Hashem.


Perhaps another lesson to be learned from the way Yosef interacts with his brothers, is how to give criticism. Before Yosef tells his brothers who he really is, he first asks them to come close to him (Breishis 45:4):
וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו גְּשׁוּ נָא אֵלַי וַיִּגָּשׁוּ וַיֹּאמֶר אֲנִי יוֹסֵף אֲחִיכֶם אֲשֶׁר מְכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי מִצְרָיְמָה 

The Ohr HaChaim notes that Yosef didn’t really need to bring them in close, since he had already asked everyone besides his brothers to exit the room, three psukim earlier. Only his brothers were in the room, so why did they need to come closer? Yosef, however, didn’t want to announce this shameful piece of news, that he was the brother they had sold many years before. Instead, he brings them in close, and, in a whisper, according to the Ohr HaChaim, tells them he is Yosef whom they sold to Mitzrayim. Even though nobody else could hear and there was no issue of public embarrassment, nevertheless, in order to dull the sting of the revelation he had to make to his brothers, Yosef tells them in gentle way about their past sins.

As Reb Yechezkel points out, we shouldn’t be consumed by zealotry, but there are times when we need to be told by a Rav/friend/family member that we have done something wrong. If a person does need to be told this, perhaps the most effective way to do so, is to bring that individual in close and explain what wrongs have occurred.

Yosef equips us with the lessons of empathy, true forgiveness, avoidance of overzealousness, and effective methods of giving mussar, so that we may implement them ourselves when interacting with our own brothers and fellow Jews.


At the end of Parshas Vayeishev, Yosef is sent to jail by Potiphar and finds himself with the recently imprisoned royal chief butler and baker.


Breishis 40:6-7
וַיָּבֹא אֲלֵיהֶם יוֹסֵף בַּבֹּקֶר וַיַּרְא אֹתָם וְהִנָּם זֹעֲפִים
וַיִּשְׁאַל אֶת סְרִיסֵי פַרְעֹה אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ בְמִשְׁמַר בֵּית אֲדֹנָיו לֵאמֹר מַדּוּעַ פְּנֵיכֶם רָעִים הַיּוֹם
And Joseph came in to them in the morning, and saw them, and, behold, they were sad.
And he asked Pharaoh’s officers that were with him in the ward of his master’s house, saying: ‘Why do your faces look sad today?’
The mephorshim note a number of praiseworthy aspects about Yosef’s behavior in his encounter with the officers of Paraoh while imprisoned.

The Ramban and Ohr HaChaim both note the bravery of Yosef in approaching these two high ranking officers and asking them about their moods. Here is Yosef, a young slave, asking officers from Paraoh’s palace why they were sad. The question itself is somewhat puzzling; after all, they were in prison, which isn’t the most uplifting of places. The question almost seems rhetorical. Yosef, however, attune to their disposition, recognizes that something is particularly awry with these men, which he would discover is the product of their dreams from the previous night.

The Lebavitcher Rebbe (in a sicha given in 1974, summarized from Yiddish to Hebrew by Rav Yaakov Levi Ginsberg) points out, that perhaps even more impressive than Yosef’s courage, is that fact that Yosef even paid the slightest bit of attention to them and their degree of sadness. After all, Yoseph had suffered immense pain already in his life: He lost his mother at a young age, he was sold as a slave by his own brothers, hauled down to Egypt away from his beloved father, and imprisoned for a sin he had not committed. We would expect that such a person would be wallowing in his own pain, too consumed by personal sadness/frustration to be cognizant of another person’s pain.

And yet, Yosef is acutely aware of the pain of his cell-mates. Despite his own hardships, he remains attentive and sensitive to others, and inquires if there is any manner – just the slightest chance – that he can implement his G-d-given gifts to help another human being.

The Lebavitcher Rebbe explains that Yosef HaTzaddik possessed the quality of knowing that every individual’s personal mission, and the greatest happiness one can achieve, is to utilize the skills given to us by Hashem to improve the world and the lives of people around us; to wholeheartedly engage in the unique shlichus for which we were created. Yosef’s focus in life was unwavering, regardless of whether he was  in a palace or a jail cell. He remained fixated on furthering his mission in life (which is how he thwarted Mrs. Potiphar’s advances), and ultimately, through Yad Hashem, his question of ‘why are you upset’ leads to his ascension to mishneh la’melech. 

It is essential to note that his goal, however, was not to become second in command to Paraoh nor was it to be rewarded. In fact, we see that the first thing that happens after Yosef helps the Sar Hamashkim is that he forgets Yosef!
That being said, while it is true that Yosef did not help the officers with the intention of being rewarded, we do see that Yosef is nevertheless rewarded. If you ask a young child, the Rebbe says, what was Yosef’s reward for inquiring about the officers’ well-being, he will say that Yosef’s dream-interpreting skills were eventually brought to light by the Sar Hamashkim, requested by Paraoh, favored by Paraoh, which launched him to second in command. The real reward, however, is not the riches, the title, the Tzafnat Paneach nickname, or the finest horses and camels Egypt had to offer. Instead, Yosef’s most cherished reward was the opportunity he was given to use his skills to advise Paraoh on how to save the world from famine. He helps one person in jail, and that leads to helping feed and sustain the entire world during the ensuing famine. Such is the ripple effect that can result from a small act of kindness.

In the small confines of an Egyptian dungeon, Yosef notices someone in pain, gathers the courage to inquire, and uses the gifts of sensitivity and interpretive skill to eventually fulfill his Divine mission/shlichus in the most expansive manner possible.


In Moshe’s final address to the nation, he informs them about the future and how they need to face their responsibilities:

ה’ אֱ-לֹ-הֶיךָ הוּא עֹבֵר לְפָנֶיךָ הוּא יַשְׁמִיד אֶת הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה

Hashem, your G-d; He will cross you over, He will destroy the nations before you. (31:3)The Ohr Hachaim HaKadosh, picks up on the double usage of the word hu.
The Ohr HaChaim explains that the Jews were concerned about the loss of Moshe, specifically about two advantages of having Moshe “in their corner” that they would no longer possess:

1. As Moshe had demonstrated by, among others, Cheit HaEigel and the Meraglim, Moshe was willing to intercede on their behalf if they erred. His teffilos had halted deadly plagues and prevented their destruction. Fearful that they would err again in the future, they wondered – who would atone for their sins?

2. Bnei Yisrael would be waging wars to conquer Eretz Yisrael, and they worried how they would defeat their enemies without Moshe’s help, with his arms raised high in the air, ensuring victory as he did against Amaleik, and for leading the most recent victories over Sichon and Og…

Sometimes when a leader or a great athlete (l’havdil) steps down or retires, he wants to take all the credit for himself, for his illustrious career and crowning accomplishments. The best milestone/MVP/retirement/ Hall of Fame induction, etc. speeches, however, are the ones in which the athlete thanks his parents, coaches, teammates, family, friends, and perhaps deity of choice. Athletes who just want to brag about themselves demonstrate a complete lack of perspective and appreciation.

L’havdil eleph alphei havdalos, Moshe Rabbeinu, always staying true to form as the most humble man to ever live, both comforts and teaches the nation – in his final address – about where everything came from: Hashem.

Moshe addresses the first concern by telling them that they were forgetting about the source. It was never about Moshe.
הוּא עֹבֵר לְפָנֶיךָ – the word oveir invokes Hashem’s characteristic of being an  עובר על פשע
The Ohr HaChaim brings a couple proofs from Shmot 17:5 and 32:10, that demonstrate that it was Hashem’s “idea” that encouraged Moshe to pray for Bnei Yisrael. Hashem’s willingness and desire to forgive would remain, even after Moshe’s departure from this world.

The same holds true for the battles that were won on the path from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael; Moshe was a conduit, but Hashem was behind everything and delivering our enemies into our hands.

Moshe then says that Yehoshua will now be the one who will fight for them, in both instances, but always know that the source of forgiveness and success is Hashem.

With so much in Parshiot Nitzavim and Vayeilech about teshuva, and the proximity of these parshiot every year to the Yamim Noraim, perhaps a lesson here is about an important focus during this time. Without taking an iota of importance or reverence from rabbeim or the chazzan leading slichot or any of the teffilot on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, ultimately teshuva comes from Hashem. Teshuva cannot be attained only from listening to a good shiur or standing in shul listening to others. Those are incredibly important conduits and bridges to help us get to the proper place to daven for teshuva. A big chunk of our avodah, however, is a focus on our own personal teffilos and the meanings and feelings behind the words we say in davening. Assistance from others is amazing, but there has to be a level of our own effort.

Another interesting occurrence in this incredibly poignant moment in the Torah, happens in the next few p’sukim in Perek 31.
In 31:6, Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael to be strong, not to fear, for Hashem is with them; He will not fail you and not forsake you
חִזְקוּ וְאִמְצוּ אַל תִּירְאוּ וְאַל תַּעַרְצוּ מִפְּנֵיהֶם  כִּי ה אֱ-לֹ-הֶיךָ הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ עִמָּךְ לֹא יַרְפְּךָ וְלֹא יַעַזְבֶךָּ

Then in the next passuk Moshe calls to Yehoshua and tells him basically the exact same thing: 31:7-8

…וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לִיהוֹשֻׁעַ וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו לְעֵינֵי כָל יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ
 וַה’ הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ לְפָנֶיךָ  הוּא יִהְיֶה עִמָּךְ לֹא יַרְפְּךָ  וְלֹא יַעַזְבֶךָּ לֹא תִירָא  וְלֹא תֵחָת

A beautiful example of our mesorah in action and of selfless encouragement, is found in virtually identical wording between Dovid HaMelech and Shlomo. Divrei Hayamim I, Perek 32 records Dovid speaking about Hashem prohibiting him from building the Beis HaMikdash. Instead, Shlomo, his son, would have that prestigious honor. Dovid tells his son, in Divrei Hayamim I 28:20:

חֲזַק וֶאֱמַץ וַעֲשֵׂה אַל תִּירָא וְאַל תֵּחָת כִּי ה’ אֱ-לֹ-הִים אֱ-לֹ-הַי עִמָּךְ לֹא יַרְפְּךָ וְלֹא יַעַזְבֶךָּ עַד לִכְלוֹת כָּל מְלֶאכֶת עֲבוֹדַת בֵּית ה

Looks kinda familiar.

Moshe being denied entry to Eretz Yisrael is akin to Dovid being denied permission to build the Beis HaMikdash. Dovid takes a cue from Moshe, who also had to relinquish a dream to a successor (Yehoshua was like a son to Moshe and Shlomo was of course Dovid’s son). Dovid implements the identical language used by his holy forefather, and, like Moshe, he hands off his position with grace and encouragement.
Dovid perpetuates the mesorah and midos of Moshe, inculcating the next generation with those same lessons.