Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Episode One

Yossi and Chaim were walking home from school. Yossi was bemoaning the hard lesson he had been subjected to during the day. He told Chaim, he hadn’t understood a word of it.

Chaim laughed.

“Not a word?” he asked.

Yossi reassured him that he had spoken sincerely and meant it quite literally. Chaim could contain his curiosity not a moment longer.

“Tell me,” he told Yossi, “What was the lesson about?”

Initially, Yossi responded that he hadn’t even been able to make out the topic of the lesson...that’s how hard it was. But after a little chiding from Chaim, he relented and said:

“Ok, I can tell you a little about what it was about.” “But,” he quickly added, “not much more than a little.”

Satisfied, Chaim said he’d be willing to settle for whatever he could get.

Yossi thereupon began. He told him that the lesson was about a Rashi on Chumash. The Parsha was Vayeshev; and the Rashi was on the pasuk in the narrative that dealt with the errand that Yosef was running for his father. Yaakov had sent him to visit his brothers and report back to him on their welfare. Yosef journeyed to Shechem, expecting to find them there. But when he arrived he discovered that they had gone elsewhere. Confounded, and confronted by a stranger who took Yosef for lost, Yosef inquired with this person as to the whereabouts of his brothers. The stranger related that he had indeed run into them and had overheard a conversation they were having, which was to the effect that they would head for Doson. Whereupon Yosef went looking for his brothers in Doson.

Arriving there, he was spotted by his brothers. Immediately, they took a negative attitude toward his impending presence. Talking amongst themselves, they recalled the favoritism with which he was treated by their father and, as well, the dreams he had had, portending his future dominance over them. They recalled his telling them of his dreams, in quite minute detail, and the resentment they bore toward him as a result. His joining them was not at all something that they were going to accept with equanimity.

As he approached, they decided amongst themselves to do away with him once and for all, that is, to kill him.

Yossi mentioned that the Chumash expressed this episode with the words, vayiskaklu oso lehamiso. That, he said, was what the Rashi was about, repeating also that the topic of the lesson was this particular Rashi.

Hearing this, Chaim was bewildered. “You mean to tell me, the entire lesson revolved around this one Rashi?” he queried. “Was it one of those rare, long Rashi’s, like the ones that cover the better part of a whole page?” he further asked.

To his immense surprise, Yossi answered him in the negative, explaining that the Rashi in question was not long at all: on the contrary, it was all of four words long!

Chaim was incredulous. “An entire lesson spent on a Rashi four words long!” he exclaimed.

Yossi assured him that he had heard correctly. Chaim summarily told him that this was a Rashi he just had to see.

As they continued on their trek home, their path took them past a beis medrash. It was Mincha time, and they could see that people were entering the edifice – presumably to daven with the minyan. They having already davened in yeshiva, they hadn’t thought to enter the beis medrash themselves. But Chaim, deeply caught up in fathoming Yossi’s claim that his three-hour lesson concentrated on a four-worded Rashi, nudged Yossi to step in to the beis medrash with him and take out a Chumash so that he could show him exactly what Rashi this Rashi was. Not being the difficult type, Yossi agreed and into the beis medrash they went.

Once in, a Chumash wasn’t hard to find. Yossi took it in his hands and flipped through the early pages, arriving finally at a page ensconced somewhere in the middle of Sefer Bereishis and toward the beginning of Parshas Vayeshev. Before they knew it, Chaim and Yossi were together looking at a pasuk in chapter 37 that read: “And they saw him from a distance; and before he drew close to them, they contrived to kill him.” The actual Hebrew for “they contrived to kill him” was vayisnaklu oso lehamiso. Having absorbed these words, their gaze gradually turned to the Rashi.

Thumbing through the page, Yossi’s finger landed squarely on a Rashi that was prefaced by the word oso, taken from the pasuk. “This,” he emphatically proclaimed, "is the Rashi we had spent all that time on.”

Chaim couldn’t believe his eyes. Nothing particularly unusual about this Rashi initially met the eye. It did indeed consist of a mere four words: not four long words, mind you, or even four middle-sized words. It consisted of just four rather short words. The whole Rashi appeared so very curt. “How complicated could this Rashi already be?” wondered Chaim out loud – within earshot of none other than the beis medrash’s Manhig Ruchani.

A few minutes were left, before the Mincha davening was to begin. Chaim and Yossi stood there, pondering the sight of the Rashi. All of a sudden, as if from nowhere, they found themselves being approached from the side by a distinguished looking man. He was dark bearded, sported a pure black tie set against an equally pure white shirt, and bore all the markings of someone very much steeped in learning. Chaim, who was holding the Chumash, felt a gentle tap on his shoulder. Turning reflexively, he instantly realized that the tapper was the Manhig Ruchani himself. Eyes wide open, the two boys listened as their joiner began to speak apologetically.         

“Pardon me,” he said, “for intruding. But I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. I wasn’t eavesdropping, mind you. But the tenor of your discussion impressed me starkly.”

Chaim and Yossi were nothing short of dumbfounded.

The Manhig Ruchani proceeded to explain that he had caught wind of the fact that the two boys were engrossed in a look at the Rashi in Vayeshev that focused on the Torah’s use of the word oso in expressing the thought that the brothers were engaged in a conspiratorial act affecting Yosef. He simply marveled at the fact that boys of such a young age could pick such a seemingly abstruse item to think about and discuss together.

“What,” he solemnly inquired, “made you pick this Rashi as a topic of interest?”    

(To be continued.)

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