This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Vayeishev (5766)
This week's section begins on a wonderful note; the story of Joseph and his brothers.
Rashi (the foremost elucidator of the Torah) compares the perfunctory listing of all the kings of Esav in the end of last week's section to the exquisite detail here with two similes:
Just as one sifts through tons of sand to find one small diamond so the Torah sifts through the Kings of the nations and stops when it comes to Josef and his brothers.
And, just as a huge pile of chaff can be set aflame by one spark so the kings of Esav will be consumed by the spark of Josef.
But this is not understood. First of all, why does Rashi bring two similes. Second, if these kings are so unimportant then why did the Torah have waste time listing them? What do we care about the sand and the chaff?
Here is a story that perhaps will help us to understand.
Rabbi Akiva was perhaps the greatest Torah scholar of all times. The Midrash relates that when Moses was on Mount Sinai G-d showed him all the future generations with their leaders. When Moses saw how Rabbi Akiva was able to infer laws from just the shapes of the Torah letters he became weak; he had never seen such deep inspiration.
But more than anything else Rabbi Akiva was a teacher. The Talmud tells us that at one time he had twenty four thousand pairs of pupils.
Considering that the Romans had destroyed the second Temple just a few years earlier, ruled Israel with an iron hand and hated the Torah (In fact, eventually Rabbi Akiva was imprisoned and tortured to death for teaching Torah) having such a massive Yeshiva must have been nearly impossible.
But the Torah had to be kept alive and often it required miracles.
Here is an example:
Rabbi Akiva had a constant problem; it costs a lot of money to run a Yeshiva; pupils need food, lodging, clothing, heat in the winter, light at night etc. These things had to be paid for in cash and under the Roman occupation money was very hard to come by - especially for learning Torah.
Somehow he always managed to find enough donors to keep his pupils alive but once his luck seemed to give out.
He had no money, he owed a fortune and there seemed to be no hope.
Then suddenly he remembered that once he heard of a wealthy Roman matron that lived near the sea several hours from his yeshiva that was supposed to be positively disposed to the Jews. In fact there were some that said that she actually respected the Talmudic scholars.
It was only a rumor but he was desperate.
With no other recourse he traveled there, knocked on the door and was shown in. He felt a bit out of place in a place of such fabulous wealth, surrounded by marble statues and idols of all sorts but the matron received him very cordially and seemed to take interest in his problem.
After much discussion she agreed to loan him the large sum he needed but on four conditions. First, he had to repay it in exactly one month, second, it would be with interest, third, there would be a stiff penalty if he paid late and fourth, he had to bring guarantors.
This was definitely a problem. Almost everyone that Rabbi Akiva knew was as poor as he himself. Who could possibly be his backer?
Suddenly the matron smiled slyly and said "You believe that your G-d controls everything and is the king of the Universe, correct? Well then, why not take your G-d as a guarantor? And just to be sure I will take the sea, to be a guarantor as well!"
Before he could say another word she took out a bag of golden coins, counted them out on the table, he signed the document agreeing to all the conditions and he was on his way.
Rabbi Akiva immediately used the loan to pay off all his old debts and to buy food and other necessities and then he set off to collect money to pay the matron back. He reckoned it would take him a good month and a lot of miracles to get up the money but he was, as usual, optimistic.
Then tragedy struck;
Suddenly he began to feel sick. The next morning he had a high fever and wasn't even able to move from his bed and so it continued for three more weeks with no sign of letting up. The deadline was approaching but he was helpless.
Meanwhile the day for payment arrived and the matron was getting nervous. She needed the money. Could it be that that great holy Rabbi with the deep, kind eyes had fooled her? Certainly not! She thought to herself there must be some problem, some difficulty and she wanted to help. But how?
Suddenly she had an idea. She would pray!
She went to the seashore that bordered her back yard, looked out upon the mysterious and potent water and prayed, "G-d of Rabbi Akiva. Creator of the sea and the wind. King of the universe! You and the sea are guarantors for my money and I need the money by this evening! Please see to it that it gets to me as soon as possible." And she turned back to her home.
The Talmud tells us that it just so happened that at this precise time, far away on the other side of the ocean, the daughter of the Caesar was strolling with her maidservant and, for some reason, commanded the servant to take a box of jewels along. Perhaps the princess wanted to look at them glitter or sift through them while sitting on the sea. In any case, maybe it was the whistling of the strong ocean wind at their backs or perhaps it was the crashing waves but suddenly the poor woman went berserk. Her delicate, royal mind snapped - she grabbed the box from her servant and threw it into the water!
In moments the powerful wind and current pushed it far out to sea and as soon as it disappeared over the horizon the princess came to her senses as though nothing happened, and returned home with no memory of the entire incident! (and of course the servant didn't remind her).
Meanwhile, back in Israel; the despairing matron, increasingly nervous about her loan, happened to look out again at the sea and noticed some shining object floating toward her house near the shoreline of her property.
She ran out to see and, behold, it was a metal box! She took it into her house, broke open the lock and it was filled with precious stones!! How it floated to her (and how it floated at all) were clearly miracles!! But it was obvious that G-d and the sea had paid her back as honest guarantors should.
One week later, Rabbi Akiva was on his feet again, heading toward the matron's house and he had also experienced a few miracles:
Besides being healthy again he had the money to pay back the loan! It seems that the many hundreds of people that came to visit him while he was sick gave donations to his Yeshiva.
But when he came to her mansion he was in for a surprise; she refused to take his money.
"The guarantors paid me back already, on time." She said producing the box and the remaining jewels, "In fact, there's a lot left over and it's all yours."
Some say that from the leftovers Rabbi Akiva became a rich man and never had to beg for money again for his yeshiva for the rest of his life.
Now we can understand why the Torah lists the kings of Esav.
Because the job of the Jewish people is to give blessing and meaning to all mankind, no matter how worthless they may seem.
We can see this clearly with the story of Josef. Many people, cheated, hated and tortured him unjustly causing him to spend twelve years in prison for no reason what so ever.
Nevertheless, when he was king he did not take revenge, nor did he act like a dictator or a despot rather he ruled with wisdom, provided sustenance for all mankind and brought world peace.
And all this was preparation for the arrival of Moshiach!
Moshiach will do the same thing as Josef did but in a deeper and more permanent way. That is what is indicated in Rashi's two examples.
Just as the sand that contains a diamond suddenly becomes important and worthless chaff becomes inflamed when a spark touches it. So will Moshiach give importance, value and inspiration to all mankind whether with their consent and knowledge, like the matron in our story, or without it, like Caesar's daughter.
Each and every human will realize that he/she is being created constantly and is loved and valued by the Creator of the Universe. Then all mankind will show its gratitude by keeping the Seven Noahide Commandments: to repay G-d for His great kindness and love. And some will even be inflamed with inspiration.
It all depends on us to do all we can to reveal Moshiach even one second earlier.
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.