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The Mitzvah to Publicize a Mitzvah

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Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner in loving memory of Stephen’s father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella’s parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen.
The Torah portion of Vayeishev tells the unfortunate story of the kidnapping and sale of Yosef by his brothers.[1] The Torah says that whereas the brothers had originally planned to murder Yosef, Reuven convinced them against doing so. As it says,[2] “Reuven heard, and he saved him from their hands, and he said, ‘Let us not deal him a deadly blow… Do not shed blood! Cast him into this pit, which is in the desert, but do not lay a hand upon him,’ [He did this] in order to save him from their hands, to return him to his father.”
Based on later verses,[3] the Ramban points out that Reuven originally tried to convince his brothers to free Yosef altogether. It was only when they refused to listen to his arguments that he prevailed upon them to at least throw him into a pit instead of killing him outright. As a later verse later recounts,[4] Reuven was planning to return, save Yosef from the pit and bring him back to their father. Unfortunately, in the interim the brothers sold him to the passing traders.
Reuven’s Motives
The commentaries offer several explanations as to why Reuven decided to save Yosef.
·        As the Firstborn
Rashi says[5] that Reuven knew that, as the firstborn son of Yakov, he would be blamed if Yosef was harmed. So, he did his best to prevent this.
·        Having Lost the Firstborn Rights
The verse says, “But when he (Reuven) defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Yosef.”[6] Thus, at this point, Reuven had already been stripped of his firstborn rights and these were given to Yosef. As such, Reuven feared that he would be the blamed for any harm done to Yosef as he had a clear motive – to revenge the loss of his firstborn rights. He therefor worked to ensure Yosef’s safety.[7]
·        The Subject of Yosef’s Lashon HaRa
The verse says that Yosef “would bring the evil tales about the brothers to their father.”[8] As such it is likely that Yosef was the one who informed Yaakov of Reuven’s sin with Bilhah. People might therefor say that Reuven had a score to settle with Yosef. Reuven therefor acted to clear his name from any association with the killing of Yosef.[9]
·        Included in the Brothers
The sages in the Midrash[10] says that after Reuven sinned with Bilhah he was not sure if he (and his progeny) would be considered a member of the future Jewish nation.[11] Reuven therefor was appreciative to Yosef for including him among the brothers in his dream. (I.e., there were eleven stars in Yosef’s dream and not only ten.)
In fact, Reuven wasn’t sure if Yosef’s dream was prophetic or not. But, he figured, if the dream was prophetic, then he owed Yosef gratitude for revealing this fact to me. And if Yosef had made up the dream, he still owed Yosef gratitude as he showed that, at the very least, he considered Reuven to be a full member of the family.[12] Reuven expressed this gratitude by saving Yosef’s life.
·        Had Reuven Known
The Midrash says[13] that, had Reuven known that G-d was going to publicize his mitzvah (by writing about it in the Torah) he would have carried him on his shoulders to his father.
·        Had Ahron Known
Similarly, had Ahron known that the Torah would publicize that he was happy to see Moshe when Moshe retuned to Egypt (Exodus 4:14), he would have gone to greet him with tambourines and dancers.
·        Had Boaz Known
Along the same line, had Boaz known that the Torah would record his kindness to Ruth when “he handed her parched grain”[14] he would have fed her fattened calves.
·        If We Would Only Know
The Midrash concludes that our deeds, too, are significant and are being recorded. “Elijah the prophet writes them down and Moshiach and G-d Himself signs them.” We should therefor do them in the best possible way.
The commentaries explain[15] that these righteous men didn’t do these mitzvot for any ulterior motive. Certainly they would not have added to the mitzvah for the sake of receiving honor. The meaning of the teaching is, that had these tzaddikim realized that so many people would find out about their mitzvot and be inspired by them, they would have done these mitzvot in a more exemplary manner so that the future generations would have even more inspiration. We too should know that many of our mitzvot are ones can inspire future generations. We should, therefore, be doubly diligent in performing them to the best or our abilities.
Don’t be Too Humble
It can also be said[16] that Reuven, out of humility, didn’t realize that his mitzvah was worthy to be written up in the holy Torah. Had he known how important this action was and how it would impact the future of the entire Jewish people, he would certainly have attempted to complete the mitzvah in the best way. The same can be said about the other tzaddikim. Similarly, we must realize that our mitzvot are also of utmost importance as they too affect the entire course of history. As such we must perform them in the best possible way.
A Name on the Wall
The Rashba[17] was asked about a person who turned his home into an expanded section of a nearby shul. He wanted to have his name inscribed at the entrance to the shul but some of the members of the shul did not agree to this. The Rashba ruled that the donor had the right to have his name on the wall. He based his ruling on the abovementioned Midrash that points to the various cases where the Torah publicizes the names of those who performed mitzvot and that such publicity can enhance the performance of the mitzvah. He also quoted the following story in the Talmud[18] to prove his point.
Attics Full of Gold
Yossi ben Yo’ezer had a son that was not behaving in the best way. So, instead of leaving his wealth (which consisted of an attic full of gold coins) to his son, Rabbi Yossi dedicated it to the Bait HaMikdash. His son then married the daughter of King Yannai’s crown maker. One day his son found an exquisite diamond inside a fish he had caught. His wife advised him to sell it to the Bait HaMikdash as they would pay a high price for such a stone. The treasurers of the Bait HaMikdash said that the stone was worth 13 attics full of gold but that they only had seven such attics. The son said that he would take those seven and the rest of the value of the stone would be a donation. They then wrote, “Yossi ben Yo’ezer donated one attic of gold to the Bait HaMikdash and his son donated six attics.” Some say[19] that they wrote this in the record book of the Bait HaMikdash finances. Others say[20] that there was a special book where they would record the names of those who donated items (or money) to the Bait HaMikdash.
Anther precedent can be found in Zechriah 6:14 where it says, “And the crowns shall be for Chelem, and for Toviah, and for Yedidyah…” The Radak writes that the names of each of these donors was inscribed on the crown that they donated (respectively) to the Second Bait HaMikdash.[21]
A Name on a Donated Item
Based on this Rashba, the Rama rules[22] that if one donated an object to tzedakah (e.g. to a shul) he may write his name on it (i.e., donated by son and so) and that it is proper to do so. The Taz[23] adds that if this is done, the community may not sell the item and use those funds for a non-mitzvah purpose, even many years later.
The Shach adds that, even if the donor wishes to add his name to the item some time after he gave the donation, he may do so.[24]
·        Even for the Sake of the Honor
The donor’s name should be written even if the only reason he gave the tzedakah was in order to receive honor for doing so. Ultimately, we hope that he will gradually learn how to do mitzvot for the sake of Heaven. Meanwhile we should encourage him to perform mitzvot even with ulterior motives.[25]
No Name for the Fundraiser
The right to have one’s name written on a donated object or building only applies to the one who donated the funds or the item. Whereas if one donated his time and collected the funds for a project, he has no right to have his name written on that project. This applies even in a case where that person was also the one who hired the workers to get the job done.[26]
Only if the Community Agrees
If an individual donates an item to be used by the community but the community does not wish to have that item associated with a particular person, they may insist that the individual’s name not be written on that item. (This applies to an item that is usually owned by the community.) If the donor does not agree, they may return the item to him and use communal funds to purchase the item instead. This is because the community has the right to include all of its members in any given mitzvah if they choose to do so.[27]
May we merit to perform many mitzvot that are an inspiration for future generations!
[1] Gen. 37
[2] Ibid, verses 21 and 22
[3] See Gen. 42:22 where Reuven said to his brothers “Didn’t I tell you, saying, ‘Do not sin against the lad,’ but you did not listen?”
[4] Gen. 37:29-30
[5] Based on Bereishit Rabbah 84:14
[6] Divrei HaYamim I, 5:1
[7] Chizkuni
[8] Gen. 35:2
[9] Chizkuni
[10] Bereishit Rabbah 84:14
[11] The verse that recounts Reuven’s sin also says that Yakov had 12 sons (Gen. 35:22). This teaches us that Reuven was still included in the Jewish people. But this verse was not written down until he time of Moshe and Reuven was not aware of it at that time (Pirush Maharzu on the Midrash Rabbah).
[12] Eitz Yosef
[13] Ruth Rabbah 5:6 and Vayikrah Rabbah 34:8
[14] Ruth 2:14
[15] Eitz Yosef on VaYikrah Rabbah ibid
[16] Rabbi Menachem Kasher in Torah Sheleima, note 135
[17] Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet of Barcelona (1235–1310)
[18] Bava Batra 133b
[19] Rashbam
[20] Ritva
[21] Hagahot Rabbi D Sperber, printed in the Kovetz Mefarshim Michtav Yad on Y.D. 249:13 Mahadurat Freidman
[22] Y.D. 249:13
[23] Subsection 4
[24] Nekudat HaKessef on the Taz, ibid
[25] Beit Hillel on Y.D. ibid
[26] Emunat Shmuel 35, cited in Pit’chei Teshuva, 3
[27] Tzemach Tzedek by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Krochmal of Nikolsburg (1600 – 1661), Responsa 50
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, a Happy Chanukah and a Chodesh Tov!

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