Sunday, November 21, 2010

Vayeishev, Breishis 37:12. Shechem.

 Breishis Rabba 79:7:
שלשה מקומות שאין אומות העולם יכולין להונות את ישראל לומר גזולים הן בידכם ואלו הן מערת המכפלה ובית המקדש וקבורתו של יוסף
There are three places that the gentiles cannot say we stole: The Me'aras Hamachpeila, the Beis Hamikdash, and the Burial ground of Yosef.  Each of these places were purchased from their indigenous owners; The Machpeila by Avraham Avinu from Ephron the Hittite, the Beis Hamikdash by David from Aravna, also known as Arauna the Jebusite, and the burial ground of Yosef.  The "Burial Ground of Yosef" refers to the area described in Parshas Vayishlach, Breishis 33:18-19, wherein Yakov purchased land in Shechem from the sons of Chamor- the Chamor whose son, also named Shchem, later kidnapped and assaulted Dinah.  So it is synonymous with the city we call Shechem.

It is perplexing 
  • that Chazal are worried about what the Gentiles would approve of and what they would not, as if we should aspire to their ethical standards.
  • that Chazal think that Kibush Milchama, the Right of Conquest, which was universally accepted until the twentieth century, and which is still recognized by victors, would not legitimize our claim, as is does for the rest of the world throughout history.
  • And do Chazal really think that these old bills of sale eliminate any denial of our right to be there?  The same way the first Rashi in Chumash's Rabbeinu Yitzchak's argument (אמר רבי יצחק לא היה צריך להתחיל [את] התורה אלא (שמות יב ב) מהחודש הזה לכם, שהיא מצוה ראשונה שנצטוו [בה] ישראל, ומה טעם פתח בבראשית, משום (תהלים קיא ו) כח מעשיו הגיד לעמו לתת להם נחלת גוים, שאם יאמרו אומות העולם לישראל לסטים אתם, שכבשתם ארצות שבעה גוים, הם אומרים להם כל הארץ של הקב"ה היא, הוא בראה ונתנה לאשר ישר בעיניו, ברצונו נתנה להם וברצונו נטלה מהם ונתנה לנו:) hasn't done us much good, this one hasn't helped either.  Recently, the imbeciles and murderers at UNESCO declared that two of the three listed in the Medrash, namely, the Me'aras Hamchpeila and the Har Habayis, are mosques whose Islamic background is at least as significant as their association with the Jewish people.  In order to rip our hearts out, they also threw in Kever Rachel.  They didn't even bother with Shechem and Kever Yosef.  Mamesh a stirah to the Medrash! We need to let them know!
Reb Tzadok in his Pirush on Chumash in Vayishlach 33:18 [9] brings from the Zohar (Chelek Beis 125:1) that in order to generate a spirit of holiness, an area needs to be purchased and the full price must be paid.  This, of course, illuminates the deeper meaning of our Medrash.  Reb Tzadok says that the unique quality of the Me'aras Hamachpeila was that prior the the investiture of kedusha in the Har Habayis, the graves of tzadikim were the place of Hashra'as Hashechina, as we find (Sotah 34b) that Kalev prostrated himself on the kevarim in prayer.   I am totally incompetent in this area, so the Zohar's illumination of the Medrash leaves me in the dark, and I will leave it to people who know something about it.

Coincidentally, I saw a  Chasidishe sefer (by Rav Asher Zelig Grinzweig, who happened to be a great man; he is the grandfather of the wife of Ephraim Oschry, who wrote the introduction, and he died at Auschwitz with simcha in the mitzva of mesiras nefesh) that brings from an earlier Chasidishe sefer that when a person buys a new house, he should bury a silver coin in the road near the house and say out loud- in a polyglot of Yiddish, Hebrew, and Aramis- that he's buying the house from the S'A (אני לוקח דיא קרקע בייא אייך מתהום ארעא ועד רום רקיע).  (Just because the man who wrote the sefer was a tzadik and Rosh Yeshiva who died ahl kiddush Hashem doesn't mean I have to like chasidishe maises.)

Whatever the Zohar and the Medrash mean, let's accept this as a premise:  These purchases were prerequisite to the invocation of some exceptional kedusha.  But what about Shechem?

Reb Tzadok explains that Shechem was the first dwelling place of Yakov on returning to Eretz Yisrael, and Yakov wanted to invest the area with a special kedusha of Techumin of Shabbos, and this is why he needed to purchase it.  But still, we have to ask, why did it come out that this special event took place in Shechem?  Was there something special about Shechem that led to its being the first city to be invested with kedusha?

So Reb Tzadok brings the Gemara in Sanhedrin 102a.

וילך רחבעם שכם כי שכם בא כל ישראל להמליך אותו תנא משום ר׳ יוסי מקום מזומן לפורענות בשכם עינו את דינה בשכם מכרו אחיו את יוסף בשכם נחלקה מלכות בית דוד
Reb Yosi taught: Shechem is a place that is predisposed to calamity.  In Shechem Dinah was tortured, in Shechem the brothers sold Yosef, in Shechem the kingdom of David was torn asunder by Yeravam and Rechavam.

Reb Tzadok explains that these three sins are manifestations of the three fatal scourges: Kinah/jealousy, Taavah/desire, and Kavod/haughtiness.  The story of Dinah represents a failing of Taavah.  The sale of Yosef stemmed from Kinah.  Also, he brings Makos 10a that in Shechem, murder was common, which, he says, also stemmed from kinah.  The division of Klal Yisrael into two kingdoms was the result of (Sanhedrin 101b) Yeravam's unwillingness to subordinate himself to the family of David- Kavod. 

Reb Tzadok says that it only by utilizing the kedusha of Shabbos as a means to connect one's self to the kedusha of the Three Avos can a person overcome the three deadly traits of Kinah, Taavah, and Kavod.  This is why Yakov purchased land in Shechem and made Techumin for Shabbos there.  By doing so, he invested it with the kedusha of Shabbos, and enabled us to overcome the three deadly traits.

You surely noticed that the Medrash that started this discussion alluded to Shechem by saying that it was the burial ground of Yosef.  You have to wonder what that has to do with this.  According to Reb Tzadok, it was simply the first place where Yakov dwelled upon returning to Eretz Yisrael, and it needed a special refu'ah for the spiritual illness to which it was prone.  But is there some relationship between its special character and the fact that Yosef was buried there?  This, Reb Tzadok does not discuss.

When I brought this up at our Shabbos Morning Kiddush, a very smart person proposed an excellent explanation.  Yosef represents the ability of a spiritually superior human being to completely overcome any taint of these three flaws.
  • Yosef's flight from the wife of Potiphar was, by our standards, a superhuman act.  It's hard enough to fight the yetzer hara of arayos at home; it's doubly hard when in galus, away from your family and your society.  It's almost impossible when you have to fight not only the yetzer hara, but also the yetzer hatov, which was the case here, as Rashi says about the motivation of Potiphar's wife.  Yosef represents the ability to overcome Taavah.
  • Yosef represents the ability of a human being to eliminate kinah from his heart.  Did Yosef not realize that wearing the Kesones Pasim, that talking about his dreams, endangered him?  He did not, because the concept of Kinah was so entirely foreign to his experience that it did not occur to him that he should wary of eliciting it in his brothers.  He was above kinah to the extent that Yosef is called "Alei Ayin," which Chazal (Brachos 20) explain means he was immune to Ayin Hara.  Only one who has vanquished his own Kinah is immune to the Ayin Hara.
  • Yosef represents the utter victory of humility over pride.  When he interpreted all the dreams, he did not claim superior wisdom; he attributed his abilities to Hashem.  When his brothers came to Mitzrayim, he hugged them and kissed them and told them to not worry about what they had done to him, because it was the will of Hashem and resulted in his being able to take care of them, to feed, clothe, and house them.  His suffering was not important, his high position was not important, all that mattered was his ability to take care of his brothers.  Yosef's supernal humility is a lofty example for the world beaters, the wealthy, the greatest philanthropists, and gedolei Torah, because he was all of these things and remained perfectly humble.
It is for these reasons that Yosef is buried in Shechem.  We look at Yosef and learn that it is not the fate of all humans to fall victim to these three flaws.  With tefilla and zechus avos, we can overcome them, as Yosef did.

The certain wise person is my wife, the daughter and granddaughter of Roshei Yeshiva and Gedolei Olam.  If hearing a woman's Torah thoughts bothers you, I refer you to the picture directly above the Labels column.


  1. Why is the right of conquest a right way to acquire property? You have a duke of Normandy and a bunch of his buddies crossing the Channel and killing a bunch of Saxon landowners -- and suddenly, he and his descendants become the rightful owners of the British island? You have a bunch of white settlers with guns who misplace Native Americans, and suddenly, the land is their? How is that different from any robbery?

  2. "Why is the right of conquest a right way to acquire property?"

    I didn't say it was good or fair. I said it was effective and recognized as a legal fact. Just as a nation that goes to war totally re-characterizes renders what yesterday would have been murder, so too war is viewed as a fact of nature. You don't sue Mother Earth for submerging continents, you just deal with the reality. I don't doubt that the and lehavdil, that a price would be paid in the Beis Din shel Maalash, and that lehavdil the ICJ at the Hague would disapprove, too. But as a convention, and as a fact, it is effective.

  3. My question was: why is it recognized by Halacha? What is the relevance that goyim recognize something as a legal fact? How is that relevant, if they are breaking Halacha?

    Goyim are obligated to keep Mitzvos Bnei Noach. Stealing is one of the issurim. When an advancing army takes your property, as far as I can see, it steals it. Why should I be able to buy stolen property from the soldiers?

    This issue actually came up with sale of Jewish property (e.g., art, religious manuscripts) stolen by Nazis during WWII. Were other Jews allowed to buy this property on post-WWII auctions? Were they obligated to return it to the owners?

    So, if you tell me: ah, but when an individual goy steals your property, that's one thing, but when an advancing army (i.e., a bunch of goyim) steals your property, that's another thing. And my questions are: a) what's the mokor? b) why do we make this distinction?