Parshat Vayechi Vol.10 No.17

Date of issue: 18 Tevet 5761 -- January 13, 2001

This week's issue has been sponsored by
Rabbi Sam and Tzivia Bramson
in honor of their children,
Esther and Myron Chaitovsky,
being honored by Congregation Beth Aaron.
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This week's issue has also been sponsored by Manny and Judy Landau
in gratitude for the birth of their granddaughter, Yael Miriam Saperstein,
and in commemoration of Manny's parents, A"H.

How to sponsor

This week's featured writers:

Rabbi Rabbi Mark Smilowitz
David Gertler
Daniel Wenger
Avi Shteingart
Tzvi Kahn
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Afkiinhu Rabanan Likidushin Mineh*

Switch
by Rabbi Mark Smilowitz

When Yaakov sees his grandchildren, Yosef's sons, for the first time, he seems to commit a serious blunder. He sends his right hand to Ephraim, the younger grandson, and his left to Menashe, the elder. Yosef is understandably angry, for we remember that it was precisely Yaakov's favoritism of the younger over the elder that caused the brothers to sell Yosef in the first place.

Why did Yaakov switch his hands? Yaakov himself explains that he does so because he foresees that Ephraim will grow up to be the greater nation. The commentaries all echo Yaakov's words in explaining his actions. However, a question still lingers. What is the significance of this switch? Why does Ephraim merit becoming the greater of the two?

This episode must be understood in light of an earlier passage in the Torah. Back in Parshat Miketz, when Yosef names his two children, the Torah tells us why he chooses these names. "Menashe" means, "For Hashem has helped me forget all my troubles and the house of my father" (41:51). Yosef saw the birth of his first son as a kind of anesthetic to numb the pain of all the suffering caused by his brothers. Now it is time for him to start a new life in Egypt and abandon all thoughts of home. "Ephraim" means, "Hashem has made me prosper in the land of my affliction (41:52)." For some reason, by the time he has a second son, Yosef recognizes that Egypt is not his true home. Although he prospers there, it is still "the land of my affliction." Yosef misses home.

Yaakov understood that each boy represented a fundamentally different attitude toward living prosperously outside of Israel. If the Jews were to survive in Egypt, they would have to be extremely cautious to avoid the attitude implied by Menashe's name. They could never look at the exile as their true home, where they could forget the land of Israel from whence they came. Rather, the Jews had to adopt the attitude of the name Ephraim. Yes, they might prosper outside of Israel, but they must never forget that they are away from their true home in Israel. This message is crucial at this point in the Torah, when the Jews were going to be spending many generations in Egypt, and it is also a crucial message for all of us, who have found good living in places outside of Israel, today. We must never forget that our stay here is temporary, and Israel is our true home.

Family Men:
Dina's Brothers

by David Gertler

A number of the Berachot that Yaakov gave his children seem to be prophecy, not Beracha. The most confusing of these Berachot is the one given to both Shimon and Levi. The Beracha is as follows: Shimon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. Into their conspiracy, do not bring my soul, my honor shall not become one with their congregation; for in anger they killed a man, and because they desired it they maimed an ox. Cursed be their anger for it is fierce, and their wrath because it is cruel; I will divide them within Jacob, and I will disperse them within Israel (49:5-7).

A number of questions must be raised regarding this Berachawarranted such a strong "blessing"? Second, when does . First, what did Shimon and Levi do that this prophecy come true? Third, to what does each part of the Beracha refer?

Shimon and Levi came to Dina's rescue by killing the inhabitants of Shechem noted that the Pasuk there (see Bereishit 34). It should be refers to them as connects the three of them. "Shimon and Levi, the brothers of Dina" (34:25). Perhaps this The simple reading, however, with which Rashi concurs, is that they came to her rescue because she was their sisterhe does not respond to . Following this episode, Yaakov rebukes his two sons (34:30). However, their defense, response might entail an "Should we allow our sister to be treated as a harlot?" This lack of acceptance on Yaakov's part that they had, in fact, acted appropriately, as the Gemara teaches, "Shtika Kehodaahblessing in our Parsha.

"This is problematic, due to the strong language used in Yaakov's Perhaps it would be easiest to see how the prophecy manifests itself first and then answer the other questions.

"Shimon and Levi are brothers." They act with anger towards those who they feel have wronged them. It is for this reason that Yosef put Shimon in prison when the other brothers went back up to get Binyamin: leaving Shimon and Levi together posed a threat. The Midrash states that although they acted as brothers towards Dina in Shechem, they did not act like brothers towards Yosef when he was being sold to the Yishmaelim.

Levi's descendants become the priests of the nation: how could this negative Beracha possibly apply to them? Going through Shimon and Levi's actions in relation to the Berachot it becomes much clearer.

"Weapons of violence are their swords." This might refer to the killing of Kazbi and Zimri, which was done by Pinchas, a descendant of Levi. Zimri was in fact from the tribe of Shimon (see Rashi to 49:6). Pinchas killed Kazbi and Zimri due to his zealousness and love for Hashem. This suggests that Levi had killed Shechem for true intentions of love towards his sister while Shimon did so out of a desire for war. Thus, in the Pasuk regarding Dina, "Each man took his sword" (34:25), one can explain that Shimon took his sword for destroying Shechem and Levi took his sword for saving Dina. This idea can also be supported from Rashi, who states that Shimon and Levi had a thrill for destruction that they got from their uncle, Esav. This is where their being brothers ends: the rest of the blessing is a set of parallelisms, one side applying to Shimon and one side applying to Levi. (The Netziv's approach is contrary to this author's, in that the only similarity between Shimon and Levi was the sword; other comments made by the Netziv in this place appear to be similar to this author's. See Netziv's commentary to 49:5. Editors Note: See Rav Yuval Sherlow's essay in Alon Shevut 100, where a similar idea is expressed.)

"Do not bring my soul into their conspiracy." This refers to Shimon. Since Shimon's intentions in the Shechem episode were not pure, Yaakov did not want to have any part of it. זמרי, who worshipped Ba'al and sinned with a Midianite woman, also fits, as the Pasuk says Midianim "shall not be brought (Lo Yavo) into Hashem's nation," and here the language is, "do not bring (Al Tavo) my soul into their conspiracy."

"My honor shall not become one with their congregation (Kahalam))." The use of the word Kahalam is similar to that used by Korach, a descendant of Levi "Kahalu Al Moshe", "and they gathered against Moshe"(Bemidbar Sinai 16:3). The idea is that Hashem will not become part of a congregation that rebels. Rashi's comments are similar. However, this applies only to that section of the sons of Levi who try to make themselves even more distinct. For that reason it says "their congregation" and it does not say "them."

"In anger they have killed a man." It is hard to know if this verse was said referring to Shechem, for there they killed the entire town and not simply one man. However, assuming it is referring to Shechem, it might be explained by the Pasuk in that episode that says they specifically killed Chamor and Shechem, individually, by sword (34:26). This can be compared to how Bilam was killed (Bemidbar Sinai 31:8).

"And because they desired it they maimed an ox." This can be referring to either of the cases we have been discussing: Shechem or Midian. If this verse is referring to the sons of Levi, it could also be referring to Korbanot. This is the first time we see a radical change in our perception of Shimon and Levi, not only with regard to intent but a completely separate action. (Rashi's comments are that the ox refers to Yosef, who they tried to "maim." This is unsatisfying because the Pasuk says that they successfully maimed the ox. Editor's Note: Rambam disagrees with Rashi, as he states that Yaakov never learned of the sale of Yosef.)

"Cursed be their anger for it is fierce." This refers to Shimon who did not stop at killing only Shechem and Chamor but destroyed the entire city.

"And their wrath because it is cruel." This refers to Levi. The Gemara states commonly known that Kohanim in particular have short tempers. There are stories about the Chafetz Chaim's having to train himself not to get angry. We see that Pinchas used this trait positively. However, their wrath is cruel both to those who are the receivers of the wrath and to the Kohanim who get very angry: It is cruel to others because they should not be victims of the wrath, and it is cruel to them because it is very challenging to control it.

"I will divide them within Jacob." This is refers to Shimon, whose portion of land was "swallowed up" by that of Yehuda because Yehuda's portion was so large next to Shimon's, which was very small (Yehoshua 19:1,9). The word divide is of the same root as the word portion. Jacob here refers to Yehuda, as the Midrash states that Yaakov's descendants will not be known as sons of Reuven, rather as sons of Yehuda (Jews).

"I will disperse them within Israel." This refers to the Leviim, who were the center of the camp in the desert. Their job was always at the center of the rest of the tribes. In Eretz Yisrael they worked in Yerushalayim, which is the center of the land. However, their actual territory was in various cities dispersed across the land (Yehoshua 21:1-3).

Ultimately, Shimon was the first tribe to be lost, while the tribe of Levi is still identifiable today. We see that when two people do the same action one can be rewarded for doing a mitzvah while the other is punished for sinning.

Through Sickness and In Health
by Daniel Wenger

Parshat Vayechi marks the first time we see the word "Choleh", "sick," in the Torah. Yaakov's illness is the incipient occurrence that brought about Yaakov's blessing Yosef's, and his own, children. What made Yaakov different that he was the first person to become ill before his death?

The Midrash Rabbah records how our forefathers each asked for something to be done to them before their deaths: Avraham was concerned about his appearance. He told Hashem that if fathers and sons looked alike (as they did then), nobody could tell which of the two to honor more. He therefore recommended that Hashem give the elder generations signs of aging so a difference would be apparent. Hashem responded that this was a good idea, and it would be done.

Yitzchak, too, was unhappy, this time regarding his health. He reasoned that if there was no pain in the world, there would be little suffering that could punish man in this world, and thus there would be an incredible burden placed upon a sinner at the time of his death. Pain in this world, however, could partially alleviate the pain in the World To Come and thus ease one's entrance to Gan Eden. This, too, Hashem agreed, and He made Yitzchak blind in his old age.

In this Parsha, we see that Yaakov made a similar request. He told Hashem that if, in his dying hour, a person were to become ill, it would serve as a warning for him to use his remaining time to prepare his descendants with whatever information he needs to hand down to them. Hashem approved, and Yaakov was the first person to have a terminal illness. He then knew it was time to bless his children and give them their final instructions for living in Egypt.

There is a great lesson to be learned from the actions of our forefathers. Most of us would choose youth, good health, and eternal happiness over the unappealing aspects of life, but we can now see that this is not always for the best. We must think of our true future in the World To Come and of what will help bring us there, which does not always include the joys of life. We must be willing to accept the unfortunate turns in our lives and take them not as setbacks, but as opportunities for improvement to our souls.

The Mark of a True Tzaddik - Yosef
by Avi Shteingart

Of all the brothers' blessings, Yosef's is the warmest in terms of affection. Yaakov reserves his most commendatory blessing for Yosef, the only one who he refers to as "son" twice. After his life of adversity and suffering, Yosef finally receives due recognition.

Rav Eli Munk explains Yosef's distinction in the following way: Yehuda was the undisputed leader and would be the king over all the brothers. He showed leadership qualities and was accepted by all. Yosef, however, whose spiritual and physical attributes were actually greater than those of Yehuda, always provoked his brothers' jealousy and hatred. Consequently, he could not aspire to the position of monarch, even though he was superior to Yehuda. It was Yosef, not Yehuda, who bore the title "Tzaddik," the righteous one. Yaakov conferred this appellation upon Yosef because of the strength of character that Yosef exhibited in his ability to maintain his purity in Egypt despite many temptations. Egypt was a perverted land, but Yosef was able to withstand the constant flirtations of Potifar's wife and remain unaffected by the corrupt and immoral environment in which he lived.

The self-control and endurance displayed by Yosef in his constant battle against the ever-declining elements of Egypt was reaffirmed when Yosef's brothers arrived at his palace. His brothers had harassed him and sold him into slavery. The pain that Yosef experienced during this time of separation from his loving father, Rebbe, and mentor, coupled with the constant travails to which he was subjected, would have driven anyone to revenge. Nevertheless, as viceroy of Egypt, with unlimited power at his fingertips, Yosef forgave the perpetrators. The ultimate test of his generosity was passed by renouncing the opportunity to display the hatred the brothers truly deserved. Instead of turning away from his brothers with a grudge, he showed magnificent compassion by welcoming them into his country.

On his deathbed, Yaakov venerated his son who truly understood the meaning of man's moral mission more than any of his siblings. This nobility and exceptional altruism merited the honor of being called a Tzaddik. These situations defined Yosef's character as supreme.

We must use the difficult situations that life presents as steps towards becoming a Tzaddik. (Heard from Rabbi Idstein.)

Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Avi-Gil Chaitovsky, Dani Gross
Managing Editor: Moshe Glasser
Publication Editor: Daniel Wenger
Business Manager: Ilan Tokayer
Staff: Josh Dubin, Zev Feigenbaum, Shuky Gross, Michael Humphrey, Yair Manas, Uriel Schechter
Consultant: David Gertler
Faculty Advisor: Rabbi Howard Jachter

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