Geshmack Dvar Torah

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Geshmack Dvar Torah of the Week: Because That If....?

Friday, 11 December 2009

Because That If....?

The Pasuk says: " כִּי אִם זְכַרְתַּנִי אִתְּךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר יִיטַב לָךְ וְעָשִׂיתָ נָּא עִמָּדִי חָסֶד וְהִזְכַּרְתַּנִי אֶל פַּרְעֹה וְהוֹצֵאתַנִי מִן הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה - ??? remember me when things go well with you, and please do me a favor and mention me to Pharaoh, and you will get me out of this house." (40:14). The words כִּי אִם do not really belong here, as the translation above clearly shows - they do not add or change any meaning in the Pasuk. כִּי אִם translates loosely as "because that" and many variations. Certainly this translation isn't helpful in understanding the Pasuk, so what are they there for? As we have seen many times, it is because we have not understood the context clearly enough.

There is a story told by the Brisker Rov in the name of his father R' Chaim Brisker about the Rav of Kovno, (present day Kaunas in Lithuania). The story occurred while General Napoleon was marching through Eastern Europe. The lords and gentry wanted to please Napoleon as his armies passed through their lands, and they wanted to honour him by making a lavish evening whereupon they would bestow gifts and treasures to him. The province's leaders each took their turn to present him and his delegations with their offerings, and after a while, he noticed none of the Jewish community were represented, and he was relatively good to the Jews and questioned how come there were no Jewish leaders at the ball. The pronvince's leaders shuffled around uncomfortably, and explained that they did not feel the Jews to be members of society worthy enough of honouring Napoleon. He flew into a rage and insisted they bring a rabbi, and the gentry grew nervous. They sent for the rabbi from the nearest town, which happened to be the Rav of Kovno. (I couldn't find out who this was at the time of writing...) He was rushed to the ball and Napoleon requested that the rabbi say something truthful, something he'd felt was lacking in the previous speeches. The gentry were quaking at this point.

The Rav said that that week's weekly portion was ours, Vayeshev, and he'd never understood why the Pasuk had said כִּי אִם until the sequence of events that had unfolded that night that had enabled him to have an audience requested by Napoleon. He explained that without context, we don't see the bigger picture, (a concept we discussed regarding Chanuka already,) with regards to what on earth Napoleon was doing in this far flung corner of Europe. He said that things do not just happen "by the way". Everything is ordained, everything is planned in Heaven. Yosef was saying to the butler that he was innocent, and certainly that was the case: how does one prevent a fly falling into the wine as you drink it? But nevertheless he was imprisoned? Loosely applying this with the translation of כִּי אִם, "you are here because ie in order that you must remember me when things go well with you".

The Rav then proceeded to tell Napoleon that the reason he was near Kovno was because the Jews were being oppressed terribly, and he was here to save them. Napoleon applauded, and save them he did - he removed the gentry's stewardship over the Jews (albeit temporarily!).


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