Welcome to our Shabbos Table!We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, email us at email@example.com.
“And Yisrael loved Yosef more than all his sons, because he was a son of his old age; and he made him a fine woolen coat” (Bereishis 37:3).
Having returned home to Eretz Yisrael at last after settling his affairs with Lavan and Eisav, Yaakov Avinu presided over his large family and estate. Of all his twelve sons, Yaakov favored Yosef.
Onkelos renders the Hebrew phrase ben zekunim, translated above as “son of [Yaakov’s] old age,” as “son of his wisdom.” Rashi explains that Yosef earned that title because Yaakov relayed to him everything he’d learned in the yeshivah of Shem and Ever.
What was this unique Torah of Shem and Ever, and how did it make Yosef wise? Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky answers with exceptional insight by explaining a critical event in Yaakov’s life.
The Road Not Taken
Fleeing his brother Eisav’s wrath, Yaakov was directed by his parents to the home of his uncle Lavan. Instead of obeying them, he detoured to the yeshivah of Shem and Ever for fourteen years! Why did righteous Yaakov disregard his parents’ wishes, and why for so long? Why neglect the commandment to honor his parents for fourteen years?
To understand the overriding importance of Yaakov’s stint in the yeshivah of Shem and Ever, Rav Kamenetsky writes, we need to grasp the crucial difference between the Torah Yaakov had learned at home from Avraham and Yitzchak, his saintly grandfather and father, and what he gleaned from Shem and Ever.
The “beis midrash” of Avraham and Yitzchak was on a lofty spiritual level, impervious to the influences of the outside world. Shem and Ever, on the other hand, came from a different place. Shem, Noach’s son, had lived in the corrupt Generation of the Flood, and Ever, Shem’s great-grandson, among the sinful Generation of the Dispersal. Each one had maintained his piety in a depraved society. This was the type of Torah Yaakov needed to learn before living with Lavan. Thus, to properly carry out his parents’ instructions, Yaakov had to study under Shem and Ever first. Their Torah enabled him to remain strong in an environment antithetical to his upbringing, and to emerge with the declaration, “Though I sojourned with wicked Lavan, I observed all 613 mitzvos and didn’t learn from his evil deeds” (Rashi, Bereishis 32:5).
Rav Kamenetsky compares Yaakov to a son whose father instructed him to purchase a lulav and esrog. Rather than making the purchase straight away, the son went to the beis midrash first to review the relevant halachos, so he could better do his father’s bidding. Likewise, Yaakov went to Shem and Ever in order to fulfill his parents’ instructions, not to avoid them.
Yaakov now passed on this special Torah to Yosef, because he too would live in a hostile secular environment and contend with great challenges. Alone in Egypt, surrounded by constant trials, he needed to know the Torah of galus (exile) taught by Shem and Ever. (Emes L’Yaakov, Vayetzei)
Question for Discussion:
The beis midrash of Avraham and Yitzchak was the ideal yeshivah environment. Yet we see that less conventional education is sometimes also necessary. What is one area of life that our contemporary yeshivos don’t prepare us for?