SALT - Monday, 21 Tammuz 5780 - July 13, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of my grandfather 
Rav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l, whose yahrzeit is
22 Tamuz, July 14.

Parashat Matot tells of the war God commanded Benei Yisrael to wage against the nation of Midyan, to avenge that nation’s role in the successful scheme to lure Benei Yisrael to engage in illicit relationships and worship idols.  The Torah relates that Moshe sent one thousand soldiers out to battle together with Pinchas (31:6), and Rashi brings a number of different explanations for why specifically Pinchas was sent to join the soldiers.  One explanation, cited from the Gemara (Sota 43a), is that Pinchas went “to take revenge for his mother’s father, Yosef.”  The Gemara states that Pinchas’ mother (the wife of Elazar, son and successor of Aharon) was a descendant of Yosef, and thus Pinchas joined this battle to avenge Midyan’s role in the sale of Yosef to Egypt as a slave.  As we read in Sefer Bereishit (37:36), it was the “Medanim” – commonly identified as Midyanim – who brought Yosef to Egypt and sold him as a slave to the Egyptian nobleman Potifar. 
Therefore, as Benei Yisrael set out to wage war against Midyan, Pinchas joined the troops in order to avenge Midyan’s having sold his ancestor as a slave.
The Gemara here points to a connection between two seemingly unrelated events – Midyan’s scheme to lure Benei Yisrael to sin, and Midyan’s having brought Yosef to Egypt as a slave centuries earlier.  How might we understand the association drawn between these two events?
Keli Yakar explains by noting that by bringing Yosef to Potifar, the Midyanim were, in a sense, responsible for sending him – and, later, all Benei Yisrael – into the decadent society of Egypt.  Just as the Midyanites actively lured Benei Yisrael to engage in immoral conduct, similarly, the Midyanite merchants who sold Yosef to Egypt placed Benei Yisrael in the position of having to withstand the lures of a promiscuous culture.
We might add that the Gemara, in establishing Midyan’s role in the sale of Yosef, cites specifically the verse which tells of the Midyanim selling Yosef to Potifar, the final verse in the story of the sale of Yosef.  Curiously, the Gemara chose not to cite an earlier verse in the story, in which the Midyanim are first mentioned (37:28).  The reason, perhaps, is because the Gemara here focuses specifically on the fact that the Midyanites were responsible for placing Yosef in the home of Potifar – where he would be tested by Potifar’s wife, who attempted to seduce him.  If so, then the connection being drawn is between the intentional seduction of Benei Yisrael by Midyan during the incident of Ba’al Pe’or, and the Midyanite merchants’ indirect role in Yosef’s facing the challenge of the lures of Potifar’s wife.  The same Midyanites who were, in some way, responsible for Yosef’s seduction later conspired to seduce the men of Benei Yisrael.
Of course, the merchants did not realize they would be causing Yosef to be lured to sin, and it is unlikely that the Gemara, or Keli Yakar, actually intends to blame them for this particular challenge which Yosef later faced.  Rather, it would seem that the Gemara here teaches us to be mindful of the potential long-term impact of our interpersonal conduct.  Just as it is clearly wrong to actively try causing a person to sin, we must also try to avoid indirectly placing our fellow in a situation of spiritual or moral challenge.  Everything we do impacts others in some way.  The way we speak and the way we conduct ourselves affects the people around us.  We must try to speak and act in a manner that spreads goodness, virtue and sanctity, and avoid speaking and acting in ways that have the opposite effect.