Category Archives: Parshat ויחי

Parsha ויחי

Parshat ויחי – Genesis – 48:15 – What is Hard for God to Do?  

Genesis: 48:15 – And he blessed Joseph and said, “God, before Whom my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, walked, God Who sustained me [who sheparded me]  as long as I am alive, until this day,

Gemora Pesachim: 118(a): Rabbi Yochanan said: It is more difficult [for God] to provide food/sustenance for a person than to bring about the Final Redemption.

Torah Temimah – Colloquial translation of Note #11

In Midrashic texts instead of the word “difficult”, it quotes Rabbi Yochanan as saying it is “greater” for God to provide a person’s sustenance than to bring the Final Redemption. Perhaps Rabbi Yochanan’s statement here can be explained in light of his comment in Gemora Megila 31(a) “Every place where you find God’s greatness is [exactly] the place where He shows His humility”. [Rabbi Yochanan] cites as proof the verse: (Deuteronomy 10:17 and 10:18 – 10:17: For the Lord, your God, is God of gods and the Lord of the lords, the great mighty and awesome God, Who will show no favor, nor will He take a bribe. 10:18 – He judges on behalf of the orphan and widow, and He loves the stranger, to give him bread and clothing.

Rabbi Yochanan cites the end of the verse above as proving that God’s mightiness is shown by His providing food for the hungry. Even though mortal people also provide food for the hungry, God’s doing so shows His humility and therefore His greatness.

This topic can be further explained by that which has been noted by the wise men of truth: Angels, since they are pure spirituality, cannot feel [or empathize] with physical [beings or] issues. Therefore, even if an Angel were to be merciful, it still wouldn’t be able to provide for a person’s physical needs as another human being would be capable of doing. This is due to the Angel’s inability to feel physical things or understand this [aspect of] reality.  So, according to this reasoning, it would be logical to conclude that God, who is the Holy of Holies and the Ultimate in refined spirituality and purity, would certainly not feel [empathize], so to speak, physical issues and realities. That is why we teach that God, even though He is the Ultimate in spirituality, He is showing His humility in His ability to feel for man’s low, physical needs and He [himself] provides food for the stranger, the orphan and the widow. Thus the greatness is not in the giving of the food itself but in His knowledge and feeling/understanding of the need. Also, the reason why the Torah mentions specifically the stranger, the orphan and the widow [is not to limit God to just these but rather] because these are the most common instances of people who [urgently] need food. This is futher shown by the verse in Exodus 22:21- You shall not oppress any widow or orphan. 22:22 – If you oppress him, [beware,] for if he cries out to Me, I will surely hear his cry. It further says, “I am the Father of orphan and the Judge of widows and I respond to their needs”.

Now it is understood what is meant by the idea that it is more difficult to provide for a person’s food than it is to bring the Final Redemption. This is because the Redemption is a spiritual issue and it can be brought about by an Angel who has the ability to comprehend and feel such matters. This is not the case with providing food, however. This must necessarily be done exclusively by God [Himself] in all His glory. Based on this, the exact wording of the midrash is more appropriate. The act of providing food shows God greatness and is on a higher level than bringing the Final Redemption.

There is another facet that can explain the higher level of providing a person’s sustenance/livelihood exclusively through God Himself and not through an Angel. This relates to another saying in this same location in the Gemora Pesachim 118(a): “It is more difficult for God to provide sustenance for a person than to split the Red Sea”.

Some questions on this are: what relationship and comparison is there between providing someone’s sustenance and splitting the Red Sea??!! Further, how is is possible to say that anything is difficult for God to accomplish? Even the splitting of the Red Sea itself, how could one describe that as “difficult” for God to accomplish? Isn’t it true that nothing is difficult for God?

Perhaps one can explain this according to the Midrashim on Parshat Shlach where it says that at the time of the splitting of the Red Sea the Accusing Angel criticized the Jews and stated in front of God: “These (the Egyptians) are worshippers of idols and these (the Jews) are also worshippers of idols.” This can be said because in Egypt, the Jews had also succumbed to idol worship.) “Why,” the Accusing Angel asked God, “are you splitting the Red Sea for them?”

This question was difficult for God to answer and to defend the Jews and to find merit in their favor since, truthfully, there were many sins that they had committed. This is similar to a father who is pained when he tries to judge his son favorably even though he can see that the son has done wrong.

This is what it means when one says that the splitting of the Red Sea was difficult for God. It wasn’t the actual splitting that was difficult; it was the finding favor in the Jews to merit that the sea should be split on their behalf that was difficult.

Similarly, to the extent that good things happen to a person based on his deeds, it is understandable why even providing a person’s sustenance should be difficult for God. It is difficult for God to find favor against the claims of the Accusing Angel against a person. The Accusing Angel stands condemning a person who, in general, has more flaws than merits as it says in Ecclesiastes 7:20 – For there is no righteous man on earth who does good and sins not. Therefore it is necessary, so to speak, for God to overcome the Accusing Angel and [argue] in favor of a person’s merits. [This is what is meant by “difficult” for God to accomplish.]

Behold it states in Gemora Kedushim 82(b) as follows: “R. Simeon b.Eleazar said: In my whole lifetime I have not seen a deer engaged in gathering fruits, a lion carrying burdens, or a fox as a shopkeeper, yet they are sustained without trouble, though they were created only to serve me, whereas I was created to serve my Maker. Now, if these, who were created only to serve me are sustained without trouble, how much more so should I be sustained without trouble, I who was created to serve my Maker! But it is because I have acted evilly and destroyed my livelihood, as it is said, your iniquities have turned away these things.”

On other words, through my bad deeds I have squandered the ability to earn my sustenance through easy means and therefore I must toil hard for my bread. This shows that one’s ability to earn a living is dependent on one’s good deeds. It is because of this fact that the Accusing Angel has the ability to accuse us and prevent our livelihood. Thus, God, in order to provide for us, needs to overcome (so to speak) the Accuser and find favor for us, just as He did in the splitting of the Red Sea. Thus it is entirely appropriate to compare the level of difficulty for God in providing a person’s livelihood and the splitting of the Red Sea.  

Also, see how this approach clarifies another statement mentioned in the beginning of Gemora Gittin 2(a) where it says that finding an appropriate mate for a person is as difficult as splitting the Red Sea. Note that this is in the discussion of a possible second marriage, but in the case of one’s first spouse, this principle does not apply.

On the face of it, it is not clear what the comparison is between finding one’s mate and splitting the Red Sea. Further, why is a distinction made between one’s first spouse and one’s second spouse? The answer is because for one’s second spouse we believe that one merits one’s second spouse according to the level of one’s deeds. Thus, as is explained above, the Accuser is able to find flaws in the actions of a person and God needs to overcome the Accuser and whiten a person’s sins and find favor for the person, just as was the case in the splitting of the Red Sea. Thus, that Gemora also becomes explained.

All of this now explains Rabbi Yochanan’s original statement that “providing the livelihood of a person is more difficult that bringing the Final Redemption since the Final Redemption could be accomplished by an Angel.” The reason is because the livelihood of a person depends on his deeds, as mentioned above. Thus, this is difficult for God as it was in the splitting of the Red Sea, as stated explicitly in the Jerusalem Talmud Tractate Taanit, Chapter 2, Halacha 4 – “when there was no one to find merit with the Jews, it was necessary for God Himself to find favor for them.”

This is not the case with the Final Redemption, however. This event will occur in spite of the level of sins of man as it says “If they merit, it will come early; if they don’t merit it will come at its appointed time.” That is precisely why the Final Redemption can be brought about by an Angel.

Translator Note: I liked this note of the Torah Temimah because its central, unifying theme is humility; including God’s humility and also the humility that we need to have as people facing individual challenges and also the humility that the Jewish people need to maintain.

Parsha ויחי-Genesis – 49:33 – Don’t Talk with Your Mouth Full

Genesis – 49:33 – When Yaacov finished instructing his sons, he drew his feet unto the bed; he expired and was brought in to his people.

Gemora: Taanit 5(b): What does it mean Yaacov “expired”? Thus said R.Yochanan: Yaacov our patriarch is not dead. He [R. Nahman] objected: Was it then for nought that he was bewailed and embalmed and buried?-The other replied: I derive this from a scriptural verse, as It is said, Therefore fear thou not, O Jacob, My servant, saith the Lord; neither be dismayed, O Israel,- for, lo, I will save thee from afar and thy seed from the land of their captivity.The verse likens him [Jacob] to his seed [Israel]; as his seed will then be alive so he too will be alive.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #15:

Rashi explains that just like G-d gathers Israel from the land of their captivity while they are still alive, so too will he gather in Yaacov while he is still alive. G-d will bring him back from exile in order to redeem his descendants. [validate this translation] But what about the fact that they embalmed him? It only appeared to them that he had died. <end quote of Rashi>

Also Tosafot write that Yaacov our father did not die. This is implied by the use of the term “expired” rather than “died”. We find similarly in Gemora Sota 13(a) that Yaacov opened his eyes before his burial and laughed because Esav was there.

However, were it not for the explanations of Rashi and Tosafot, I would explain it like what is written in the Gemora Bava Basra 116(a) where it explains that King David is not called ‘dead’ because he left a son behind who was as righteous as he. So too here, since Yaacov left behind sons who were righteous as he was, therefore it does not say that Yaacov died.

If one were to follow Rashi and Tosafot, though, one would need to keep in mind that this drasha is an old one with ancient hints. It is more understood through the category of Sod and Remez than the category of simple explanation. See also that this drasha of Yaacov not dying was astounding also to our rabbis. The degree to which this drasha was astounding to the rabbis can be seen from its context in the Gemora’s discussion before and after it. It seems appropriate to me to quote that discussion and explain it.  

The discussion is as follows: Rav Nachman and Rav Yitzchak were sitting down to eat a meal. Rav Nachman says to Rav Yitzchak, “Nu, let’s hear a dvar torah”. Rav Yitzchak responds quoting Rav Yochanan “ain m’sichin b’seudah” [DBS Note: this is generally taken to mean, “don’t talk during eating”.] Lest you get something stuck in your throat and choke.

After they finished eating Rav Yitzchak finally replied and said “Rav Yochanan also says that Yaacov our father never died.” To which Rav Nachman immediately responds, “didn’t they eulogize him and embalm him?” Rav Yitzchak then went and told him another drasha: Whoever says “Rahav Rahav” will immediately have a nocturnal emission. To which Rav Nachman replied, I did this and nothing happened to me. To which Rav Yitzchak replied “It’s talking about someone who personally knew Rahav and recognized her.”

It is possible to conclude a few thoughts from this. First, why did Rav Yitzchak choose exactly these two drashot to discuss after the meal with Rav Nachman? Also, it is difficult to understand the exact phrase of “ain m’sichin b’seudah” with the grammatical causative declension. [DBS Note: one should not cause others to talk during a meal.] It would be more proper, grammatically, to say “ain sochin b’seudah”, “don’t talk during a meal”. Additionally, don’t we find often that people do talk during a meal but they pause for a moment during eating [to chew]. We see this every day during any meal eaten with friends.

Therefore it seems that we have to conclude that for the one who is talking, he himself is not in danger if he talks during a meal. He can be careful to avoid a danger as we explained by pausing a moment during the meal to speak. But for the listener, sometimes there is an unavoidable danger. This is because sometimes he might hear something so outlandish and totally astounding that due to the impact of what he is hearing on his soul that he can’t wait until he finishes swallowing that which is in his throat. He won’t have the ability to wait and will respond even while the food is in his throat that he’ll ask or respond to that astounding or amazing thing that he just heard. In that case, certainly he might come into a place of danger.

This is what is happening in the story in the Gemora. Rav Yitzchak wanted to demonstrate to Rav Nachman in a tangible way. Therefore he chooses these two astounding and difficult to comprehend drashot to tell Rav Nachman after the meal. Indeed, Rav Nachman responded immediately to both. In the first case, “what, didn’t they embalm him?” In the second case, “what? I said Rahav Rahav and nothing happened to me!” It was by using these exact astounding drashot that Rav Yitzchak proved to Rav Nachman that one should not talk during a meal. Additionally the danger is not to the one who is talking but rather to the listener.

DBS Note: One point among the many that I enjoyed from this Torah Temimah is his use of the phrase “were it not for Rashi and Tosafot’s comments, I would say as follows…” Indeed, the Torah Temimah often uses that phrase. This standard phrase used also by other classic commentators shows both their humility in light of previous commentators but also their audacity and sense of permission to have a different opinion.