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The Lamplighter Weekly

Volume 25 Issue 36
Dec. 3-9  2023 -20-26 Kislev, 5784
Torah Reading: Vayeishev
 Candle Lighting : 5:08 PM
Shabbos Ends: 6:05 PM
Blessing of the New Month: Teves

Parsha Synopsis · A Word From the Rabbi

Essay · Thoughts That Count
Once Upon A Chassid · Tid Bits · Happenings · Notes From Israel


Parsha Synopsis

Genisis: 37:1-40:23

The name of the Parshah, "Vayeshev," means "And he dwelt" and it is found in Genesis 37:1.

Jacob settles in  Hebron with his  twelve sons. His favorite is seventeen-year-old  Joseph, whose brothers are jealous of the preferential treatment he receives from his father, such as a precious  many-colored coat that Jacob makes for Joseph. Joseph relates to his brothers  two of his dreams which foretell that he is destined to rule over them, increasing their envy and hatred towards him.

Simeon and  Levi plot to kill him, but  Reuben suggests that  they throw him into a pit instead, intending to come back later and save him. While Joseph is in the pit, Judah has him sold to a band of passing  Ishmaelites. The brothers dip Joseph’s special coat in the blood of a goat and  show it to their father, leading him to believe that his most beloved son was devoured by a wild beast.

Judah marries and has three children. The eldest, Er, dies young and childless, and his wife, Tamar, is given in  levirate marriage to the second son, Onan. Onan sins by spilling his seed, and he too meets an early death. Judah is reluctant to have his third son marry her. Determined to have a child from Judah’s family, Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute and seduces Judah himself. Judah hears that his daughter-in-law has become pregnant and orders her executed for harlotry, but when Tamar produces some personal effects he left with her as a pledge for payment, he publicly admits that he is the father.  Tamar gives birth to twin sons, Peretz (an ancestor of  King David) and Zerach.

Joseph is taken to Egypt and sold to Potiphar, the minister in charge of Pharaoh’s slaughterhouses.  G‑d blesses everything he does, and soon he is made overseer of all his master’s property.  Potiphar’s wife desires the handsome and charismatic lad; when  Joseph rejects her advances, she tells her husband that  the Hebrew slave tried to force himself on her, and has him thrown into  prison. Joseph gains the trust and admiration of his jailers, who appoint him to a position of authority in the prison administration.

In prison, Joseph meets Pharaoh’s chief butler and chief baker, both incarcerated for offending their royal master.  Both have disturbing dreams, which Joseph interprets; in three days, he tells them, the butler will be released and the baker hanged. Joseph asks the butler to intercede on his behalf with Pharaoh. Joseph’s predictions are fulfilled, but the butler forgets all about Joseph and does nothing for him.


A Word From the Rabbi



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The Hidden Weapon That Destroys lives

A certain fellow went about the community spreading malicious lies about the rabbi. Upon realizing how sinful he had acted, the man was very remorseful. He approached the rabbi and begged his forgiveness; promising to do anything to make amends. The rabbi told the man to take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers into the wind. Strange as it appeared, the task seemed simple enough and he was glad to do it. When he returned to inform the rabbi that he had carried out his instruction, the rabbi said: "Now, go and gather the feathers.”

In response to the man’s bewilderment, the rabbi continued: “You can no more make amends for the damage your words have caused than you can recollect the feathers.”


There seems to be a form of cognitive dissonance that is unique to the malady of slander and hurtful speech. Our slander is rarely the result of a lack of knowledge and awareness. We know that it’s wrong; we are all quite familiar with its insidious and destructive outcome, yet we don’t seem to treat the tongue with the same prudence that we do other hazardous behaviors.

Be it on an interpersonal level or inter-communal-organizational level, we have not, it appears, learned to control this lethal weapon. For all the talk about “Loshon Hora” (evil tongue), it sometimes seems more like an empty cliché than one of Judaism’s most serious moral offenses. What’s more, often the very people who preach loudest about Loshon Hora and its harmful effects are the biggest offenders. The above notwithstanding, gossip of any sort, whether malicious or so called “Innocent” (a notion that is virtually nonexistent), is wrong, immoral and destructive.

Yet for me sectarian slander, which seems to permeate the Jewish world nowadays, is particularly disturbing. I find this sort of disparagement completely unfathomable and intolerable, not only because of it’s larger scope and thus of greater destructive potential, or its inherent self serving motives, but rather because of its bigoted nature.

Sectarian derision, be it secular vs. religious, modern vs. conventional, chassidic vs. litvish or one chassidic dynasty vs. another, smacks with racism.

The mind boggles as to how, after 2000 years of suffering and persecution of the worst order, as a result of slander and bigotry by our numerous enemies, we Jews can allow ourselves to indulge in the very same egregious conduct.  Have we failed to learn anything from history? Is it different, somehow, when the gentiles hate us than when we hate ourselves?

Anti-Semitism is clearly no less anti-Semitic when perpetrated by one Jewish group against another, than when perpetrated by gentiles against Jews. It is even more flagrant when our leaders promote and encourage this offense. The thought that Jew-baiting often stems from the top; from our leaders and representatives, is twice as unthinkable.

Our Parsha Vayeishev presents a detailed account of the events that precipitated the descent of Yaakov and his family to Egypt. The very first event the Torah relates is that of a youthful Yosef sharing evil reports about his siblings with his elderly father, Yaakov, (Bereishis 27:2). How are we to understand Yosef’s conduct and why is this event so significant?

Rabbi Israel Meir ha-Kohen (1838-1933); known as the Chofetz Chaim, explains that Yosef’s intent was for Yaakov to rebuke his siblings for their wrongdoing. He did not go around gossiping to strangers. He had only his brothers’ best interest in mind. Still, Yosef was mistaken. He should have spoken to his brothers directly, even though he felt inadequate, as a result of his young age, rather than talk behind their backs.

According to Rashi, the reason the Torah shares the detailed account of the quarrels among Yaakov’s sons, is to underscore the fact that the Egyptian exile was brought-on as a direct result of a single individual’s slander. What lead Yaakov and his family into Egypt, was the conduct of one sibling who shared the unflattering behavior of his brothers with their elderly father; despite his best intentions.

It is instructive to note how costly this mistake was to Yosef personally. According to the Midrash, ten of the twelve years that Yosef spent in Egyptian prison was a Divine punishment for slandering his ten brothers, one year for each brother. The additional two years, according to the Midrash, are attributed to a different cause (Shemos Rabbah 7:1).

Slander and gossip have, in fact, been the impetuous for many of the horrors that have befallen the Jewish people, going back to the earliest point of their inception. 

When Moshe discovered, upon killing the Egyptian, that Dasan and Aviram had slandered him to Pharaoh, Moshe wailed: “Indeed, it has become known,” (Shemos 2:14). The Midrash interprets Moshe as saying: “It has now become known to me why the Jewish people are still suffering in slavery” (Shemos Rabbah 1:30). Indeed, the Midrash attributes the Israelites redemption from Egypt to having gained control over the tendency towards gossip (Vayikra Rabbah 32:5).

The definition of slander, or Loshon Hora, in Jewish ethics is quite different from that of secular culture. The secular notion of slander is the malicious spreading of falsehoods or unverified innuendo. In fact, American law recognizes "Truth" and “Malicious intent” as primary factors in the determination of slander and libel. Judaism, however, does not recognize such criteria. The Jewish perspective of the subject is entirely different.

According to Judaism, any negative, hurtful speech about others, whether true or false, whether or not it is spoken maliciously, is prohibited. There are very few exceptions to this general statement.

Judaism is keenly aware of the power of speech and of the harm that words can cause. There are 31 Mitzvos connected with forbidden speech, though one hardly violates them all at once. The rabbis note that the universe itself was created through speech. The power we wield when we speak is far beyond imagination; it is a key factor in our relationship with G‑d and in living our lives as Jews.

Of the 43 sins enumerated in the Al Cheit (confession prayer) recited on Yom Kippur, 11 of them are sins committed through speech. The Talmud tells that the tongue is an instrument so dangerous that it must be kept hidden from view, behind two protective walls (the mouth and teeth) to prevent its misuse.

While there are many people who would not, in their wildest imagination, consider violating the laws of Shabbos, keeping kosher and similar demanding rituals, they commonly violate the laws regarding proper speech. Yet the harm done by words can be far worse than stealing or cheating a person, financially. Monetary losses can be repaid or regained, the harm caused by negative speech, on the other hand, is most often irreparable, hence the opinion that there is no forgiveness for disparaging speech.

The repercussions of improper speech are so intense that they have literally shaped the destiny of our people. The Jewish nation has been in exile for over 2,000 years, because of the words of our mouths. Most of the evils that have befallen us as a people are a consequence, one way or another, of gossip and slander. 

Speech has been compared to an arrow: once the words are released, like an arrow, they cannot be recalled, the harm they do cannot be stopped and cannot always be predicted, for words like arrows often go astray.

The Talmud teaches that gossip and slander compare to the three major transgressions of murder, idol worship and adultery (Erechin 15b).

The person who listens to gossip is even worse than the person who relates it, because no harm could come from gossip if no one were to listen. It has been said that disparaging speech kills three: the person who speaks it, the person who hears it, and the person about whom it is told. (Talmud Arachin 15b).

According to Jewish law all things are considered to be secret, unless a person explicitly states otherwise. For this reason G‑d reputedly tells Moshe to “Speak to the Children of Israel; ‘saying,’” or “Speak to the Children of Israel and ‘Tell them.’” If G‑d did not specifically say this to Moshe, Moshe would be forbidden to repeat his words.

Nor is there a statute of limitations with regards to secrets. The Talmud tells the story of a student who revealed a secret that he had heard 22 years earlier, and he was immediately banished from the house of study (Talmud Sanhedrin 31a).

The reason why slander is so insidious a trait is because it leaves its victim without recourse. Since slander is spoken behind a person’s back, he has no way of defending himself against it; he has no way of restoring his good name. A good name is man’s most precious possession; it is in fact, man’s only real possession in this world and the only possession he takes with him to The World to Come.

No wonder why our sages state, in the name of Rabbi Shimon, that “There are three crowns, the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of kingship, but the crown of a good name exceeds them all” (Avos 4:17). Our good name is indeed our most important lifetime achievement

A story is told about a wealthy man who passed away and left two wills, one to be opened upon his death, the other, after the period of Shloshim (30 days of mourning). In the first will, he instructed his children to bury him in his socks.

When the children went to the Chevra Kadisha (burial society), and said that their father had left in his will that he wants to be buried with his socks on, they refused because it is against Jewish law, which dictates that a person be buried wearing shrouds only. The matter was brought before Rabbinic authorities and it was ruled that he must be buried without his socks.

After the 30 days of mourning, the children opened the second will, there the deceased allocated the enormous wealth that he accumulated during his life. He began the will by saying to his children: “I am sure you’ve realized that the Chevra Kadisha would not bury me with my socks. Here is the lesson that I wanted to convey to you: you can have all the money in the world, but you cannot even take your socks with you when you go.”

This story contains an important message: ultimately, the only things we take with us, is our good deeds and our good name, what our Sages call “Shem Tov.” A shem tov relates to the totality of the person; that which remains long after all else is gone.

The Seforno asserts that the brothers perceived Yosef to be a “Rodeif;” one who pursues another with the intent to kill. It is not only permissible to kill a rodeif, but indeed an obligation. Our father Avraham, he argues, had two children: Yitzchak and Yishmael; Yitzchak was righteous and was therefore chosen to carry on his mission, while Yishmael was cast aside. Yitzchak also had two sons; Yaakov was chosen to carry on the lineage, while Eisav spurned that role and disdained the first born rite.

Yosef's derogatory remarks gave the brothers the impression that Yosef was portraying them as another Yishmael or Eisav. Much as the two had forsaken their inherent inclusion within the Jewish nation due to their unrighteous conduct, the bothers feared that they would have the same fate, as a result of Yosef’s slander. They feared, in other words, that Yosef was attempting to edge them out of their rightful portion in the Jewish nation.  Thus, they held a court proceeding and sentenced him to death.

On the surface, Seforno’s commentary seems like a real stretch. How does the brothers’ fear of being cheated by Yosef out of their Jewish lineage, justify his death sentence?

In light of our earlier discussion, it may be better understood. The brothers did not perceive their inclusion into the Jewish nation as just another possession in life, but rather as life itself. They hence compared Yosef to a Rodeif; as wanting to steal their very life, which constituted nothing short of a capital offense.

It is clear from the above that not all things in life are equal, there are something’s in life that actually constitute life; the things for which we exist and on which we spend our very life. That is precisely what our “Shem Tov” is all about. To take a person’s Shem Tov, is in effect, to take his very life. And that is precisely what slander is all about. So, when you think about it, it really pays to hold your tongue.

May we take to heart the lesson of this Parsha, and put an end to slander and evil speech, both on a personal and communal level, which is what got us into this bitter exile and what is keeping it alive.

May the Almighty grant us the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the heart to know the true evil of the loose tongue and the wisdom for zero tolerance of slander, beginning with our leadership and thereby hasten the coming of Moshiach BBA.  

Gut Shabbos!

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Rabbi Kahanov is the founder/director of Chabad in Northeast FL, consisting of 6 Chabad Centers
He is also the author of "What Chabad Really Believes"
If you like this, you might be interested in purchasing his book click here for more information 


True Courage

A captured leader of the so-called Intifada was recently videoed in court taunting his Israeli jailers. The murderer declared that he was positive the Jews would eventually be defeated due to their basic character flaw of cowardice. From his perspective, his cohorts' willingness to die is a sign of their commitment to their cause, while our dedication to survival is a sign of weakness.

Judaism is a religion that values life above all. Our enemies revel in death. For us the pre-eminent command is vochai bohem - you should live with the Torah and mitzvot — true life, ecstatic with the opportunity to serve G‑d; while their societal lust is for suicide, mayhem and murder.

However, even a peace loving, life-affirming nation must be ready, when necessary, to take up arms in self-defense. Jews are not mindless pacifists, nor does our religion demand a reflexive "turning the other cheek" upon being attacked. Halachic law books are replete with justifications for defensive wars and pre-emptive military strikes. One can argue that the distinction between our enemies and ourselves is expressed not by our unwillingness to fight; rather, for us, violence is a last resort, entered into only under duress, while for them carnage and bloodshed are a goal.

Not only must we be ready to defend ourself when provoked, even at the moral cost of being forced to hurt others, but there are occasions when we must be willing to lay down our own lives in deference to a higher cause.

There are three instances where the tenets of Judaism demand every Jew be prepared to sacrifice himself. The spiritual consequences of murder, worshiping a foreign faith or indulging in a forbidden sexual relationship are so dire that one is expected to allow oneself to be killed rather than perpetrate these transgressions. In these exceptional circumstances it is not that one volunteers to die, rather that one cannot imagine living with such a sin on one's conscience.

Very occasionally, certain Jews have proved willing to sacrifice themselves for a cause that at first glance may seem less critical than these three fundamental sins. We read this week how Joseph was willing to risk his life just to fulfill an errand for his father. Similarly, one of the proudest parts of the Chanukah story is the courage displayed by Matisyahu and sons in their struggle to practice every last scintilla of their religion, even to the extent that they were willing to lay down their own lives to ensure that others too could be free to live as Jews.

Joseph observed a lack of deference by his brothers to their father's authority and resolved to fulfill his father’s desires to the maximum, even to the extent of placing himself in danger. Similarly, the Maccabees were willing to die, if there was the even the slightest chance of influencing others to appreciate the gift of our heritage.

There are times when one must be willing to make any sacrifice, no matter the cost, to ensure the propagation of our religion. When a leader is convinced that the circumstances of the moment demand this ultimate forfeit, then he will lay his own neck on the line, demonstrating his true values and priorities, and from this his followers will draw succor for generations to come.

Unlike the corrupt mouthpieces for terror who cower safely in their luxurious Gazan villas while dispatching their naïve bomb-belted followers into Israel, our leaders such as Joseph and the Maccabees, demonstrate true courage, Jewish courage. Only something of overriding significance to the future of your religion could demand such an ultimate act of personal sacrifice, and this sacrifice can only be undertaken by the greatest and bravest of our people.

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum is spiritual leader of Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation and co-director of L’Chaim Chabad in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia.


Thoughts That Count
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And Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age (Gen. 37:3)

Why is this cited as a reason for the special bond which existed between Israel and his son Joseph? Did he not have other children who were born when he was already an old man? Issachar and Zebulon were the same age as Joseph, and Benjamin would be born even later. The phrase "son of his old age" is therefore interpreted to apply to Joseph himself; his actions were those of an old and wise individual who had already acquired a lifetime of wisdom. (Toldot Avraham)

And Joseph was brought down to Egypt (39:1)

"He reigned over them," the Midrash relates, explaining that the word "brought down" is linguistically related to the word "reign." As proof of this, the Midrash cites a verse about Moshiach, "And he shall reign from sea to sea."What is the connection between Joseph's descent into the cesspool of ancient Egypt, and the rule of Moshiach? The Jewish history of exile actually began when Joseph was brought down to Egypt, and, as the prototype of all other exiles to follow, its true purpose was the elevation and ascent of the Jewish people which would follow its suffering. The objective of our present exile is likewise the coming of Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption. (Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Joseph was handsome in form and handsome in appearance (39:6)

"Handsome in form"--scrupulous in the performance of positive mitzvot. "Handsome in appearance"--equally scrupulous in keeping the negative commandments. (Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Once Upon A Chassid

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The German Newspapers

And he was youth-like (37:2)

Joseph would engage in youthful follies, curling his hair and making-up his eyes. (Rashi's Commentary)

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok was once asked: "You are forever extolling the trait of humility. So why do you dress in such handsome clothes?"

Said Rabbi Mendel: "The surest place in which to conceal a chest of treasure is a pit of mud and slime…"

When the third rebbe and leader of Chabad chassidism, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, passed away in 1867, he was survived by a number of scholarly and pious sons. Each had a following of disciples who wished to see their mentor assume his father's place.

Rabbi Grunem Estherman, one of the great mashpi'im in the annals of Lubavitch, was a young man at the time, and undecided as to which of the Rebbe's sons to turn for leadership and guidance. When he discussed his dilemma with the famed disciple Rabbi Shmuel Ber of Barisov, the latter said to him: "Listen, Grunem. They are all children of the Rebbe's. 'They are all beloved, they are all mighty, they are all holy.' But let me tell you of one incident, and then you do as you see fit.

"During one of my visits to Lubavitch, there was something in our late Rebbe's discourse which I found difficult to understand - it seemed to contradict a certain passage in the kabbalistic work of Eitz Chayim. None of the elder disciples were able to provide an answer satisfactory to me, so that night I made my rounds among the Rebbe's sons. I visited Rabbi Yehudah Lieb, Rabbi Chaim Schneur Zalman, and the others. Each offered an explanation, but, again, none of their ideas satisfied my mind.

"By now it was fairly late at night. I was headed for my lodgings when I noticed a light burning in Rabbi Shmuel's window. I had not considered asking him - he is the youngest of the sons and, as you know, his behavior is that of a rather ordinary and indistinct individual. However, I was curious to know what he is up to at such a late hour. So I pulled myself up on to his windowsill and looked in. What did I see, but Rabbi Shmuel immersed in the very section of  Eitz Chayim where my difficulty lay?! So I figured I had best go in and discuss it with him.

"I went round to the door and knocked. 'Just a minute' he called out. After a rather long minute the door opened. I took in the scene: newspapers were laid out on the table, German papers, Russian papers. Of the Eitz Chayim not a trace.

" 'Reb Shmuel Ber! Rather late, isn't it?' he said. 'How can I help you?' I told him of my problem with the discourse the Rebbe had delivered that day and the passage in Eitz Chayim. 'Ah, Reb Shmuel Ber' he said 'they say you are a smart Jew. Nu, I ask you, you come to me with a question in Eitz Chayim…?'

"'Listen, my friend,' I said, "your game is up. Five minutes ago I saw you with the Eitz Chayim. Now either you tell me how you understand it, or else tomorrow the entire Lubavitch will hear about the interesting tricks you pull with your German papers.'

"We sat and discussed the matter till morning," Rabbi Shmuel Ber concluded his story, "and I came away thoroughly impressed with the extent and depth of his knowledge. This is what I can tell you, Grunem, now you do as you see fit..."

Tid Bits
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Why Add a Light Each Night of Chanukah?
tid bit


There are two general reasons given in the Talmud for why we add a candle each night:

1) To indicate which night of Chanukah it is.

2) In matters of holiness, we always want to ascend rather than descend.

Many point out that there are fundamental differences between the two reasons, which have practical ramifications regarding the laws of lighting the menorah. But first, some background.

Three Levels of Performing the Mitzvah

The Talmud describes three levels in performing the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles:

a) The basic mitzvah is that each evening of Chanukah, a single light is kindled by the head of the household on behalf of the entire household.

b) For those who are mehadrin (meticulous in the performance of mitzvahs), a separate light is lit for each member of the household.

c) The mehadrin min hamehadrin (those who are even more meticulous) increase the number of lights daily.

Meticulous vs. Extra Meticulous

There is one detail that still needs clarification. Is the third level (mehadrin min hamehadrin)a separate level, or does it include and extend the mehadrin level?

According to Tosafot, it is not viewed as an addition to the regular mehadrin way of lighting the menorah. As such, in the mehadrin min hamehadrin level, only one member of the household kindles and adds a light each night. However, according to Maimonides, it is viewed as an addition to the regular mehadrin way of lighting the menorah. Therefore, all members of the household who light the menorah kindle an additional light each night.

The commentaries explain that this disagreement is dependent upon the reason for adding a light each night.

If it is to indicate which night of Chanukah it is, then we can only have one person lighting an additional light each night. For if everyone in the household lights, it may be confusing as to which night of Chanukah it is.

However, if the reason is that we only increase in matters of holiness, then it makes no difference how many people are lighting, as long as we ourselves are increasing the number of lights. As such, mehadrin min hamehadrin would be in addition to the regular mehadrin way of lighting, and all would kindle an additional light each night.

In practice, the widespread custom in Ashkenazi communities is that each member of the household lights an additional light each night.

Beyond the Call of Duty

Although, in theory, the mitzvah of lighting the menorah can be observed at different levels, in practice, this mitzvah is unique in that all have the custom to light in the best possible way, mehadrin min hamehadrin.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that this reflects the uniqueness of the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days. Unlike many other miracles, including the victory over the Syrian-Greeks, the miracle of the oil was seemingly unnecessary (and under the circumstances, they were anyway permitted to light with impure oil). Yet G‑d performed this miracle as an expression of His deep love for His people, who, with great self-sacrifice, had just fought a war in order to perform His mitzvahs.

Thus, in a way, the essence of the holiday is about going above and beyond mere requirements. It is for this reason that the universal custom is to light the menorah in the most meticulous fashion, mehadrin min hamehadrin, reflecting our great love for G‑d and His great love for us.

A noted scholar and researcher, Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin serves as content editor at Chabad.org, and writes the popular weekly Ask Rabbi Y column. Rabbi Shurpin is the rabbi of the Chabad Shul in St. Louis Park, Minn., where he resides with his wife, Ester, and their children.



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