Weekly Reading Insights: 



From The Masters Of Kabbalah and Chumash (5 Books of Moses)

13th century - "RambaN" - Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman

14th century - "Bachya" - Rabbi Bachya ben Asher

16th century - "Alsheich" - Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Tsfat

17th century - "Shelah" - Rabbi Yeshaiya Horowitz

18th century - "Ohr HaChayim" - Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar


"He put out his hand and then his brother came out..." [38:29]

In the Midrash of Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakaneh (HaBahir) there is mentioned a mystic principle in connection with the name of these children, Peretz and Zerach. Thus they said: "He was called Zerach (shining) on account of the sun which always shines, and Peretz (breaking) on account of the moon which is sometimes dismantled and sometimes whole. Now was not Peretz the firstborn, and yet the sun is greater than the moon? This presents no difficulty, for it does indeed say, 'He put out his hand,' and it is further written, 'And afterwards came out his brother'.
Now according to their opinion, the moon is associated with the name Peretz on account of the kingdom of the House of David (having gone through various periods of ascendancy and decline in its history, the kingdom of the House of David resembles the light of the moon which is constantly changing). Peretz and Zerach were born twins since the moon functions by means of the sun. Thus Peretz is the twin of Zerach who gives forth the hand, while he (Peretz) is the firstborn by virtue of the power of the Supreme One, as is said "I also appointed him firstborn" This is the purpose of the saying of the Sages with respect to the Sanctification of the Moon: "David King of Israel lives and exists." The man learned in the mystic teachings of the Kabala will understand.


Rabbeinu Bachya

"…It was about that time that Yehuda descended." [38:1]

A kabbalistic approach: the paragraph describing a levirate marriage was appended to the paragraph describing the sale of Joseph as both paragraphs deal with the subject of gilgul, a form of reincarnation, complete transformation of one's fate. The sin committed by the brothers was of the type that could be atoned for by nothing less than reincarnation of their souls in different bodies. This is also the mystical dimension of the levirate marriage (widow of a brother who died without having sired children to one of the surviving brothers, compare Deut. 25:5-10).

The mystical dimension of the levirate marriage is the same as the mystical dimension of reincarnation of the souls in a new body. The ten martyrs whom the Romans chose to expiate for the sin of the brothers having sold Joseph were none other than reincarnations of the brothers' souls in different bodies. By dying a martyr's death the millennia-old sin overhanging them was finally expiated.

Er and Onan, the sons of Yehudah who died prematurely for committing a sin, were similarly reincarnated in the bodies of the twin sons Peretz and Zerach whom Tamar bore for Yehudah (verse 29). This is the deeper meaning of the sequence (Numbers 26:19-20) "Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan and the sons of Yehudah were, etc." Here, too, this secret is allluded to through the sequence in which the Torah relates these events, something which the intelligent reader will comprehend.



"Yehudah descended and turned from his brothers" [38:1]

We must wonder why G-d punished Er and Onan, both of whom could not have been older than 8 years at the time they married. As such they should neither have been guilty in the eyes of man or heaven. Another strange thing is, that the name of Yehudah's wife is omitted, though the Torah lists her father Shua's name. On the other hand, later on, we find Yehudah's daughter-in-law mentioned by name, i.e. Tamar, though her father's name is not mentioned.

Bereshit Rabba 85 points out that while the brothers were busy selling Joseph, G'd was busy ensuring the eventual birth of the Messiah. Since many years elapsed until Yehudah fathered Peretz, the statement of the sages in the Midrash is puzzling.

G-d's hope was that Yehuda would take a suitable wife, so that the forerunner of the Messiah could be born before the onset of Israel's enslavement by the Egyptians. In the event, this came about only through Yehudah's levirate union with Tamar, the widow of his two older sons. Had Yehudah married Tamar right away, Peretz would not have been merely the substitute for his son. In that case, David would have been far more powerful, as the Kabbalists explain. We know from tradition that if Adam had not assigned 70 years of his own life to David, to enable the latter to live a normal lifespan, David would have died at birth. All of this was due to Yehuda having first married a Canaanite woman, demeaning his stature. It was this that caused his children not to be of the type one could have hoped for. By recycling their lives, and having them reborn through Tamar, these sons were spiritually cleansed and an ancestor of David could be born from them.

The Torah introduces the paragraph by saying it was due to a set of circumstances prevailing at that time, that Yehudah descended from the spiritual level of his brothers, as far as a man from Adulate. There he saw a woman, daughter of a Canaanite, i.e. he did not investigate her antecedents, merely relying on what his eyes saw. Although he married her legally, and did not engage in sexual relations with her till the formalities of marriage had been completed, she was not suitable for him and therefore the prophet Malachi 2:12 calls her: daughter of an alien deity. If G-d killed Er and Onan at a tender age, this was an act of mercy, to enable Him to bring about the resurrection of their souls in other bodies, quickly. This is what the Midrash meant that G-d let them die in order to hasten the laying of the Messiah's foundation.

The Chachmey Messorah point out that there are three occasions in the Torah where we find the expression 'it was at that time'. One is when Elimelech and Phicol ask Avraham to conclude a pact. That event resulted in numerous kings ruling amongst the nations before the first king of Israel came to the throne (Gen. 21:22).

The second such instance, is our story.

The third instance is in Kings , 11:29, when Achiyah told Jerovam that David's kingdom would be split and that Jerovam would be king over the 10 tribes. This was another instance of Yehuda losing pre-eminence.

We observe that all three occasions signify a delay in the achievement of the ultimate messianic destiny of the Jewish people.



"And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak with him peacefully." (Gen.37:4)

Because the brothers became guilty of being jealous of Joseph and hating him, (as we know from Gen. 37:4 and Gen. 37:11) they became victims of Esau in this world. Since ten of the brothers were guilty of such feelings, the Romans tortured ten outstanding Jewish scholars to death, the ones commonly known as the Ten Martyrs, whom Jewish liturgy eulogized in the poem Eylay Ezkira, recited on the Day of Atonement. The ten scholars involved were reincarnations of the ten brothers of Joseph who had taken part in selling him. This is stated in the book Heychalot. Joseph said to his brothers, "As for you, go up in peace to your father." (Gen. 44:17) The word "atem" [meaning "you"] in that context was used advisedly. Joseph meant that the brothers themselves could come to their Father in Heaven safely, i.e. they would not in This World suffer the execution as kidnappers who sell their prey. On a future occasion, however, their reincarnated selves would have to pay for the crime with their lives. The Ten Martyrs mentioned were the ones who had to pay with their lives for that sin which had gone unpunished for so long.

Ohr HaChayim

"They have moved away from here, for I have heard them say, etc." (37:17)

Our sages' interpretation of what occurred - that the Torah reveals that the angel who spoke to Joseph had given him a veiled warning - is perfectly in order. Proof that Joseph had not understood this is that the Torah reports Joseph as searching "for his brothers." He was under the impression that they still considered him their brother.
The question we must all ask is that if the angel remained deliberately so vague that Joseph did not understand his warning, why did he direct him to a location which was so fraught with danger for Joseph? Perhaps, after having become aware that Joseph's intention was to find brotherliness, i.e. "I seek my brothers", the angel wanted to increase the merit Joseph would accumulate by persisting in such a worthwhile endeavor. For all we know, this is how Joseph acquired the merit necessary to qualify ultimately as the ruler of Egypt and the provider of his family.



Ramban - credits
Adapted from the 13th century classic by the illustrious scholar, philosopher and defender of the faith, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman-known as 'RAMBAN' or 'Nachmanides', a master kabbalist in his own right and a major link in the transmission of Jewish mysticism-based on the excellent annotated English translation, Nachmanides on the Torah, by Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel

Bachya - credits
Selected with permission from the seven-volume English edition of The Torah Commentary of Rebbeinu Bachya, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk. Rabbi Bachya ben Asher [1255-1340] of Saragosa, Spain, was the outstanding pupil of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (the "Rashba"), a main disciple of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the "Ramban"). Several books have been written about the Kabballah-based portions of R. Bachya's commentary.

Alsheich - credits
Adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech, the "Preacher of Zefat" on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

Shelah - credits
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz was born in Prague around the year 1565. He served as Rabbi of Cracow and other congregations before he was appointed as the Rabbi of the community of Frankfurt on Main in the year 1610. In 1916, Rabbi Horowitz moved to Prague where he became the Chief Rabbi of the city. He moved to Eretz Yisrael about 1621. He was rabbi in Jerusalem and in Tiberias, where he died in or about 1630. In addition to his magnus opus, Shenei Luchot HaBrit, he also compiled an edition of the prayer-book with a comprehensive commentary. Many of his innovations, including his formulation of the Kol Nidrei prayer, have become part and parcel of the Ashkenazi Siddur.

Ohr HaChayim - credits
Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco, on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only to his Torah commentary.

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