From The Masters Of Kabbalah and Chumash (5 Books of
13th century - "RambaN" - Rabbi Moshe ben
14th century - "Bachya" - Rabbi Bachya ben
16th century - "Alsheich" - Rabbi Moshe
Alshech of Tsfat
17th century - "Shelah" - Rabbi Yeshaiya
18th century - "Ohr HaChayim" - Rabbi Chaim
"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.
It was about that time that Yehuda descended."
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"
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
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."
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
"They have moved away from here, for I have heard them say, etc."
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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.