A Student Publication of the Isaac
and Mara Benmergui Torah Academy of Bergen County
Parshat Vayechi 14 Tevet 5762 December 29, 2001 Vol.11 No.15
In This Issue:
Rabbi Steven Prebor
Rabbi Howard Jachter
This week’s issue has been sponsored by David Gertler in honor of Mr. Speiser, Coach Bobby Kaplan, Rabbis Jachter, Grumet, Prebor, Smilowitz, Solnica, Grossman, Weiner, Blackstein, Adler & Dr. Berman, as well as the editors of Torat Chaim, the Torah Publication of Bruriah and Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky.
A Time to Kill
by Rabbi Steven Prebor
On his deathbed, Yaakov gives a final message to each of his sons. Throughout the Berachot, Yaakov’s tone is primarily positive, but his statement to Shimon and Levi is quite negative. He admonishes them for their violent behavior, and says that he will divide them and spread them out, presumably to keep their anger in check. The predominant view among the Meforshim is that the violent act referred to by Yaakov is the massacre of the inhabitants of Shechem carried out by Shimon and Levi. It would appear that Yaakov’s criticism is a fundamental one, indicating his rejection of violence as a means to achieve justice. However, if we look at other places in the Chumash, we see a very different attitude emerge.
First of all, at the time of the Shechem incident, Yaakov himself (34:30) seems more concerned with its practical implications than with its moral implications. Aside from expressing concern about a possible attack from the Canaani or Perizi, Yaakov does not censure Shimon and Levi. In addition, later in the Torah, there are several clear indications of support for violence, even extra-judicial violence, in order to keep law and order. In Sefer Bemidbar, Pinchas is praised for killing Zimri and Kazbi while they were committing an immoral act. At the end of Sefer Devarim, when Moshe is giving his Berachot to the Shevatim in Parshat Vezot Haberacha, Moshe praises Shevet Levi for not ignoring family members while keeping and guarding the Torah (Devarim 33:9). Rashi quotes the Sifrei which explains that this is a reference to the fact that the Leviim willingly executed fellow Jews for the Chet Haegel. Why, then does Yaakov chastise Shimon and Levi on his deathbed?
What seems to emerge from these incidences of violence is a distinction between violence for a just and moral cause and violence to defend the family or its honor. Let us recall that the response of Shimon and Levi to Yaakov was, “Should our sister be made into a harlot?” (34:31). Also, Yaakov focuses not only on the violent tendencies of Shimon and Levi, but on the fact that they are violent as brothers, saying “Shimon Velevi Achim” (49:5). The Rashbam claims that the word “Mecheroteihem” in that Pasuk also refers to brotherhood. Finally, let us recall the fact that Zimri ben Salu was a Nasi of Shevet Shimon, and according to the Midrash he took Cazbi into his tent in order to defy Moshe in defense of his constituents within Shevet Shimon, who apparently were disproportionately involved in that sin. Pinchas is then praised for using violence in order to defend Torah authority and what is morally correct, especially in the face of such effrontery by Zimri on behalf of his fellow family members, namely Shevet Shimon.
This then explains why Shevet Levi is praised by Moshe in his blessings for placing moral correctness above family connections. Incidentally, Shimon is the only Shevet that is totally excluded from Moshe’s blessings. Perhaps this is because Shevet Shimon, represented by Zimri, does the exact opposite of what Shevet Levi does. It seems that whereas Shevet Levi had been able to channel its violent nature to the right cause, Shevet Shimon remained mired in the approach to justice that Yaakov repudiated.
Yaakov was not worried about the violence itself, but its use to bolster the family name and to defend the family honor. Perhaps that is why he expresses fear of attack from the Canaani and Perizi. It is not the attack itself that concerns him as much as his children’s venture into the lawless world of bloody family feuds, where the focus is on turf and not on morals.
by David Gertler
The Berachot that Yaakov gave his children can all be interpreted to show the development of that son and the tribe they father. The most interesting of the 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). Let us see what the Beracha means.
“Shimon and Levi are brothers.” They act together towards those they feel have wronged them. For this reason 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.
“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, whereas 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 the brotherhood part of the Beracha ends. The rest of the blessing is a set of parallels, 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. Also, 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. Kazbi who worshipped Baal and sinned with a Midianite woman, also fits, as the Pasuk says that 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 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.” However, this is unsatisfying, as the Pasuk says that they successfully maimed the ox.)
“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. (However one will note that given the circumstance, and the goal of not selling their sisters as Harlots, it was necasary for them to kill the entire town.)
“And their wrath because it is cruel.” This refers to Levi. The Gemara states that it is 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 (Yehudim).
“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 Mitzva while the other is punished for sinning. The Gemara states that being born under certain stars will orient your personality. However, one can use that orientation for good or for bad. One who born under a violent sign can either become a Shochet like Levi or a killer like Shimon.
Working Without a Break
by Donny Manas
If you take a look into the Sefer Torah you’ll find that there’s almost always a space between one Parsha and another. Sometimes it's only a space of nine letters, while other times it is more. However, if you take a look at Parshat Vayechi you’ll notice that there is no space left between Vayigash and Vayechi (except for the standard space of one letter between words). One Parsha seems to go right into the other, without any space separating them. What happened to the space?
Rashi notes this problem and presents two answers. The first answer is that the passing of Yaakov Avinu caused a closing of the eyes and hearts of the Bnai Yisrael on account of the difficulties encountered in their slavery. This fact is indicated by the Torah closing one Parsha with another.
Even though, as the Baalei Tosafot points out, the real tough times didn't start till after the death of Yosef (and his brothers), yet, however minutely, the enslavement had already begun with Yaakov's passing. True, the real difficult times didn't start till much later, however the passing of Yaakov already brought about a change of attitude towards the Bnai Yisrael. The enslavement had already begun, even if only in a very small way. Even though the Bnai Yisrael were being well paid for their work, their difficulties had already begun. At first their pay would be excellent. They received high salaries. Yet slowly but surely their pay became less and less until soon they were required to work for nothing.
The Gemara explains how their enslavement started gradually. At the beginning it was hardly noticeable. Then it became progressively worse and worse. Once someone allows himself to be enslaved even in the slightest, chances are that he will soon become entrapped more and more. Only Shevet Levi remained untouched by the enslavement. Yet the consequences of enslavement are quite grave. It causes our eyes and heart to stop operating properly. We don't see as we saw before. Our heart is not as sensitive as it was before. There is suddenly a slackening in our views and feelings. Our eyes no longer see what they should see. Our heart no longer feels what it should feel. It's a sure sign that the hardships of the Galut have encircled us.
The moment Yaakov passed away, doubts suddenly began to rise up between Yosef and his brothers. They thought that perhaps now Yosef was going to even the score with them for what they had done. Suspicions began to erupt. Doubts began to be raised. There weren't the same feelings toward each other that had existed while Yaakov was alive. Yosef once again tried to calm their doubts and tried to cast away their suspicions against him. Yes, one saw at once the change of heart. The enslavement began to take its toll, even if only in a minute way. It may have been only a little bit, but it was like a crack in the ceiling which would soon get progressively worse with the strength of the enslavement and the passing of time.
The Parsha of Vayechi is closed which gives a casual hint that our own hearts and eyes have become closed as well. We can see a poor man in terrible trouble yet fail to help him. We can notice a person desperately in need, yet we may just pass him by as if we couldn't care less. Our feelings towards our brothers have become calloused. Our hearts and eyes have become closed to their cries. We've become insensitive to their plight. We are so engrossed in our daily business and totally enslaved to our work that we pay little attention to the many people around us who need our help desperately.
Tens of thousands of Russian and Iranian immigrants need our help desperately, yet we seem not to see or feel their plight. The Galut has taken its toll. The Parshiot are closed, and therefore, so too are our eyes and hearts. No wonder hate and jealousies have replaced care and love.
The only ones who remained untouched by the enslavement was Shevet Levi. They did not allow themselves to be enslaved. They remained forever faithful to the Torah. That's our only hope to overcome the onslaughts of the Galut.
Only by learning the Torah and applying it can we open up our hearts and eyes to what's happening around us.
From Snake to Lion
by Zachary Rosenberg
When Yaakov gives Dan his Beracha, he says, “Dan will judge his people, and Bnai Yisrael will be like one. Dan will be a snake by the path, that bites a horse’s heels so its rider falls backward. For your Salvation do I long for Hashem!”(Bereishit 49:16-18) What does Dan’s judging have to do with Bnai Yisrael being “like one”? Why is Dan compared to a snake? Additionally, what does “For your salvation do I long for Hashem” have to do with Dan?
To answer these questions, we need to look at other places in the Torah where Dan is mentioned. In last week’s Parsha, Parshat Vayigash, we see that Dan had only one son, Chushim. Making matters even more difficult, Chushim, according to the Midrash, was blind. All other tribes have more sons and greater numbers of people. In Sefer Bereishit, Dan looks like a dying Shevet. In Parshat Pinchas, however, Dan was the second to largest Shevet with 64,600 (Bemidbar 26:43) men, a large number, without even including women and children. There, Dan was thriving!
What happened? The tribe of Dan was in a tough position yet eventually achieved greatness. The Shevet had an enormous range of experience, and, as a result, were able to judge people fairly, and thereby unite them. At the time of Yaakov’s Beracha, Dan was compared to a snake, because it was going through a harsh test, one that it seemed more likely than not to fail, just as the snake in the Gan Eden story fails. By the time we get to Moshe’s Beracha to Dan, however, the image of the snake is gone. In this later Beracha, Moshe says, “Dan is a lion cub, leaping forth...”(Devarim 33:22) At the end, Shevet Dan passed its test to the fullest. Moshe emphasized the tribe’s great change by using the image of a lion, a symbol of a large and powerful Shevet. Dan was and will be able to unite Bnai Yisrael by using its judgment.
The final phrase, “For your salvation do I long for Hashem,” exists as a Beracha from Yaakov that Dan should be saved from being a “snake,” be able to pass the test, and become the “lion.” This is the Beracha that Yaakov gave Dan. Yaakov wanted Dan to survive and gave him the Beracha, and, in the end, Yaakov’s wishes were granted.
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