Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Miketz, Breishis 43:14. The First Acheir: וְשִׁלַּח לָכֶם אֶת אֲחִיכֶם אַחֵר וְאֶת בִּנְיָמִין Also, Chanuka.

Three parts: Part one, Chanuka. Part Two, Parshas Mikeitz.  Part Three, a complaint about abysmally bad taste.

Part I
In honor of Chanuka, I want to link to an older piece that I wrote about Tumah Hutra Betzibur, טומאה הותרה בציבור.  It is a high quality piece, but of interest only to a limited audience.   

Part II

And now, on to Parshas Mikeitz.

וְ*ל שַׁ*י יִתֵּן לָכֶם רַחֲמִים לִפְנֵי הָאִישׁ וְשִׁלַּח לָכֶם אֶת אֲחִיכֶם אַחֵר וְאֶת בִּנְיָמִין וַאֲנִי כַּאֲשֶׁר שָׁכֹלְתִּי שָׁכָלְתִּי 
Yaakov says to his sons, if you must go back to Mitzrayim, and you must take Binyamin, then there's nothing I can do but pray that Hashem give you favor in the eyes of the man who threatened you, and may you bring back your other brother and Binyamin.  

The Ramban here, (also brought in the Shai Latorah I,) says that obviously the "other brother," אֲחִיכֶם אַחֵר, is Shimon.  The Ramban asks why Yaakov refers to Shimon as Achichem acheir, not Shimon beni, my poor son Shimon who has been imprisoned in Mitzrayim.  He answers that Yaakov was still angry about what Shimon did to the people of Shechem, and he wouldn’t even mention Shimon’s name; and Yaakov would have left Shimon in Mitzrayim if not for the fact that they didn’t have any bread in the house.

The Shai Latorah brings that Reb Simcha Zissel Broide/Chevron points out how amazing this is, how makpid Yaakov was on Shimon.  Here it was twenty years later, and according to the Ramban the complaint against Shimon  was not the action Shimon had taken against Shechem, but instead Shimon and Levi’s not having asked Yaakov’s advice/permission.  And still, he was unwilling to take a risk to save Shimon, and when circumstances forced his hand, he only referred to him as "the other one," Acheir.  We see, he says, the degree of seriousness Yaakov attached to family discipline, that it was such an unforgivable breach that he would have left Shimon there in prison, and when the opportunity to get him back arose, he referred to him as his "Acheir," like Elisha ben Avuyah.

            The truth is, the Ramban does say this, but there’s an essential point that was left out in the sefarim that quote it.  We have to ask ourselves, did Shimon ask for mechilah? Did he demonstrate a change of heart?  Did he make an effort to address the problem?  Are we not justified in saying pshat in the Ramban that Shimon was recalcitrant, and would have done the same again?  (These are rhetorical questions.  Answers: No. No. No. Yes.)  If so, Yaakov’s attitude was far more understandable. 

Once again, we have an example of Shimon’s position in the shvatim.  Nowhere in Tanach is anything nice said about him.  I have seen stained glass windows in shuls that had the twelve tribes with a passuk from Tanach about each, and the window for Shimon has a generic passuk that is totally irrelevant to Shimon, because the people who made the windows couldn't find one nice thing in Tanach about that Sheivet.  Shimon was not only a kannai, he was stubborn, and never accepted constructive criticism that he should learn to channel and redirect his anger.  A blind zealotry that rejects the need for discipline and nuance is deadly and even self-destructive.  Levi, on the other hand, apparently channeled their aggressiveness into avodas Hashem and became the great teachers of Klal Yisrael.
(Note: Acheir is the epithet by which Elisha ben Avuya, who lived at the time of the Tana'im, is known.  While his scholarship is not contested, his rejection of orthodox theology resulted in his expulsion from the his peer group (Chulin, Shiluach Hakein) and his eternal disgrace of being referred to as Acheir, the Other.  Reb Meir, the great Tanna, studied with him.  When Reb Meir's attempt (end of Horyos) to depose Rabban Gamliel failed, Rabban Gamliel declared  that henceforth Reb Meir would be quoted  as Acheirim, a dual insult: that his name is not mentioned, and although Reb Meir felt he could study the Torah with Elisha ben Avuya without being influenced by his heretical theology, Rabban Gamliel was here asserting that Reb Meir was influenced by Elisha, and deserved to be called Acheirim just as his teacher was called Acheir.)

Part III
On a completely different topic:

A few years ago, I wrote about the minhag of inscribing the name of the donor or other honorees on sanctified objects.  I wrote the following:
Benefactors donate items to Shuls and Batei Medrash, which are intended to beautify and glorify our places of Tefillah and Torah. For example, people donate Sifrei Torah, or the Paroches on the Aron Kodesh. And, to our bemusement, in middle of that beautiful thing, is a lengthy description of who donated it and why they donated it. We learn that they gave it for their birthday, or in honor of their anniversary, or whatever private motivation that they choose to record in shining letters. It often strikes us as incongruous that while the ostensible motive of the donor is to glorify Hashem, it seems that they are equally motivated by their desire to show off their munificence and perpetuate their own glory. As usual, this attitude does conclusively prove one thing, and that is Daas Baal Habayis Hepech Daas Torah, that where we think we are standing up for the honor of the Torah, in fact we are just venting ignorant feelings of prejudice and jealousy. The Rashba addresses this issue in his Responsa.

The Tshuvos HaRashba in 981 brings a proof from the story of Yosef that when a person does a mitzvah, it is proper to publicize that he did it and why he did it. The Torah sees fit to interrupt the narrative of the sale of Yosef to note that Reuven was purely motivated and that he intended to save Yosef. As cited by the Torah Temimah here, the Rashba then says, and the Rama in YD 249:13 paskens, that one who dedicates an object to tzedakah may write his name on it, and the community cannot interfere with this prerogative. So, all those parochos and things that have a gantzeh megillah about who donated it and why, might look like they aggrandize the donor at the expense of the beauty of the donated object, but the Rashba and the Rama say it’s fine. The truth is, these inscriptions can also be seen as beautiful in themselves, since they give voice to and demonstrate the donor’s love and respect for the davar shebikdusha and his desire to be associated with them.  As  Lkwdguy put it, " while some choose to mark anniversaries with eternity bands, these donors chose to mark theirs with something truly eternal."  Beautifully said.  Lkwdguy must work on Madison Avenue.
 This question came to mind recently.  For a guest's simcha, a family sefer Torah was brought to shul.  It was a sefer torah from Europe, purchased from the gentiles who had saved it from being burned when all the Jews of the town were herded into the shul and burned alive.  The rav of the town was the great great grandfather of the young man who was celebrating a simcha.  On the Mantle of the sefer was a Jewish Star, the yellow star with 'Jude' inside that the Nazis forced Jews to wear.  It was not an authentic relic, it was a new embroidered patch.

So, what do you think about that?  Poignant symbolism, or shameful abuse of a Sefer Torah? Profundity or ignorance?  I vote for ignorance and shameful.  These symbols were used to dehumanize us, to identify us as targets for torture and horrible deaths.  We should never forget our sufferings and martyrdom; but the Sefer Torah is not the proper place to put that reminder.  The Sefer Torah is our glory and our connection to the Ribono shel Olam, it is the precious heart of Klal Yisrael, it is the word and will of Hashem.  You don't put symbols of our degradation and suffering on it.  When we start engraving wedding bands with Arbeit Macht Frei, we can put Jewish stars on Sifrei Torah.  Either it makes the Sefer beautiful or it doesn't belong there. 


  1. If the patch belonged to someone in the Shul that was burned, i would say keep it. But a new patch the Torah could do without.

  2. The truth is, these inscriptions can also be seen as beautiful in themselves, since they give voice to and demonstrate the donor’s love and respect for the davar shebikdusha and his desire to be associated with them.

    Or, (and perhaps this is what you are saying) while some choose to mark anniversaries with eternity bands, these donors chose to mark theirs with something truly eternal.

    (Nice thought, I wonder if my wife will go for it....)

  3. I'm putting that into the post.

  4. I like the idea better and better. If people would dedicate a sefer Torah to their dear wives, there's someone in my neighborhood who would be buying a new sefer Torah every couple of years.

  5. assuming that the sofer can write fast enough

  6. Kol elu shivtei koh - we have no understanding of the greatness of the shevatim. The proof of the greatness of Shimon is he founded the tribe of Shimon! The Alter of Kelm says halevai our mitzvos should have as much kedusha as the aveiros of the great people in tenach