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Rabbi Wagensberg on Parsha Vayeishev 2019


"Two Feet Ahead" 

Our parsha discusses Mechiras Yosef (the Sale of Yosef). As religious Jews, we are not allowed to accept the simplistic superficial read of this story because we believe that the Shvatim (tribes; Ya'akov's sons) were tzaddikim (righteous). After all, the verse says that Ya'akov bowed himself on the bed's head (Parshas Vayechi, 47:31). Rashi (ibid, citing Sifri Devarim 6:4) says that Ya'akov was bowing to Hashem on his bed thanking Him that his bed was complete, meaning that all of his children were tzaddikim.

As such, how could it be that such great tzaddikim were guilty of such a serious crime? Kidnapping is a capital offense and it is counted together with the Ten Commandments. Therefore, we have a responsibility to delve into this chapter a little bit more and reveal what was going on behind the scenes.

When the pasuk says that they sold Yosef to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver (Parshas Vayeishev, 37:28), Yonasan ben Uziel adds that the brothers used that money to buy themselves shoes. The Tanchuma (Vayeishev, 2) adds that since there were ten brothers involved in the sale, they split the money evenly and each one received two silver pieces. Each brother bought himself a pair of shoes with that money.

In Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer (chap. 34) and in the Yalkut Shimoni (Vayeishev, Remez 142) it adds that there is a scriptural verse which supports this idea that they bought shoes with the money from Mechiras Yosef. That verse is found in the Book of Amos (2:6) where it says, "For their selling a righteous man for money, and a poor man for shoes." The "righteous man" who was sold for money refers to Yosef Hatzaddik and "The poor man" who was sold for shoes also refers to Yosef --who was poor at that time because they had stripped Yosef of everything that he had.

It is not surprising that this chapter from Amos is the Haftara (section from the Prophets read in conjunction with the weekly Torah reading) of Parshas Vayeishev. It is because both share the same theme which is Mechiras Yosef (see Tosfos Yom Tov, Meseches Megillah, chap. 3, "B'nei Ha-ir", Mishna 4, Divrei Hamaschil Likisidran).

However, this aspect of the story begs us to ask, "Why did the brothers buy themselves shoes right after they sold Yosef?" "Why was that the next logical thing to do?"

Rabbi Avraham Gombiner (1635-1682, Poland, the famous author of the Magen Avraham) writes in another commentary of his called Zeis Ra'anan (on the Yalkut Shimoni, Parshas Vayeishev, Remez 142, #3) that after the sin with the Eitz Hada'as, the earth was cursed, as it says, "Cursed is the ground because of you" (Parshas Bereishis, 3:17).

The ground being cursed means to say that ever since the Eitz Hada'as, there is a spiritual venomous poison that flows through the ground. The ground itself became spiritually contaminated. As a result, it became imperative for man to wear shoes in order to make a separation between the curse in the ground and the person.

This explains why the Gemara (Shabbos, chap. 18, "Mifanin", pg. 129a; Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav) says that if a person does not have enough money to buy a pair of shoes, one should sell the beams of his house and use that money to buy shoes. Since a house without beams will collapse, the Gemara is saying that it is better for a person to be homeless but have a pair of shoes than it is to have a house and go around barefoot.

The reason for this is that if a person does not own a pair of shoes, then he will be rubbing up against the ground which has a curse in it. This will make him susceptible to all kinds of curses which will make him lose, not just his house, but many other things as well.

All of this information is necessary for the following revelation. Yosef Hatzaddik was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Adam Harishon. Although we mentioned two weeks ago that Ya'akov Avinu was a gilgul of Adam Harishon (see Baba Metzia, chap. 7, "Hasocher Es Hapoalim", pg. 84a which supports this notion), it is not contradictory to say that Yosef was a gilgul of Adam Harishon.

This is because the pasuk (Parshas Vayeishev, 37:3) says about Yosef that he was a "ben zekunim" of Ya'akov's. The simplistic understanding of "ben zekunim" is that Yosef was a "child" of his (Ya'akov's) "old age." However, Rashi (ibid, citing Bereishis Rabba, 84:8, Rebbi Yehuda) says that there is an alternative translation to the words ben zekunim. The word zekunim is a contracted word which really stands for, "ziv ikunin" (radiant appearance). In other words, Yosef's radiant shine was similar to Ya'akov's radiant shine (see Yonasan ben Uziel, Parshas Vayeishev, 37:3, who says the same thing).

This radiant shine is a spiritual matter which means to say that Yosef's soul was connected to Ya'akov's soul. Meaning, Yosef was an extension of Ya'akov. In other words, Ya'akov and Yosef shared the same root soul. Therefore, if we established in the past that Ya'akov was a gilgul of Adam Harishon, then it follows that Yosef was also a gilgul of Adam Harishon.

The Zeis Ra'anan says that now we can understand why the brothers bought themselves shoes right after Mechiras Yosef. By purchasing shoes right after Mechiras Yosef, the Shvatim were making a statement. They were telling us that this Yosef that was just sold was no innocent victim. Rather, he was Adam Harishon, who sinned with the Eitz Hada'as, who thereby caused the ground to be cursed, which resulted in us having to wear shoes in order to place distance between ourselves and the cursed ground.

However, by the Shvatim buying shoes now, we could infer that up until that point, the Shvatim did not wear shoes at all. It seems as though the Shvatim walked around barefoot, and this was the first time that they bought a pair of shoes. If so, we could still ask why the Shvatim bought shoes for the first time specifically now? If they were already aware of the curse in the ground, they should have possessed shoes a long time ago.

The Plach Harimon (16), based on the Arizal in Likkutei Torah (Parshas Vayeishev, Divrei Hamaschil Vayisnaklu) addresses this question in the following way. He says that when Yosef brought the evil report about the Shvatim to Ya'akov (Parshas vayeishev, 37:2), the brothers were so shocked at what they felt were fabricated lies being told about them, that they began to think that Yosef was the rotten apple of the family. After all, they reasoned, if Avraham had a Yishmael, and Yitzchak had an Eisav, there seems to be a pattern forming which points in the direction that Ya'akov also produced a rasha (wicked person). That rasha must be Yosef.

This explains why they wanted to kill Yosef. The brothers reasoned that we have had enough pain and suffering at the hands of Eisav and Yishmael. Who needs another enemy nation, Yosef, who will also be committed to our annihilation? That the brothers chose to sell Yosef instead of killing him was a tremendous act of compassion.

This is what the brothers thought about Yosef after Yosef spread ugly rumors about them to their father. However, prior to that evil report, the Shvatim were not suspicious that Yosef was a rasha. Rather, they thought that they were all tremendous tzaddikim. Since the Shvatim knew that they all served Hashem in such an intense way, the brothers thought that the ground in their neighborhood was cleansed of its curse.

After all, we do find that there were certain places and times in Jewish history when wearing shoes was not necessary. For example, at the Burning Bush, Hashem told Moshe Rabbenu to remove his shoes for the place upon which he stood was holy ground (Parshas Shemos, 3:5). Since the Shechina (Divine Presence) rested on that mountain, the curse in that piece of land was ejected. Not only was it no longer necessary to wear shoes in order to separate between man and the curse in the ground because there was no curse in that ground, but on the contrary, it became preferable to walk around barefoot in order to connect with the Holy Shechina that permeated the ground.

Similarly, in the Beis Hamikdash, the Kohanim did the Avoda barefoot. Since the Shechina rested in the Beis Hamikdash, the curse that used to reside in that piece of real estate was cleansed. Not only was it no longer necessary to wear shoes to separate between the person and the curse in the ground because there was no curse in the ground, but, on the contrary, it became ideal to walk around barefoot in order to "rub shoulders," as they say (maybe we should say, "rub feet") with the Shechina.

The same holds true for Yom Kippur. The Kedushas Hayom of Yom Kippur is so intense, that during that entire day, the whole planet is temporarily cleansed of its curse, and it is substituted with holiness. Therefore, it became forbidden to wear shoes because ideally, we should want to walk around barefoot in order to come into contact with the holiness from which we will benefit greatly. If a person wears shoes on Yom Kippur, it is like he saying, "I do not want to draw near to kedusha." That would be considered a sin. Therefore, wearing shoes on Yom Kippur became forbidden.

This also explains why we do not wear shoes on Tisha B'Av. Moshiach's birthday is on Tisha B'Av. When Moshiach comes, the world will be rid of its curse permanently, and we will go back to the spiritual level of Gan Eden before the sin of Adam and Chava. Therefore, on Tisha B'Av we remove our shoes as if to say, "I believe with complete faith that Moshiach will come. Since today is his birthday, it is a propitious time for him to come. Therefore, I am removing my shoes now to say that I am ready for Moshiach to come, and I am ready for the world to finally be purified of its curse once and for all. To demonstrate that I firmly believe in this, I am removing my shoes to show that I am ready to walk upon cleansed ground and soak up its kedusha."

Perhaps we could add that this is why mourners do not wear shoes. When a person mourns over the loss of a loved one, one begins to have thoughts that reflect on the time of Techiyas Hameisim when the mourner will be reunited with his loved one. At that time of Techiyas Hameisim, the world will be cleansed of its curse. Instead, Shechina will reside in the ground. At that time, we will want to walk around barefoot in order to connect with the kedusha in the ground. By removing his shoes, the mourner is saying that he is ready for that time to come already when he will walk around barefoot, together with his loved one, and soak up the kedusha in the ground.

Perhaps we could suggest that this is the reason why a shoe is removed during the Chalitza ceremony. When a man dies without children, there is a mitzva for the late husband's brother to marry his widowed sister-in-law. This is called Yibum (levirate marriage). The reason why the late husband's brother should marry his widowed sister-in-law is so that they can have a child together which will be named after the late brother. In this way, the brother's memory will be preserved and it is as if his lineage will have continuity. (Parenthetically, Yibum is mentioned in this week's parsha with the story of Yehuda and Tamar. See Rashi 38:8, and see Ramban 38:24).

When they do not want to marry, Chalitza (removing the shoe) is done. Chalitza serves as a kind of divorce. By having his shoe removed, it is as if the brother is saying, "Although I do not want to marry my sister-in-law, and although I will not be bringing a baby into this world which will be named after my brother, I still believe with complete faith that the day will come when curse will be removed from the earth permanently. My shoe has been taken off to show that I am ready to connect with the kedusha that will reside in that ground. At that time, all souls will return to this world. My brother will return and, please God, he will bear offspring. Eventually, my brother will have children."

After establishing that there are times and places where going barefoot is preferable, the Shvatim thought that on account of their intense Avodas Hashem, their little Jewish ghetto had been cleansed of curse. Instead, there was holy Shechina in the ground. As a result, they would walk around barefoot in order to connect with the kedusha.

However, once they saw that Yosef brought what they thought was trumped up accusations against them to Ya'akov, they began to think that Yosef could be another Eisav or another Yishmael. Therefore, the first thing they did was sell him in order to get him out of their environment. The very next thing they did was buy themselves shoes because they realized retroactively that there was probably a good measure of curse in the ground on account of Yosef the rasha and his life of unholiness. Therefore, they needed shoes to separate between themselves and the curse in the ground. They will keep shoes on their feet until they successfully cleanse the ground from the curse.

At this point, we are going to share a completely different reason why the Shvatim bought shoes right after Mechiras Yosef. But first, we are going to see how the whole Mechiras Yosef was part of Hashem's master plan to get the Jews down to Mitzrayim.

The Tanchuma (Parshas Vayeishev, 4) says that Hashem promised Avraham that his offspring would be slaves for four hundred years and that afterwards they would leave with great wealth (Parshas Lech Lecha, 16:13-14). Therefore, Hashem orchestrated that Ya'akov would love Yosef more than the rest of his children. Hashem arranged that the brothers would be jealous of Yosef. Hashem orchestrated the sale of Yosef. Hashem oversaw that Yosef would wind up in Mitzrayim. Hashem saw to it that Ya'akov would hear about Yosef being alive in Mitzrayim. Hashem arranged that Ya'akov would descend into Egypt with his entire family. Hashem did all of this just so that His promise to Avraham would be fulfilled. In other words, Hashem found a pretext in order to fulfill his promise to Avraham (see Tehillim, 66:5, "Nora Alila." Also see Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayeishev, 84:13 on Parshas Vayeishev, 37:14)

However, why was it necessary for Hashem to orchestrate this descent into Egypt specifically through the ugly story of Mechiras Yosef? Hashem has so many ways of accomplishing His will, why did Hashem fulfill His will with the diabolical Mechiras Yosef?

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba, Parshas Emor, 32:5) cites Rav Huna in the name of Rebbi Chiya bar Aba who says that when Yosef descended down to Egypt, he was confronted with the temptation of seduction by Potifar's wife. When Yosef withstood those urges, he paved the way and broke the ice for the rest of the Jews to live in Egypt and protect themselves from Egyptian temptations.

In other words, by Yosef shielding himself from immorality, he was not just a role model for others to follow, but he actually created an atmosphere of holiness that the rest of the Jews would be able to live in and not assimilate with their Egyptian counterparts. This one mitzva alone of not intermarrying with the Egyptians was enough of a merit for the Jews to deserve liberation from Mitzrayim eventually.

Based on this, the Shvilei Pinchas makes an observation. He says that we now have two reasons why Yosef had to descend to Mitzrayim: 1) To fulfill the promise that Hashem made to Avraham and 2) to prepare the way for the rest of the family to survive spiritually in Mitzrayim by creating a spiritual bubble in which Jewish life would be able to thrive.

Based on all of this, perhaps we could suggest an answer to the question, "Why did the descent to Egypt have to happen through Mechiras Yosef?" The answer could be that Yosef knew, with his Ruach Hakodesh (Divine Inspiration) that he was supposed to go down to Mitzrayim on a mission to carve out a spiritual cocoon by withstanding temptation. However, Yosef hesitated. Yosef did not want to go. Not because he was going AWOL, but because Yosef knew that the test was going to be very difficult, and he did not feel that he was ready yet.

However, the brothers also knew, with their Ruach Hakodesh, that Yosef was supposed to create a holy environment in Mitzrayim by withstanding temptation. The Shvatim knew that they themselves would succumb to temptation. They knew that only Yosef could accomplish this mission. They also knew that Yosef was ready for this mission. When they saw Yosef's hesitation, they had no choice other than to sell him down to Mitzrayim against his will. It turns out that Mechiras Yosef was a huge compliment to Yosef.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we will understand another reason why the brothers bought shoes after Mechiras Yosef. You see, Egypt was such a decadent society that the land of Mitzrayim was spiritually contaminated. This is why the verse calls Egypt, "Ervas Ha'aretz" (nakedness of the land; Parshas Miketz, 42:9). This meant that there was "erva" (unholy nakedness) in the land itself.

The Jews would need a good pair of shoes in Mitzrayim because they would need to put distance between themselves and the erva of the land. Since Yosef would create that distance by withstanding temptation, Yosef was considered to be the shoes of the Jewish people. Both Yosef and shoes share something in common. They are both about placing distance between the person and unholiness.

This is why the Shvatim bought shoes right after Mechiras Yosef. They were making a statement that Yosef was the Jewish people's pair of shoes. This is why they had to sell him down to Mitzrayim. It was so that he could create a distance between the Jewish people and the impurity of Mitzrayim.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that this is why the Jewish people had to eat the Korban Pesach in Mitzrayim with shoes on their feet (Parshas Bo, 12:11). The Korban Pesach represented their liberty from Egyptian bondage. The shoes on their feet were meant to convey the message that they deserved this freedom from oppression on account of them maintaining distance between themselves and Egyptian society around them. The Jewish people did not assimilate with their Egyptian counterparts and thereby deserved redemption.

According to all of this, another Kabbalistic revelation will be understood. The Zohar (Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun Ayin, pg. 137a), the Arizal (Sha'ar Hagilgulim (Preface 31), the Megaleh Amukos (Parshas Vayeishev), the Yalkut Reuveini (Parshas Bereishis, 764), and the Asara Ma'amaros say that Yosef was not just a gilgul of Adam, but he was also a gilgul of Chanoch. This means that Chanoch was also a gilgul of Adam, and then Yosef was a gilgul of Chanoch.

A hint which supports this view is found in the verse which calls Yosef a "na'ar" (lad, youth, child; Parshas Vayeishev, 37:2, "Vihu Na'ar"). The pasuk in Mishlei (22:6) says, "Chanoch Lana'ar" (train the youth). The word "Chanoch" is not just a word, but it is a name, referring to the righteous Chanoch. Since in Mishlei it connects "Chanoch" to "Na'ar" (Chanoch Lana'ar), and since "Na'ar" is connected to Yosef (Vehu Na'ar), therefore, Chanoch must be connected to Yosef. And he was because Yosef was a gilgul of Chanoch.

Chanoch became a shoe maker. With every stitch he sewed, he would say, "Baruch Shem Kivod Malchuso Li-olam Va-ed." The reason why Chanoch became a shoemaker was because he knew that he was a gilgul of Adam who sinned with the Eitz Hada'as and thereby caused curse to flow through the ground. Therefore, in order to try and rectify the situation, Chanoch made shoes for people to wear so that at least they would not come into contact with the spiritual contamination in the ground that he had created when he was Adam Harishon.

When Chanoch was reincarnated into Yosef, he continued on the same path by becoming the shoes of the Jewish people by helping create an environment in Egypt in which distance would be made between the Jewish people and the impurity surrounding them.

Although one practical application of this teaching would be an excuse for us to go shoe shopping, an even better suggestion would be the following. Every time we put our shoes on, let us keep in mind that we want to distance ourselves from the curse that resides in the ground.

Additionally, every time we recite the bracha, "Sheh-uhsuh Li Kol Tzarki" (You have provided for me my every need; according to the Gemara in Brachos, chap. 9, "Haroeh", pg. 60b, this bracha was instituted to thank Hashem for shoes) let us keep in mind that we want to distance ourselves from spiritually impure and contaminated behavior. In so doing, we will hopefully become meritorious to be redeemed from our present exile. 

So, may we all be blessed with a solid pair of physical and spiritual shoes, which will be a form of chinuch (education) keeping us far away from unholy behavior, and thereby purify the world just like Yosef Hatzaddik did, and thus merit to witness the building of the Third Beis Hamikdash when we will all walk around barefoot.

Good Shabbos, Warmest wishes, Aba Wagensberg


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