Word has reached the Oisvorfer that one of his avid readers and followers is laid up in the hospital and we wish Dr. Allen Bennett a speedy and full recovery. We hope this week’s edition will bring you some good cheer. This week’s edition of the Oisvorfer is dedicated to you; get well soon!
Two weeks ago Rabbi Benjamin Blech, truly one of the great rabbis of our times, whose resume is too long for this short shout out-, celebrated an 80th birthday which was hosted by Yeshiva University where he has been teaching the heylige Gemora for over 47 years. Here is a link to the festivities: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0M6EFXUdvhU It’s very worthwhile your time to listen and watch. Chazak and happy birthday Rabbi: you are one of a kind!
On the mazel tov shout out front, we begin with wishes of mazel tov to our good friends and early followers of the Oisvorfer, Altchie and Nochi Pelcovitz upon the marriage earlier this week of their beautiful daughter Mari to AC Platschek. Those in attendance had the unique pleasure of hearing Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz, Rabbi Emeritus of the White Shul for many decades and the very proud grandfather, address the chosson and kallah.
We wish mazel tov again to our friends Judith (aka: Judy) and Shlomo Gottesman upon the marriage earlier this week of their beautiful daughter Aliza to Yitzy Fuld. Mazel Tov to the Gottesmans and Fulds and to their extended familes.
Raboyseyee:Bilha and Zilpa
It’s not easy managing one wife and a few kids and you can only imagine what it was like to manage the Yaakov Oveenu household which was made up of four wives of which two were full sisters and the others, half-sisters – according to some- and 12 children: Yikes! And this week as we read Parshas Vayishlach, the wheels will become unglued; not much nachas from the kinderlach and plenty of aggravation to go around.
Lommer unfangin (let’s begin) with a quick and shtikel review of the entire parsha and then we’ll get into what’s bothering the Oisvorfer this week. Nu, believe it or not, it’s the year 2205 and Yaakov Oveenu is a youngish 97 years old. He will still have one more child named Binyomin but will very sadly lose his first love Rochel whom he will bury roadside, ober that’s later at shishi (6th portion). His son Reuvain will either sleep with Bilha, one of Yaakov’s four wives- so says the heylige Toirah- or, as Rashi, the heylige Gemora and few others try to tell us, move some furniture around; pick the pshat that makes sense to you. He did what? That shrekliche (OMG) incident can be found at shive-e. Elsewhere in the parsha, Yaakov prepares to meet with or confront his long lost brother Eisav. Ever the strategist, he employs a three pronged strategy which includes: a) Tefilah – davening to the RBSO asking to be saved, b) diplomacy and c) war. Prior to the actual confrontation, Yaakov will; cross the Jordan, go back to retrieve small jugs left behind – men always go back for jugs, large or small, if you chap- do battle with an angel, will sustain a thigh injury, will undergo a name change to Yisroel and the RBSO will forever outlaw the consumption of the Gid Hanoshe – the sciatic nerve. The brothers will reunite after 34 years; a shtikel long as family feuds go but not unheard of. That’s all found in the first three aliyas and in the 4th, Yaakov and Eisav, after an anticlimactic reunion, agree to separate peacefully. The action really picks up in chamishi (5th reading) where one of the more amazing Toirah stories ever told unfolds. OMG, it’s high drama mamish: Yaakov’s only daughter, Dina was abducted, raped and more by Shechem, the son of Chamoir, chazir that he was. It’s good to have brothers, especially a pair of 13 year olds because, according to at least one pshat, that’s how old Shimon and Levi were, when in an act of revenge, they devised and implemented a strategy for successfully killing the entire male population of the city of Shechem. They used their swords which they efsher received as bar mitzvah presents, ver veyst. Following the massacre, Yaakov and the mishpocho skedaddled out of Shechem and under direct orders from the RBSO moved to Beis El (Beth El). Ever since hundreds of shuls and temples all over the world carry this name.
Later in the parsha: Rivka’s nurse Devora dies, and the RBSO confirmed Yaakov’s new name to Yisroel though he will still be called by his old name from time to time until he dies. Then again, some people suggest that Yaakov never died; nu, we’ll cover that another time. Yitzchok, once reunited with his son Yaakov, will live another 21 years and the heylige Toirah relates his death at the age of 180 in the year 2228. A gittin shabbis!
The emes is that we’ve exhausted all the main storylines in previous editions of the heylige Oisvorfer Toirah and avada you are urged and beckoned to visit www.oisvorfer.com to see archives from 2010, 2011 and last year wherein we covered all the nuggets and shmutz the parsha had to offer and then some. You will mamish enjoy and efsher learn something as well. Mistama you want to hear all the juicy details the medrish conjures up regarding the rape and violation of Dina, who can blame you. Efsher you’re wondering why Rashi found it necessary to tell us that Dina was taken kidarka (missionary) and sheloi kidarko (more creatively, if you chap)? And if you’re not, maybe you should. Would we not have had a proper picture of what took place by merely telling us that she was taken against her will? Why the color and how does Rashi know this to be fact? Ver veyst and more on this later, space permitting.
Ober this year, as we read about Rochel Imainu dying in childbirth and being buried roadside, the Oisvorfer wants to know what became of Bilha and Zilpa and where they are buried. They mysteriously disappear from the text as if they were but role players used to deliver a few boys and be gone with. We are told with certainty that Leah will be buried in the Meoras Hamachpela alongside her first husband Yaakov, ober where are the other set of twins? They too were twins? So says at least one medrish.
Who are they? Avada you recall that just last week, Lovon gave Yaakov his two daughters, he married them both. Magnanimous shver that he was, he also gave him two handmaidens, Yaakov married them as well. And with these two, Bilha and Zilpa, Yaakov had four boys who are very much counted as part of the 12 shevotim (tribes) that we will be reading about in this parsha and others. The adventures of the heylige shevotim will zicher astound and amaze you. Ober what happened to these two Toirah-mention-worthy people. Why are they not counted or recorded in history as ‘our matriarchs? Did they not do their job properly? Were they fired? It’s taka bavust (well known) that they began their careers as handmaidens of Rochel and Leah but all seem to agree that they were eventually elevated to wife status. And as mentioned above, they were zicher also mothers to a few of our illustrious 12 shevotim (tribes). Ober one thing they are not known for is as our foremothers. Didn’t they give birth to ¼ of the brood? Indeed they did and one has to wonder why they were shunned.
“May the RBSO bless you like Soroh, Rivka, Rochel and Leah.” We use these traditional and accepted words while bentching our daughters on Fridays and other times ober what about Bilha and Zilpa? Not even a shout-out! If this has ever crossed your mind, guess what, you are not alone. Though the topic is not well covered, the Oisvorfer and a few others were taka perplexed by this glaring omission.
Says the heylige Gemora Berochis 16b) azoy: We bentch (bless) our children to be like Soroh Rivka, Rochel and Leah because they alone are the Jewish Matriarchs. Only three are referred to as Patriarchs and only four are referred to as Matriarchs. Why, is seemingly none of your business! Who says you have to know everything and that it all has to make sense? Veyter.
Seemingly these seven are considered our nation’s patriarchs and matriarchs not so much because they are our shared biological antecedents, but primarily because they are our spiritual ancestors. And in Sefer Bereishis where seemingly in every parsha, someone was selected and another rejected, it does appear that Bilha and Zilpa drew the short straws. Why, ver veyst.
We are taught that Bilha and Zilpa bore these children “on behalf of” and as “the agents of” Leah and Rochel. The children they bore to Yaakov were named by Leah and Rochel. Bilha and Zilpa don’t represent a unique divine attribute as do the Patriarch and Matriarchs-rather they are the conduit through which our Patriarch and Matriarchs can be manifested in our reality. What that means, ver veyst.
And while there are hundreds of thousands of children named after Rochel and Leah, how many Bilhas or Zilpas do we know? What happened to these very fine women that delivered four shevotim? Nu, believe it or not, the Oisvorfer, after an exhaustive search found from a most reliable source bazman hazeh (in our times), otherwise known as Wikipedia, that indeed they are buried properly over in Tiverya (Tiberias) in a building known as Tomb of the Matriarchs. Its name would indicate that efsher we do indeed treat them as full-fledged Imahos. Shoin: the Oisvorfer feels better. Click through as it pays mamish to see who else is supposedly buried there; the list is impressive.
Though the heylige Toirah tells us that Lovon was a bad guy, seemingly he still had good kids and so much for yichus (pedigree). The Oisvorfer has told you on more than one occasion: when it comes to yichus, best to make your own! Born from Lovon but from different mothers, Rochel and Leah were raised as primary daughters while Bilha and Zilpah were relegated to lesser positions. Why, ver veyst? Seemingly their uniqueness was their acceptance of their destiny as reflections of their older sisters. Bilha modeled herself after Rochel and Zilpah modeled herself after Leah. What Soroh had hoped to accomplish when she introduced Hogor into her marriage with Avrohom besides efsher a threesome, Rochel and Leah did without aggravation. Hogor refused to subjugate herself to Soroh while Bilha and Zilpah willingly subjugated themselves to Rochel and Leah. They were true “maidservants to Rochel and Leah.” Had they been asked what was their greatest honor in life they would have answered, to be known as the mirror images of their older sisters and mentors. It would mean that they accomplished
Says the Zoihar and who knew more, azoy: “While Leah and Rochel were alive the Shechina (The RBSO’s presence) rested upon them. Following their passing, the Shechina did not depart from the household of Yaakov; instead, it rested within the home of Bilha.”
Efsher we can kler that there is a shtikel connection between events in this week’s parsha, Rochel’s untimely passing, Yaakov’s reaction, Reuvain’s actions and their unceremonious disappearance; lommer lernin. Says the heylige Toirah azoy: Reuvain slept with his father’s concubine Bilha! He did what? The Toirah really says that? Nu, let’s lay some foundation.
|22. And it came to pass when Israel sojourned in that land, that Reuvain went and lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and Israel heard [of it], and so, the sons of Yaccov were twelve.||כב. וַיְהִי בִּשְׁכֹּן יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּאָרֶץ הַהִוא וַיֵּלֶךְ רְאוּבֵן וַיִּשְׁכַּב אֶת בִּלְהָה פִּילֶגֶשׁ אָבִיו וַיִּשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל פ וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי יַעֲקֹב שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר:|
Reuvain did what? He lay or slept with Bilha, one of Yaakov’s wives? Could this be and say it’s not so please! Are we talking about Reuvain, one of the holy shevotim (tribes)? How could Reuvain, an intelligent man, involve himself in such foolishness, such an abomination, as to lie with his father’s concubine/wife? Could Bilha, a generation older than Reuvain, have been such an exceptionally beautiful woman that he fell prey to his yetzer horo (evil inclination)? Is there any good news in this? Avada there is: Suddenly your chazerish behavior doesn’t seem all that giferlich, oy vey!
Ober what taka happened in this story? A little background to explain what Reuvain’s intentions were is called for. Seemingly, Yaakov’s main address was with Rochel ober when she died in childbirth while delivering Binyomin, he moved to Bilha’s tent. Rochel nebech passed away at the age of 36, Yaakov lost the love of his life. He chose to make Bilha his new primary wife ober why her? Efsher you’re also wondering why Yaakov taka opted for Bilha, Reuvain’s stepmother instead of Leah his wife and mother of a majority of his kinderlach, are you? Was she efsher mamish ugly and so repugnant? Were her eyes too soft, was she a sight for sore eyes? Ver veyst. What did this Bilha have over her? Nu, let’s take a look under the covers.
Says Rashi citing the medrish on the heylige Gemora (Shabbos 55b) and who knew more or better, azoy: Because he switched around his [father’s] bed, the Toirah treats him as if he slept with her. Now, why did he switch and desecrate his bed? When Rochel died, Yaakov took his bed, which was placed most frequently in Rachel’s tent rather than the other tents, and Yaakov put his bed in Bilha’s tent. Reuvain came to protest his mother’s insult. He said: “If my mother’s sister was a rival-wife to my mother, should the maidservant of my mother’s sister now become a rival-wife to my mother?” Therefore, he made the switch. How the heylige Gemora creatively decided that this entire story inviolved a bed and a mover, ver veyst.
Ober before you get carried away with this meyseh, keep in mind that the heylige Gemora will tell us that anyone who says that Reuvain sinned is totally mistaken. This possik (verse) is not to be taken literally. Shoin! Who knew that the word Vayishkav which is always associated with either sleeping or lying down could also have other meanings? Is this word used elsewhere in the heylige Toirah or other Scriptures to describe a moving man? Ver veyst and seemingly not. Maybe he couldn’t fall asleep, ver veyst. On the other hand, if Reuvain taka committed a sexual crime, the heylige Toirah has very explicit terminology to describe such an act; it is not shy about these things. Sadly, that’s exactly what is says.
Did he or didn’t he? Nu, if you read the heylige Toirah, he did. Ober according to the Medrish that couldn’t fathom that a nice young man from the Yaakov Oveenu family, let alone one of the future shevotim, would do such a dastardly act, he didn’t! He didn’t? Is the medrish not involved in epes a shtikel cover-up to whitewash Reuvain’s severe immoral act? Why does the medrish feel a need to distort the facts? How are we to chap and reconcile this medrish with the Toirah text? Moreover, how can and why did Chazal (our wise rabbis) utterly disregard the plain text and pshat?
Nu, before we lose faith in the system, let’s recall what the RambaM says we need to do when we confront a medrish that befuddles the mind. Said he: our sages sometimes express themselves in a manner that needs decoding. We must interpret the medrish and not always read it simply at face value: it is our task and our duty to seek the “inner meaning” behind the midrashic words of Chazal. No kidding! Nu, let’s look.
Ober that notwithstanding, if Reuvain actually did bed Bilha, why, and what was his motive? Was he in love with her or did he have other motives, maybe political ones? Did she love him? Nu, before you call the Oisvorfer an apikoires (a heathen) and worse, let’s learn some Tanach (scriptures) where we find at least a few other such unusual cases of the son bedding the father’s wives and concubines. Seemingly, such behavior did manifest itself from time to time; though Reuvain may have been the first Toirah character to ‘sleep’ with his father’s wife/pilegesh, certainly he wasn’t the last. And if we adopt this approach, Reuvain’s act has an obvious biblical parallel as we will see below.
Nu, believe it or not, as mentioned above, there are sadly other instances in Tanach (Scriptures) which describe attempts, some successful, by a son to engage in sexual relations with his father’s pilagshim (concubines). There are? Nu, now you chap why most yeshivas didn’t teach much Novee. Efsher you recall the famous cases of Avshalom and of Adoniya, two of Dovid Hamelech’s (King David) outstanding children. Both of them chapped where they shouldn’t have ober both cases involved political rather than sexual motives. In both episodes, the son’s act with his father’s pilegesh represented his taking his father’s status as king. By taking the king’s wives and engaging in sexual relations with them, the son is assuming his father’s position and mistama few others, if you chap, with all of its political significance. Nu, it’s zicher good to be the king, even playing one has its benefits.
Said the Novee (Shmuel II 16:21) azoy: Avshalom staged a rebellion against his father, Dovid Hamelech. In fact, he successfully temporarily deposed him from the throne, exiling Dovid from Yerusholayim. Avshalom, interested in making a firm, if you chap, statement about his new status as king, asked his advisor Achitofel how he might publicize his new role as monarch. Said Achitofel azoy: “Lie with your father’s concubines, whom he left to mind the palace; and when all Israel hears that you have dared the wrath of your father, all who support you will be encouraged.” Such yiddishe nachas! Want more? Here we go.
Said the Novee (I Melochim (KINGS)) azoy: Adoniya staged a coup against Dovid and his intended heir, Shlomo. Dovid foiled the attempt, but after his death, in a rather devious move, Adoniya asks Batsheva, the Queen Mother, to approach her son Shlomo and petition him for the right to marry Dovid’s pilegesh, Avishag. In plain English: Adoniyahu, David’s son, also tried to follow Avshalom’s example and to marry Avishag, who was regarded by the nation as his father’s concubine.
And the bottom line? Seemingly, a son sleeping with his father’s pilagshim was not necessarily an expression of romance; it might have been a quintessential act of politics in which the son is usurping, if you chap, his father’s position. And with this background, we can revisit and better chap that what might have gone down between Reuvain and Bilha. Efsher we can kler that their relationship too was not a love story, not at all. It was just a good old uprising, certainly Reuvain had one, if you chap. Seemingly, when it come to politics, all chazerish behavior, even out of the box, or efsher in, if you chap, was ok. Gishmak and veyter.
Seemingly, the issue at stake was family leadership; who would succeed Yaakov as patriarch of the family. With Rochel, Yaakov’s love now gone, Reuvain efsher wanted to assert himself. Seemingly he did just that. Reuvain, expressed his desires in an unusual way, no big deal.
By sleeping with Bilha, he let the mishpocho know that he intended to succeed his father as the family leader. His goal was to proclaim that the children of Leah are the natural continuation of Yaakov, not Rochel’s children. Gishamak mamish and could also be pshat, why not?
Ober Reuvain was young and impetuous and decided to correct what he considered to be an insult to his mother. Rather than consult with his mother; rather than respectfully question his father; Reuvain acted on his own well-intended conclusion. In doing so, Reuvain revealed a fundamental flaw that was not unique to him. Reuvain revealed the tendency of every human to follow the dictates of his own heart and mind. On his deathbed, Yaakov turned to Reuvain and said, “Your impetuousness in deciding on your own to move my bed from Bilha’s tent to your mother’s tent was a big no-no. Had you only asked either myself or your mother why I had placed my bed in the tent of Bilha rather than the more obvious choice of Leah’s tent, you would have understood that Bilha and Rochel were one and the same and in Rochel’s absence the Shechina had chosen Bilha.
Nu, despite a few shortcomings and efsher even a few major flaws, the RBSO loved Reuvain and the rest of the holy shevotim. Next week we’ll meet Yehuda and Tamar, the RBSO loved them as well and zicher that is good news for the Oisvorf community.
A gittin shabbis-
The Oisvorfer Ruv