By Rabbi Yitzchok D. Frankel
Agudath Israel of the Five Towns
And Pharaoh removed his ring from his hand and placed it on the hand of Yosef . . .
There are three individuals mentioned in Tanach who were given rings to make them viceroy, and each of them is associated with the war against Amalek.
Yosef. The first is Yosef, as mentioned in our verse. Yehoshua, a descendant of Yosef is later chosen to wage war against Amalek.
This Midrash (Bereishis Rabati, Vayeitzei 30:25) also makes some interesting comparisons between Yosef and Amalek. Due to these comparisons, Yosef is the most fitting candidate to defeat Amalek, the leading scion of Eisav, and visit upon him his punishment from Hashem. Some of these comparisons there are as follows:
1. Yosef said, “I fear G‑d” (Bereishis 42:18), whereas about Amalek it is written, “And he did not fear G‑d” (Devarim 25:18).
2. Yosef was small among his brothers, as it is written, “For he was a son of old age” (Bereishis 37:3), and about Amalek it is written, “Behold, I have placed you small among the nations” (Ovadiah 1:2).
3. Eisav lost his rights as a firstborn through his evil deeds, whereas Yosef was not originally a firstborn but acquired these rights through his good deeds.
4. Yosef expressed faith in Techiyas HaMeisim, as it is written, “G‑d will surely remember you” (Sh’mos 13:19), whereas Eisav denied Techiyas HaMeisim, as it is written, “Behold, I am going to die” (Bereishis 25:32).
5. Yosef grew up among two wicked people, Potifar and his wife, but did not learn from their deeds. Eisav grew up among two tzaddikim, but did not learn from their deeds.
Haman. The second of the three is Haman, a descendant of Agag, king of Amalek. About Haman it is written, “And the King removed the ring from his hand and gave it to Haman.” (Esther 3:10)
Mordechai. The third is Mordechai. After Haman is executed (thanks to Mordechai’s efforts and prayers), it is written, “And the King removed his ring which he had taken away from Haman, and gave it to Mordechai.” (ibid., 8:2)
Why Rachel’s Children?
Yosef and Mordechai, who descends from Binyamin, are the children of Rachel. (Mordechai was a scion of King Shaul.) The Midrash we cited above says that Yehoshua, a descendant of Ephraim ben Yosef, was chosen to lead the first battle against Amalek because Yosef was the son of Rachel.
Why are Rachel’s children chosen to receive royal rings, become viceroys, and fight Amalek?
The Gemara (Bava Basra 123a) tells us that Rachel’s children were fitting to have the rights of the firstborn, as it is written, “These are the offspring of Yaakov: Yosef . . .” (Bereishis 37:2). This verse implies that Yaakov’s primary offspring was Yosef. However, Leah’s children received the firstborn rights instead through the merit of Leah’s great prayers. Hashem partially returned the birthrights to Rachel in reward for her modesty in giving the simanim to her sister. Yosef capitalized on these rights when he split into two tribes and thus received two portions in Eretz Yisrael. As we know, the firstborn takes a double portion.
From this Gemara we see that it is because of Rachel that her children are fitting to have the rights of the firstborn, i.e., to take the leadership of Klal Yisrael. There is also a Midrash that accords the leadership specifically to the children of Rachel:
When Shaul began to rule as king, the Holy One Blessed Be He said: “The offspring of Amalek will only fall into the hand of Rachel’s son.” You find that in Refidim, he (Amalek) fell into the hand of Yehoshua, as it is written, “And Yehoshua weakened Amalek” (Sh’mos 17:13). Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: “This tribe is always ready to extract punishment from Amalek . . .” (Pesikta Rabbasi, ch. 13)
Yet all this is enigmatic. Yehudah should be the warrior who challenges Eisav/Amalek, since the kingship belongs to the tribe of Yehudah. We find many places where the Torah speaks of Yehudah’s valor in war.
HaRav Yonasan Eibeshutz, in his famous work Yaaros HaDevash (part 1, derush 3), takes note of this incongruity. He answers that as far as conquering Eisav himself is concerned, Yehudah plays the leading role. It is written about Yehudah, “Your hand is on the neck of your enemy” (Bereishis 49:8), and the Midrash (Shocher Tov, ch. 18) comments on this verse that victorious war is led only by Yehudah. But fighting Amalek is a different story altogether. Amalek has a mother with great merits, and it takes a mother with even greater merits—Rachel Imeinu—to overcome him.
Who was Amalek’s mother, and what great thing did she do in her life? The Torah says, “And the sister of Lotan was Timna” (Bereishis 36:22). Rashi comments (ibid., v. 12) that this verse was written to tell us that Timna was a princess. Nevertheless, she left it all to cleave to Avraham by becoming a concubine of one of his descendants, namely, Elifaz the father of Amalek. Thus, we see that Amalek’s mother had great mesirus nefesh for spirituality.
Who can counteract such mesirus nefesh? Rachel can, since she performed a parallel act of mesirus nefesh, but one that was even greater. Let us compare the acts of these two women: Timna had no choice but to become a concubine if she was to marry Elifaz since he already had a number of wives before she came along. Rachel, on the other hand, had the chance to be Yaakov’s primary wife, but she sacrificed it when she gave the simanim to Leah. As a result, she became “wife number two.”
It emerges that only Rachel’s children have a merit great enough to overcome the merit that Amalek inherited from his mother.
Based on this amazing insight of the Yaaros HaDevash, we can explain not only why the children of Rachel led the war against Amalek but also why they received royal rings and become viceroys. It is written regarding Bilaam’s prophecy: “And he saw Amalek and he took up his parable and said: ‘The first among nations is Amalek. But his end is to be eternally destroyed.’” (Bamidbar 24:20)
Throughout the course of history, Amalek will exist. At times, he will seem to be disappearing, but this is only temporary. The true and final defeat of Amalek will occur only at the end of days, when David of the tribe of Yehudah regains kingship. Until this occurs, the provisional antagonists of Amalek are the children of Rachel.
The Concept Of The Ring
What is the concept expressed by the royal ring that was lent to the children of Rachel? It is their interim power, their status of viceroy as opposed to that of king. Rachel’s children do not assume ultimate authority. They act only as the king’s independent representatives. This is seen clearly in the case of Yosef, whose power originates with Pharaoh. This is also the position of Shaul, whose monarchy is predestined to be only temporary in order to make way for David and his eternal monarchy. This is also the position of Mordechai, whose power derives from Achashverosh.
This is why a parallel exists between Yosef and Mordechai. Yosef was treated by Pharaoh as follows: “And he dressed him in garments of fine linen and placed a golden chain on his neck and seated him in the chariot second to him” (Bereishis 42:42–43). And Mordechai was treated by Achashverosh as follows: “And Mordechai went out from before the King in royal garments . . .” (Esther 8:15)
When the ultimate destruction of Eisav will occur, it will be due to Yosef. Yaakov realizes this immediately upon Yosef’s birth:
“When Rachel gave birth to Yosef . . .” When the antagonist of Eisav was born, as it is written (Ovadiah 1:18): “And the House of Yaakov will be a fire, and the House of Yosef will be a flame, and the House of Eisav will be straw—and they shall burn them and consume them . . .” (Rashi, Bereishis 30:25)
Here, too, Yosef’s power to consume Eisav stems from his mother Rachel. The proof is that even the children of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaiden and, later, mother surrogate, serve as antagonists of Eisav. In the famous encounter between Eisav and Yaakov’s funeral procession ascending from Egypt, as Eisav attempts to steal back the rights of burial in Me’aras Hamachpelah, it is Naftali (son of Bilhah) who is given the task of running back to Egypt to bring the documents proving that Yaakov had purchased from Eisav all rights to the property. In addition, it is Chushim ben Dan (grandson of Bilhah) who ultimately slays Eisav.
Returning to the idea set forth by the Yaaros HaDevash—that Rachel’s act of giving over the simanim to Leah is the power that ultimately defeats Amalek: Was Leah ever aware that Rachel gave her the simanim? It would seem that the answer is a resounding no! If Leah had known of her sister’s great sacrifice, could the harsh words that Leah spoke during the incident of the duda’im ever have been uttered? When Rachel asks Leah for some of the duda’im that Reuven found in the field, Leah is taken aback and responds: “Is it a small thing that you have taken my husband, and to take also the duda’im of my son?” (Bereishis 30:15)
It is inconceivable that the righteous Leah would have accused her sister Rachel of taking “her” husband if she had known what Rachel had done with the simanim. Leah would have realized that the truth was the exact opposite: Rachel had given her husband to Leah!
Rachel, at this point, could have set the record straight and responded to her sister by revealing to her the horrible truth, but why would she have? It would have only made Leah feel worse. The whole reason she had given her sister the simanim in the first place was to save her embarrassment.
Thus, our holy mother Rachel accepted the hurtful event as a normal consequence of being the beloved second wife. Thereafter, she suffered the further pain of remaining childless as Leah had children five and six.
Who can even begin to fathom the esteem held for her in Shamayim, and the merits she has accrued for Klal Yisrael? v
Rabbi Frankel can be reached at email@example.com. At local stores: Machat shel Yad Beraishis, Sh’mos, and Vayikra.