Vayigash: Confused About Crying ~ The Wonders of the Holy Tongue

Joseph rushed because his compassion for his brother had been stirred and he wanted (לִבְכּוֹת) to weep; so he went into the room and wept (וַיֵּבְךְּ) there (Gen.43: 30).

The root ‘בכה’ (wept) appears seven times in the weekly Torah reading of Vayigash— more than in any other weekly Torah reading.

In his Machberet (under the two-letter root ‘בך’)Menachem ben Saruk assigns all the Scriptural occurrences of ‘בכיה’ to one of two subsections:

  1. Verses in which the term means a מְבוּכָּה (quandary/bewilderment/entrapment).

  1. Job28:11 — מִבְּכִי נְהָרוֹת חִבֵּשׁ1From the weeping, He fashioned rivers.
  2. Job38:16 — הֲבָאתָ עַד נִבְכֵי יָם2Have you entered the entrapped areas of the sea?”
  3. Psalms84:7 — עֹבְרֵי בְּעֵמֶק הַבָּכָא3Those who transgress, are in deep weeping.
  4. Joel1:18 — נָבֹכוּ4עֶדְרֵי בָקָר — herds of cattle are bewildered.
  5. Esther3:15 — וְהָעִיר שׁוּשָׁן נָבוֹכָה5and the city of Shushan was bewildered.
  6. Micah7:4 — עַתָּה תִהְיֶה מְבוּכָתָם6now you will become perplexed.
  7. Isaiah9:17 — וַיִּתְאַבְּכוּ7גֵּאוּת עָשָׁן — they will become bewildered by the intensity of the smoke.
  8. Verses that denote weeping/wailing

  1. Jer.31:14 — נְהִי בְּכִי תַמְרוּרִים8wailing, bitter wailing.
  2. I Sam.1:10 — וַתִּתְפַּלֵּל עַל ה’וּבָכֹה תִבְכֶּה — She prayed to G-d, weeping continuously.
  3. Gen.37:35 — וַיֵּבְךְּ אֹתוֹ אָבִיו9And his father bewailed him.
  4. Isaiah30:19 — בָּכוֹ לֹא תִבְכֶּה10you will not have to weep.

Following his usual practice, Menachem does not allude to any contextual link between the two categories, or even whether there exists such a connection whatsoever. However, the very fact that he chose to assign a particular verse to a specific subsection serves as an interpretation of that verse, as is evident from the hundreds of examples in which Rashi explains the meaning of a verse by the simple statement that “Menachem linked” a given expression to a particular subsection. For example, he assigned the verse “עֹבְרֵי בְּעֵמֶק הַבָּכָא”, those who pass through the valley of בָּכָאto the category of verses that denote quandary— thus explaining that the word בָּכָא denotes quandary and complexity.

As noted, Rashi mentions Machberet Menachem hundreds of times in his commentaries, and it is rare to find an instance in which Rashi disagrees with his interpretation. Therefore, it is particularly surprising to find that in this case, Rashi differs with his interpretation in two of the verses that he assigned to the category of quandary:

  1. In the Psalms(84:7) verse, עֹבְרֵי בְּעֵמֶק הַבָּכָא, Rashi interprets it as those who transgress [Your laws and are] in the depth of the weeping11and howling.12
  2. In his comments to the Job(28:11) verse — מִבְּכִי נְהָרוֹת חִבֵּשׁ, from the waters of the deep He fashioned rivers — Rashi states: “At the time of Creation, when the lower waters wept; ‘בכי’ is similar [in meaning] to נִבְכֵי יָם inJob38:16.

Now, although Rashi seemingly interprets the word מִבְּכִי in the second verse as an expression of weeping, he then cites as a comparative reference the expression נִבְכֵי יָם in Job38:16, which he interprets in his commentary to that verse as the entrapped areas (נִבְכֵי) of the sea, and which he equates to the expression, they are נְבוּכִים in the land (Ex.14:3), which he translates there as “imprisoned, with no knowledge of how to exit or where to go to.” (Indeed, in his commentary to the Exodus verse, he also cites this Job verse as another example of imprisonment/entrapment.) Furthermore, even the expressions בְּעֵמֶק and מִבְּכִי, which Rashi expressly interprets in Psalms84:7 and Job28:11 as expressions of weeping, are cited by him in his commentary to Ex.14:3 as examples of ‘מבוכה’. Likewise, in his comments to Isaiah9:17, he interprets וַיִּתְאַבְּכוּ as “they will be bewildered and entrapped … as in מִבְּכִי נְהָרוֹת(Job28:11); בְּעֵמֶק הַבָּכָא (Psalms84:7). Thus, Rashi’s meaning in explaining all these verses —which seemingly cite contradictory interpretations of the same expressions in several instances — seems to require further explanation.

In his commentary to the Exodus verse, they are (נְבוּכִים) in the land, Ibn Ezra differs with Rashi’s view13that the word ‘נְבוּכִים’ is similar in meaning to ‘נִבְכֵי יָם’, with both of them used in the sense of being entrapped, or closed off. Rather, he sees them as derived from two entirely separate roots. The term“נְבוּכִים” is from the root ‘בוך’, and means “like a man who cannot find a solution and does not know what to do” (with the נוּ”ן at the beginning merely added due to the passive form of this usage). By contrast, “נִבְכֵי יָם” is based on the 3-letter root ‘נבך’, and means depths of the seas, or sea waves (as Ibn Ezra suggests in his comments to Job38:16) — which certainly does not apply to the wilderness.14

The commentators on Rashi, in explaining his view, state that this is an instance par excellence of the dispute between the French Sages and the Spanish Sages regarding how to assess the roots of words. For example, Mizrachi, commenting on Rashi’s comparing “נְבוּכִים” to “נִבְכֵי יָם”, writes:15“The correct [understanding of Rashi] is that the Rabbi ob”m was of the opinion that the words נְבוּכִים, נִבְכֵי יָם ,עֵמֶק הַבָּכָא, and מִבְּכִי נְהָרוֹת, are all derived from the two-letter root (i.e., ‘בכ’). For he was one of the French Sages, who argued that all words that are missing either the second or third letter of the three-letter root (known as ‘פעל’) are actually two-letter roots.”

However, we must still explain Rashi’s view concerning the words containing the two-letter root ‘בכ’, which he seemingly interprets sometimes as expressions of weeping, and in others as expressions of a quandary, as we have shown above.

Perhaps we find such an explanation in HaKetav V’haKaballah, who writes in his comments to the words ‘וַיִּבְכּוּ אֹתוֹ’, and they bewailed him(Ber.50:3): “The verb בֶּכִי is derived from the root ‘בך’ according to R’ Shlomo Pappenheim.16Thus, he sees weeping as a combination of the expression ‘מבוכה’ [derived from the root ‘בוך’ according to the Spanish Sages] and the expression ‘בכיה’ [derived from the root ‘בכה’ according to the Spanish Sages], both of which contain the two-letter root ‘בכ’ and involve aspects of confusion and delirium— with the former representing its inner cause, and the latter representing its external symptoms.17

Perhaps we can offer some support for the argument of HaKetav V’haKaballah from the Jerusalem Talmud (Taanit2:1):18“R’ Berachiah decreed thirteen fast days [as days of penitence and prayer for rain and an end to a drought], but no rain descended, and [instead,] at the conclusion [of all the fast days], locusts arrived [and destroyed whatever remained of the crops].” The Talmud then relates that R’ Berachiah addressed the community as to the failure of their fasts, expounding the verses in Micah(7:3-4) as follows: “ ‘On the day that you awaited, your punishment will come — On the day that we awaited for relief, the locusts came upon us —now shall be 19ְמבוּכָתָם—[i.e.,] on account of their wailing and weeping [the rains will come].”20

As we noted, the author of HaKetav V’haKaballah saw the notion of complexity and bewilderment as common to both ‘מבוכה’ and ‘בכיה’, since a quandary ultimately leads to a feeling of helplessness. However, in his comments on the verse in Exodus(14:3), in which he equates the word נְבוּכִים with the words נִבְכֵי יָם ,עֵמֶק הַבָּכָא, and מִבְּכִי נְהָרוֹת, Rashi includes other terms, thereby anticipating and resolving Ibn Ezra’s difficulty with Rashi’s linkage of נְבוּכִים”” to “נִבְכֵי יָם” – before Ibn Ezra ever posed the question. By using the terms “imprisoned and sunk in” to describe the underlying meaning of both verses, Rashi used concepts that relate to both the sea and the wilderness on an abstract level, since it is possible to experience a feeling of imprisonment and sinking in every difficult situation whose solution is not straightforward. Additional terms used by Rashi in interpreting various expressions of ‘מבוכה’ are: closure(e.g.,Isaiah9:16;Joel1:18; Job38:16) and scrambling(Joel1:18; Micah7:4).21

It is based on the above definitions that Rashi also defined the root ‘אבך’. In his comments to the clause, וַיִּתְאַבְּכוּ גֵּאוּת עָשָׁן ,and they will be overcome (וַיִּתְאַבְּכוּ) by the intensity of the smoke (Isaiah9:16), he writes: “They will be bewildered and enclosed by the heavy smoke of the conflagration. וַיִּתְאַבְּכוּ — For every expression of [the form] ‘נבך’, the root of the word is merely ‘בך’, as in מִבְּכִי נְהָרוֹת (Job28:11) and בְּעֵמֶק הַבָּכָא (Psalms84:7).

Avnei Shayish (root ‘אבך‘) suggests additional roots that are constructed from ‘בך’ (namely ‘סבך’ and ‘רבך’), thus the list of derivatives would be: ‘אבך’, ‘נבך’, ‘סבך’ and ‘רבך’. The fundamental meaning linking all these terms according to Avnei Shayish is:grasping/attachment. Their different first letters merely denote differences between their secondary concepts:

1) Root אבך :וַיִּתְאַבְּכוּ גֵּאוּת עָשָׁן (Isaiah9:16), meaning, the smoke clouds were connected.22

2) Root נבך :נְבֻכִים הֵם בָּאָרֶץ (Ex.14:3), meaning, they are caught without an ability to exit.

3) Root סבך: נֶאֱחַז בַּסְּבַךְ (Gen. 22:13), meaning, grasped in the thorns.23

4) Root רבך: מֻרְבֶּכֶת תְּבִיאֶנָּה (Lev.6:14), meaning, stuck through frying.

In listing מֻרְבֶּכֶת among this group of words meaning attached, Avnei Shayish is referring to the consolidation of the dough. Tosafos Brachah (toVayikra6:14) suggests that the word מֻרְבֶּכֶת denotes stirring and mixing (as per the aforementioned view of R’ Shlomo Pappenheim cited in HaKetav V’haKaballah). He offers support from Pesikta,24which equate ‘מרבכת’ and ‘מנבכת’ (due to the phonetically related letters למנ”ר), with ‘מנבכת’25derived from the root ‘נבך’, as in נִבְכֵי יָם (Job38:16).

In summary, there are two overarching explanations regarding the link between all the words containing the two-letter string ‘בך’: (1) confusion, bewilderment anddisorientation. (2) closure, imprisonment, grabbing, andattachment.However, it seems obvious that these two explanations are not necessarily in conflict with each other, since a confused person is one who feels that he is being held back from advancing and making progress; he is seized and sruck in his place. Similarly, we can explain the link in reverse manner, for one who is stuck in a cul-de-sac is liable to reach a situation of confusionand quandary,which can ultimately lead to feelings of depression and aggravation that are expressed with weepingand tears.

However, in contrast to the common meaning of the term ‘בכה’ (i.e., weepingdue to internal bewildermentand aggravation) elsewhere in Scripture, the appearance of the root in this weekly portion actually implies a feeling of release from pain. At long last, Joseph had found relief from his pain and reconciled with his brothers. Thus, the ‘בכיה’ in our verseis a weepingof joy and renewal. May it be the will of G-d that all our weepings shall be weepings of joy, and that G-d shall hear our prayers and open up the Heavenly Gates of Tears — and send us the true redeemer speedily in our times, Amen.

1Rashi:“At the time of Creation, when the lower waters wept; ‘בכי’ is similar toנִבְכֵי יָם inJob 38:16 (see discussion that follows).

2Rashi:“נִבְכֵי יָם meansenclosed areas of the sea, as in, they are entrapped(נְבוּכִים) in the land (Ex.14:3).

3Rashi:Those who transgress [Your laws and are] in the depths of weeping.

4Metz. Tzion: “A notion of bewilderment,as in the verse (Ex. 14:3),they are entrapped(נְבוּכִים) in the land.

5Ibn Ezra: “נָבוֹכָה” is from the same root as, they are entrapped(נְבוּכִים) in the land; like a man who erred, and does not know what to do.”

6Metz. Tzion: “מְבוּכָתָםmeans a sense of bewilderment,as in the verse (Ex. 14:3),they are entrapped(נְבוּכִים) in the land

7Rashi: “They will be bewildered and entrapped by the strength of the smoke from the conflagration. ‘ויתאבכו’ — In every expression [of the root] נבך, the root of the word is merely ‘בך’ — as in מִבְּכִי נְהָרוֹת (Job28:11); עֵמֶק הַבָּכָא (Psalms84:7) — with the letter nunonly included on occasion. Here, an ‘א’ is included in lieu of a ‘נ’, as in the ‘א’ of אִבְחַת חָרֶב,the dread of the sword(Ezek. 21:20), and the ‘א’ of אַחֲוָתִי בְּאָזְנֵיכֶם,let my expression [be] in Yourears(Job13:17).

8Radak: “בְּכִי תַמְרוּרִים denotes weeping with a bitter heart, in the sense of (אֲמָרֵר בְּבֶּכִי)I shall weep bitterly (Isaiah22:4) and (וּבָכוּ אֵלַיִךְ בְּמַר נֶפֶשׁ)They will weep for you with embittered soul(Ezek27:31).

9Rashi: “Isaac weptbecause of the troubles of Jacob.”

10Rashi: “You will not have to beseech G-d with weeping, for he will heed your outcry [even without it].”

11Based on the Sages’ exposition in Eruvin19a, “What is [meant by] that which is written,עֹבְרֵי בְּעֵמֶק הַבָּכָא ? That they weep and shed tears like the spring (i.e., constant flow) of the Altar drains.”

12Most of the commentators interpret the word בָּכָאto mean a type of tree, or a place where they grow these trees calledבְּכָאִים,with the clause interpreted plainly as those who pass by the valley of the בְּכָאִים.Radak(to this verse) states: “עֵמֶק הַבָּכָא means ‘a valley in which there were בְּכָאִים,’ which are trees that in the language of the Mishnah are referred to as תּוּתִים”(see also his other two explanations). Metz. Dovidsays it means a valley where they grow חוֹחִים, and equates it to מִמוּל בְּכָאִים inII Sam. 5:23.Malbimsimply explains it as “types of trees,” and also cites מִמוּל בְּכָאִים inII Sam. 5:23.

13R’ A. Weiser notes that he differs with Rashi and Rashbam.

14Tzintzenet Shaito Ex. 14:3.

15See Gur Aryeh(loc cit.) for similar comments.

16Cheshek Shlomo (root’בך’, p. 27b): “Also derived from ‘בך’ is the verb ‘בכה’, meaning weeping,i.e., revealing the quandary in one’s heart with an external demonstration via raising one’s voice and shedding tears.

17Elsewhere (Ex.22:28), he takes this one step further, positing that this same duality that exists with respect to the internal vs. external meaning of ‘בכה’ also applies to the root ‘דמע’. Just as the primary meaning of ‘בכה’ is the internal confusionand bewildermentin the heart of the one who weeps, whereas the weepingis merely the secondary external demonstration of that internal feeling, so too is the primary meaning of the word ‘דמע’ the internal confusionin his heart that leads to the external tears (with this primary definition borrowed from its usage as the mixingof crops that are terumahin crops that are free of terumah), and the tearsis a derivative Rabbinic meaning.

18Compare also to the Babylonian Talmud, Taanit25b.

19Ein Yaakov (inHaKosev) explains that מְבוּכָתָםmeanstheir weeping.That is, the prophet suggests the only method that will bring results — now shall be their weeping,i.e., they will only be answered if they will weep for their sins with a broken and humble heart. For it is the manner of penitents to fast and to weep, as it is written (Joel2:12): Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with lamentation.

20Perhaps this is also an allusion to G-d’s “measure-for-measure” method of reward and punishment, with their lack of tears being the cause of a lack of rain — as we find in the verse (Jer.31:8): With weeping they will come (i.e., through prayer and penitence — Rashi)… I will guide them on streams of water.

21As to Rashi’s seemingly inconsistency in interpreting certain verses as referring sometimes to confusion and sometimes to crying, as we’ve seen in the Yerushalmi, the two are inextricably linked and are used interchangeably.

22Malbim(Isaiah9:17) interprets it as the confusion of order that is present in clouds. That is, the clouds overlap and connect with one another in a chaotic and tangled manner.

23Metz. Tzion also uses this definition throughout Scripture. For example, in his comments toJer. 4:7, he interprets מִסוּבְּכוֹas referring to the branches that grab onto one another; in Nahum1:10, he defines סְבוּכִיםasgrabbingand braiding; and in Isaiah10:34, he interprets סִבְכֵיas denoting grasping.He also defines the related root ‘שבך’ as denoting braidingand weaving, which are related to entrapmentand grabbing (seeMetz. Dovidto I Kings7:17). See also Radak(roots ‘סבך’ and ‘שבך’), who also connects these two roots.

24Pesikta Zutresa, a.k.a.Lekach Tov(Vayikra6:14) states: “מֻרְבֶּכֶת — this teaches us that it was prepared with boiling water, since boiling have an aspect of תרבוך(stirring/mixing). Others say that מֻרְבֶּכֶתis related to the expression נְבוּכִים(confused), because the waters are confused/agitatedwhen they are boiling. The letters נ’ and ר’ interchange, as in נבוכדנצר/נבוכדרצר

25The word ‘מנבכת’ (and נִבְכֵי יָם) according to this view would thus denote areas of turbulence/rapids/whirlpools where the waters are “mixed” and “stirred.”




Vayigash: Pharaoh Exposed ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Parshasוַיִגַשׁ

Pharaoh Exposed

פַּרְעֹה: Pharaoh

פָּרוּעַ: exposed

פֹּטִי פֶרַע: Potiphar

לְמַפְרֵעַ: retroactive, to nullify

פֹּרֵעַ: payment

מַפְרִיעַ: to disturb, to distance

פְּרִיעָה: part of bris milah

פֻּרָעְנִיוֹת: retribution

וַיִּגַּשׁ אֵלָיו יְהוּדָה וַיֹּאמֶר בִּי אֲדֹנִי יְדַבֶּר נָא עַבְדְּךָ דָבָר בְּאָזְנֵי אֲדֹנִי וְאַל יִחַר אַפְּךָ בְּעַבְדֶּךָ כִּי כָמוֹךָ כְּפַרְעֹה

And Yehudah approached him (Yosef) and said, “My lord, please allow your servant to speak of a matter in the ears of my lord, and do not be angry with your servant, for you are like Pharaoh.”1

What does “for you are like Pharaoh” mean? One of the explanations given by Rashi is that just like Pharaoh was struck with צָרַעַת/tzara’as when he abducted Sarah, so too Yehudah was saying to Yosef that if he won’t listen, he too will be struck down with צָרַעַת like Pharaoh.

פַּרְעֹה: Pharaoh

Pharaoh is the one chosen to be the bad character in Hashem’s play. פַּרְעֹה/Pharaoh shares the same root as פֻּרָעְנִיוֹת/retribution; not only is he punished middah k’neged middah/measure for measure, but he is also punished first. Hashem teaches a lesson through Pharaoh, namely that there is פֻּרָעְנִיוֹת/retribution in the world. Just like there is reward for the righteous in the World to Come, there is also a time when the wicked have to pay their debts. And since Pharaoh is the one who instigated the whole plan of enslaving the Jews, appropriately the retribution starts with him.2

The middah k’neged middah/measure for measure punishment that Pharaoh received for taking Avraham’s wife was nega’im gedolim, a type of צָרַעַת/tzara’as that was so painful it prevented him from having relations with Sarah.

פָּרוּעַ: Exposed

After the sin of the Golden Calf, the people are seen by Moshe in a state of disgrace, as the pasuk says: 
וַיַּרְא מֹשֶׁה אֶת הָעָם כִּי פָרֻעַ הוּא כִּי פְרָעֹה אַהֲרֹן לְשִׁמְצָה בְּקָמֵיהֶם
And Moshe saw the people that they were exposed, for Aharon had exposed them to disgrace those who rise up against them.3

The Kli Yakar quotes the Midrash that says the people were struck with צָרַעַת, explaining that the reason for צָרַעַת was to bring out into the light the wickedness that is inside the heart of the sinner. צָרַעַת exposes the sin. 

So on a deeper level, when Yehudah was saying to Yosef that כִּי כָּמוֹךְ כְּפַרְעֹה/you are like Pharaoh, he meant that he will be struck with צָרַעַת, i.e., that in the end Yosef will be exposed for sinning against the brothers. 

Incidentally, the English word pariah, meaning a social outcast, fits nicely with Pharaoh, who is exposed to צָרַעַת — by definition a social outcast.

Regarding the מְצוֹרָע, the Gemara quotes the pasukin Vayikra:וְרֹאשׁוֹ יִהְיֶה פָרוּעַ,4and says, וְאֵין פְּרִיעָה אֶלָא גִידוּל שֵׂעַר, that when the head is exposed, it is referring to the growing of the hair.5Hair, like the fingernails, is the only part of the body that continues to grow; it seems to have a life of its own. Growing one’s hair symbolizes independence and rebellion, like the hippies of the 1960s, whereas the shaving of one’s hair symbolizes conforming to the rules, like soldiers who are no longer independent and relinquish control to a higher authority. Therefore, the growing of themetzora’shair signifies the exposing of his sin, of rebelling against Hashem. When the metzorais finally cured after doing teshuvah, his hair is cut, symbolizing one’s acceptance to reconform to the rules.

The Sotah woman’s hair is also exposed, exposing her sin of secluding herself with another man. In contrast, the covering of a married woman’s hair symbolizes her acquiescence to be under the control of her בַּעַל/husband.

פֹּטִי פֶרַע: Potiphar

Potiphar’s name changed to פֹּטִי פֶרַע, so called because his sin was exposed in that he originally bought Yosef on the pretext of having relations with him. Hashem caused him to become castrated, revealing to us the nature of his sin, middah k’neged middah.

לְמַפְרֵעַ: Retroactive, To Nullify

לְמַפְרֵעַ means to go back on something as if it never happened — to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. Included in this is someone who goes back on his word, to which the Mishnah in Bava Metziasays that Hashem will exact retribution on one who goes back on his word just like He did with the generation of The Flood and the generation of The Dispersion.6And so too with the Egyptians for not keeping their word, for פַּרְעֹה promised many times to let the people go but went back on his word. Retribution was exacted on them when they drowned in the sea, middah k’neged middah for drowning the Jewish baby boys.

פֹּרֵעַ: Payment

פִּרְעִיוֹן חוֹב is used when we are talking about the payment of a loan. In essence, we are retroactively nullifying the loan; we are giving back what we took. So too in the spiritual realm, anyone who takes from the world or perverts it has a חוֹב/debt to settle, where eventually Hashem will say: “It’s payback time.”

מַפְרִיעַ: To Disturb, To Distance

וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לָמָּה מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן תַּפְרִיעוּ
[enq]And Pharaoh says to Moshe and Aharon, “Why are you disturbing the people from their work?”7

One who is מַפְרִיעַ bothers someone from doing something good, in essence taking from him, and eventually will have to pay back.

פְּרִיעָה: Part of Bris Milah

After the orlah is cut, the membrane is torn back, exposing the עַטָרָה/crown. When Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he literally revealed himself by showing his bris milah to prove his identity, as the Midrash Tanchuma says:וְלֹא הָיוּ מַאֲמִינִים בּוֹ,עַד שֶׁפָּרַע אֶת עַצְמוֹ וְהֶרְאָה לָהֶם חוֹתַם בְּרִית.8

Adam was born already with the bris; only after the sin, when the nachash entered Adam, was there a need for bris milah in order to remove the klipos, the blockages of the nachash, and curb the desire for women. The bris helps the Jewish People be king over their desires, as opposed to the goyimwho are slaves to their desires.

And this is the quintessential difference between Yosef and Pharoah. Yosef, the סוֹד הַפְּרִיעָה, ruled over himself by guarding the bris. Yosef encompasses the sefirah of yesod/foundation, which is the sphere before malchus/kingship. In other words, in order to crown Hashem King, we first have to be kings over ourselves. פְּרִיעָה, which is גִלּוּי הָעַטָרָה, thus symbolizes that Yosef had this aspect of revealing the crown of kingship. Yosef was known as Yosef HaTzaddik, צַדִיק from the exposition of צַיִד” ק”, i.e., he was able to trap his monkey.9Pharaoh, on the other hand, was ruled by his monkey; he ruled over the עֶרְוַת הָאָרֶץ/the nakedness of the land. Everything was exposed, somewhat like the Internet today, where nothing is left sacred. גִלּוּיעַרָיוֹת literally means “the revealing of nakedness,” where Egypt was its capital.

פֻּרָעְנִיוֹת: Retribution

One who uses the bris in a kodesh way gives nachas to Hashem. Instead of being מַפְרִיעַ and distancing himself from Hashem, he draws Hashem close; he is the סוֹד הַפְּרִיעָה, whereas פַּרְעֹה/Pharaoh is מַפְרִיעַ/disturbing Hashem — he just takes from Hashem, leaving behind a big חוֹב/debt; you could call him a “פַּרְעֹה-site”! Eventually, though, it’s payback time, and the sins of Egypt are exposed with the ten plagues, middah k’neged middah. At the Yam Suf, פַּרְעֹה, who was born for פֻּרָעְנִיוֹת, finally fulfills his destiny.

Yosef is revealing Kingship, the Kingship of Hashem and rulership of one’s desires, whereas Pharaoh is the opposite he reveals that he is a slave to his desires.

In the Zechusof Bris Milah

The Midrash Tanchumasays that when Yosef finally reveals himself to his brothers, they are completely in shock to the point where their neshamosleave their bodies and they literally die of shock, requiring Hashem to do a din mishpatin Shamayimin order to bring them back. In order to prove his authenticity, Yosef draws them close and shows them his circumcision. However, what kind of proof is this, seeing as how in last week’s parshahwe learn that Yosef ordered all of the Egyptians who came to him for food to first be circumcised! 

The Chizkuniaddresses this question and gives three answers:

1: Yosef had priyahon his circumcision, whereas the Egyptians did not.

2: The brothers didn’t know that the Egyptians were circumcised.

3: The rich people in Egypt and the people of power, including Yosef, did not need to buy grain, so they would not have been circumcised. 

What exactly was the reason that Yosef made this enactment on the Egyptians? One of the reasons given by Chazal is so that his brothers wouldn’t stick out and be embarrassed when they came down to Egypt. A deeper reason is given by the Kli Yakar. When the Egyptians came to Pharaoh to complain that Yosef would not sell them grain unless they first did circumcision, Pharaoh asked them why they didn’t store their own grain, saying, “You all heard the announcements that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine!” They retorted that they had in fact stored their grain but that it had all rotted. “In that case,” Pharaoh said, “since Yosef has already made a decree on your grain, then you better do what he says before there will be a decree that you will all die.” This is so because עֻרְלָה/orlah, being uncircumcised, is known as a חֶרְפָּה/cherpah, a disgrace, and cherpahis also used in connection with famine. The two are connected because the orlahis פְּסוֹלֶת/pesoles, excess skin that is not needed, and by removing it one removes the place where fungus and mold builds up. So too, there is pesolesin grain that causes it to rot, and so in the merit of bris milah,if one removes the pesoleswithin him, middah k’neged middah Hashem will remove the pesolesin the grain, which is impossible for man to do.

This is the reason why Yosef was the only one in Egypt whose grain did not rot. Because he had bris milahand protected it by going against his nature when it came to being seduced by Potiphar’s wife, he was able to save all the grain brought to him. Furthermore, this is why the Yam Suf split and went against its nature when it saw the bones of Yosef. 

At the Yam Suf, Hashem had filled the pockets of the Bnei Yisrael with all the gold of Egypt, which they then used in the sin of the Golden Calf. The Gemara in Brachosgives a mashal, asking that if you looked after your child and dressed him in nice clothes, lined his pockets with gold, and then placed him outside a brothel, would he not sin?10So too, in a way, that’s what Hashem did with the Bnei Yisrael. Yosef, on the other hand, stood up to the test. Even though Hashem created him with extremely good looks — the only man in the Torah to be described as beautiful — and then placed him in Egypt, the biggest brothel of the whole world, would we not expect him to sin? Not so Yosef, who went against his nature and was thus the only one worthy in Egypt whose crop did not rot.

Yosef was trying to do a tikkunwithin Egypt. Egypt was the most promiscuous place in the whole world, steeped in זְנוּת/immorality. The Zoharsays that the generation in Egypt was comprised of the reincarnated souls that Adam created when he spilled his seed after separating from Eve for 130 years after she had caused him to sin. These souls needed a tikkunand this is what Yosef was trying to accomplish by requiring them to do bris milah.

It says in Mishlei that all who sleep with a zonah will end up in poverty, requesting bread.11These were the Egyptians who were so steeped in זְנוּת that they lost everything — they lost all their money, sold their lands, and even themselves in order to attain bread.

So coming back to our question, what kind of proof was it that Yosef showed his brothers that he was circumcised? Yosef was the only one worthy of having grain in Egypt because he had bris milahand was shomerthe bris, while everyone else was steeped in zenusand as a result had their grain rot. This was the proof that Yosef was showing them: that everything was in the zechusof bris milah.

1Bereishis 44:18.

2Sotah11a; see also Rashi to Shemos 14:4.

3Shemos 32:25.

4Vayikra 13:45.

5Mo’ed Katan15a.

6Bava Metzia chap. 4.

7Shemos 5:4.

8See Appendix ii, which asks how this proved anything, seeing as how Rashi explains in Parshas Miketzthat all the Egyptians did bris milah.

9Where קוּף can also be read קוֹףmeaning monkey.

10Brachos 32a.

11Mishlei 6:26.




Vayigash: Speaking in Tongues ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

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Speaking in Tongues

In the Hebrew language, there are two different words for “language”—safa and lashon. If taken hyper-literally these two words actually refer to body parts. Safa means “lip” and lashon means “tongue”. The connection between lips and tongues to language is obvious, but why do we need two different words for language? Regarding Hebrew’ role as the language spoken by pre-Babel civilization, the Bible (Gen. 11:1) refers to their single language as a safa (“lip”), but the Hebrew language is traditionally called Lashon HaKodesh (literally, “the Holy Tongue”, but more loosely, “the Holy Language”) or Lashon Ivri (“the Hebrew Tongue”, or “the Hebrew language”). In Modern Hebrew, the word for “language” is safa and Hebrew is called Safa Ha’Ivrit (“the Hebrew lip”, or the “the Hebrew language”). Why are there two different words for language, and what is the difference between them?

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (1892–1953) explains the difference between these two terms as follows: One’s “lip” is an external feature of his body, while one’s “tongue” is an internal feature. Consequently, one can only refer to a language as a lashon (“tongue”) when its speakers embody the inner meaning of that language. By contrast, a language can be called a safa (“lip”) when its speakers only embody the technical, external features of the language, but not its core values. As a result, we refer to Hebrew as Lashon HaKodesh because we strive to internalize the moral and esteemed values signified by that language. Although the sinners of the generation of Babel spoke the same language, they only applied it externally, without incorporating its essence.

The moral standards and expectations represented by Lashon HaKodesh are actually alluded to in the story of Joseph and his brothers. When describing the encounters between the viceroy of Egypt (crypto-Joseph) and his brothers, the Torah mentions that Reuven told his brothers that their difficulties were a punishment for their mistreatment of Joseph. The Torah explains that Joseph’s brothers felt free to speak frankly about Joseph in front of the Egyptian viceroy, because they did not realize that he understood Lashon HaKodesh. About this, the Torah writes: “And they did not know that Joseph was listening because a translator was between them” (Genesis 42:23).

Rashi, in his commentary there, explains that throughout his encounters with his brothers, Joseph purposely employed a translator to serve as an intermediary between him and his brothers. Since Joseph pretended to speak only Egyptian, and his brothers only spoke Lashon HaKodesh, the translator needed to speak both Lashon HaKodesh and Egyptian, implying to Joseph’s brothers that the viceroy himself did not understand Lashon HaKodesh without the aid of the translator. Many commentators, including Rashi, explain that when Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers, he began to speak to them in Lashon HaKodesh—without an interpreter—in order to prove that he was really whom he claimed to be.

However, Nachmanides (1194–1270) writes (in his commentary to Genesis 45:12) that the fact that Joseph spoke Lashon HaKodesh could not serve as proof of his identity. Nachmanides reasons that it would not have been out of the ordinary for an Egyptian to speak Lashon HaKodesh because, the inhabitants of neighboring Canaan spoke Lashon HaKodesh (in fact, Isaiah 19:18 refers to Lashon HaKodesh as “the Canaanite language”). Furthermore, it is quite common for the king of a particular nation to be familiar with the languages of nearby countries. An example of this is Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, who spoke Hebrew even though his advisors answered him in Aramaic (see Daniel 2:2–4). Thus, Joseph would not have proved anything to his brothers by speaking Lashon HaKodesh, because, as viceroy of Egypt, he would be expected to be familiar with neighboring languages.

To answer these questions, Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762–1839)—known as the Chatam Sofer—offers a novel interpretation of the exchange between Joseph and his brothers. He begins by noting an interesting historical phenomenon: Although the local inhabitants of Poland, Lithuania, and Russia did not speak German at all, it was the main language of the Jews found in those areas (i.e., they spoke Yiddish, which is a form of Judeo-German.) He explains that most Jews of Eastern Europe descended from the Jews who had previously lived in Western Europe (thus they are called Ashkenazim which literally means “Germans”) and were ousted during the First Crusade, migrating eastwards. Nonetheless, even after many generations, they had still preserved this dialect of German as their principal language. Rabbi Sofer posits that this occurred because each Jewish family raised their children to speak German, and had been doing so for hundreds of years.

In light of this, Rabbi Sofer notes that it is quite remarkable that after a mere seventy-year exile to Babylon, the Jews very quickly forgot Hebrew. The Bible attests to the fact that only half the Jews returning from the Babylonian exile spoke Hebrew (Nehemiah 13:24). Why was Hebrew forgotten so quickly, yet German continued to exist in the homes of Jewish families for generations after they left Germany? Rabbi Sofer explains that Hebrew is different from all other languages, because only one who maintains a certain degree of holiness can preserve Hebrew. Consequently, Hebrew can be easily forgotten due to a lapse in holiness, while German can be passed on for generations.

Accordingly, explains Rabbi Sofer, Joseph spoke in Lashon HaKodesh to prove to his brothers that although he remained in Egypt for many years, he had maintained the degree of purity and holiness required to retain the language. He had not defiled himself by pursuing the promiscuous lifestyle epitomized by Egyptian culture. In this way, Joseph typified the use of Hebrew as a lashon—something he internalized, as opposed to a safa.

For more information about the history of the Hebrew language and its spiritual significance, check out my book, Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew (Mosaica Press, 2015). Available online and at Jewish bookstores.