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VaYechi

This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat VaYechi

13 Tevet 5768

December 22, 2007

Vol.17 No.15

In This Issue:

Mind Over Matter

by Rabbi Sariel Malitzky

The long wait was finally over. After twenty-two long years of believing that his son was dead, Yaakov Avinu would finally be able to see his son. We can only imagine how much Yosef HaTzadik and his father Yaakov longed to be with each other. After all, Yosef was the Ben Zekunim whom Yaakov Avinu loved more than anyone else. Finally, Yosef would be able serve his father, learn with him, and properly fulfill the Mitzvah of Kibud Av VaEim. However, the Torah seems to imply that, even after being united, Yaakov and Yosef really did not spend much time together. The Pasuk states, "VaYehi Achar HaDevarim HaEileh VaYomer LeYosef Hinei Avicha Choleh," "And it came to pass after these things that someone said to Yosef, 'Behold! - your father is ill'" (Bereishit 48:1). The Daat Zekeinim MiBaalei HaTosafot asks: why did they have to tell Yosef that his father was sick? Shouldn't he have known that his father was sick? One would think that they were in constant contact with each other!

He answers that in truth, Yosef did not spend time with his father and actually chose to avoid his father. Yosef was scared that his father would ask him what had really transpired on that mysterious day twenty two years earlier. Yaakov thought Yosef had died and would want to know how he had been saved and if wondrous miracles had occurred. However, this was a conversation that Yosef did not want to have. He did not, under any circumstances, want to tell his father what his brothers had done, because he felt that such information would do more harm than good. Therefore, as much as he longed to be with his father, Yosef pushed that desire away in order to distance himself from potentially having to tell Lashon HaRa and embarrassing his brothers. Yosef had the ability to use his Seichel, his mind, to conquer his emotion and to do what he knew was right, putting Halacha before his personal interests.

From the Daat Zekeinim, we see that Yaakov Avinu never discovered the truth about what happened to Yosef, a conclusion that is also the opinion of the Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachya (45:27; see, however, Rashi to Bereishit 49:6 and 9). Later in the Parasha, the brothers came to Yosef and told him that Yaakov had commanded them to tell Yosef that he must forgive them for the injustices they had perpetrated against him years before. The Gemara (Yevamot 65b) notes that this interaction is the source for the Halacha that one may lie for the sake of peace, as Yaakov never made such a statement to the brothers, but they lied in order to achieve peace. The Ramban asks: if Yaakov had in fact known the truth, why didn't the brothers ask him to talk to Yosef? Moreover, why wouldn't Yaakov himself instruct Yosef to forgive them? Evidently, says the Ramban, Yaakov never discovered the truth. However, the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh writes that when the brothers returned and told their father "Kol Divrei Yosef," "All the words of Yosef" (45:27) they indeed revealed the truth. Seemingly, the Ohr HaChaim would avoid the Ramban's proof by saying that even though Yaakov knew, he still didn't feel the need to tell Yosef because he did not suspect that Yosef would do anything to harm his brothers (see Rashi to 50:16). Clearly, one of Yosef's foremost qualities was his sensitivity towards the feelings and emotions of others, leading his father to act accordingly.

We find that Yosef acted in line with this Middah in another instance as well. In Parashat VaYigash, the Torah describes how Yosef could not control himself anymore and needed to reveal his identity to his brothers. The words, "I am Yosef" just came out, as if a conscious decision to speak was not even necessary. Yet before he revealed his identity, he asked all of the Egyptians to leave the room so as not to embarrass his brothers, which seems to contradict the description of Yosef being unable to control himself. If the words were indeed just blurted out, then how did he have the presence of mind to ask all of the Egyptians to leave? Rav Yeruchim Levovitz, the Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva before the Holocaust, elucidates that we see from here how, once again, Yosef did not allow his emotions to control his Seichel. Though Yosef had to reveal himself and tell them who he was, he could not bring himself to embarrass the brothers in front of all of the Egyptians and therefore asked his servants to leave.

This Middah of being able to conquer our emotions by using our Seichel is a crucial Middah in Avodat Hashem. Often, we are faced with a situation where we are tempted to do something and, sometimes, our intentions are even noble and sincere. However, before we let our emotions take over, we must first use our Seichel and figure out what is truly the right thing to do. With the help of Hashem, may we all merit to follow in the footsteps of Yosef, specifically in this area, and always act in accordance with our Seichel HaYashar.

Don't Kvetch!

by Tzvi Atkin

At the beginning of this week's Parasha, the Torah tells us that Yaakov lived to the age of one hundred and forty seven years. Many ask: why didn't Hashem allow Yaakov to live one hundred and eighty years, like his father, Yitzchak? Was Yaakov any less of a Tzaddik than his father that he deserved to live thirty three years less?

The Daat Zekeinim MiBaalei HaTosafot answers that Yaakov lost thirty three extra years due to an incident in last week's Parasha. When Yosef takes Yaakov to meet Paroh when he first arrives in Mitzrayim, Paroh asks Yaakov a puzzling question, "How many are the days of the years of your life?" (Bereishit 47:8). Yaakov responds, "The days of the years of my sojourns have been a hundred and thirty years; few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the days of the years of the lives of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns" (47:9). The Daat Zekeinim asserts that since Yaakov complained to Paroh about all the troubles he experienced during his life instead of praising Hashem for having lifted him up from those tribulations, he lost thirty three years of life. The relevance of the number thirty three, according to the Daat Zekeinim, is the number of words in the Torah from Paroh's question until the end of Yaakov's complaining response.

Rabbi Malitzky of TABC told me that Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, in Sichot Mussar, asks two questions regarding Yaakov's encounter with Paroh. Firstly, why would Paroh, a man of royalty, ask an old man whom he has never before met to tell him his age? It seems rude to ask a person his age before ever getting to know him! Secondly, according to the Daat Zekeinim's explanation, why should the Pasuk with Paroh's question (which has eight words) be included in the count of words for which Yaakov was punished? Yaakov didn't say these words!

Rav Chaim answers that the reason that Paroh asked the question was because there was something that stood out about Yaakov. Yaakov did not just look like an old man; rather, he gave off the impression that he was someone who was unhappy due to many years of suffering. This also explains how Paroh's question can be included in the words for which Yaakov was punished - the question came about only as a result of Yaakov's outwardly unhappy appearance.

Rav Chaim's point can explain an interesting pair of Mishnayot in Pirkei Avot. In 1:15, Shamai states a very well known phrase, "Havei Mekabeil Et Kol HaAdam BeSeiver Panim Yafot," "You should greet every person with a pleasant countenance." In 3:12, Rabi Yishmael says a very similar statement, "Havei Mekabeil Et Kol HaAdam BeSimchah," "You should greet every person with happiness." Aren't these two statements exactly the same? The answer may be that the two are addressing two different aspects to greeting a person. One thing needed is to greet with nice, friendly gestures. However, Shamai is teaching us that saying nice words is not enough. Rather, the face we show to others is also important; saying kind words does not suffice without a pleasant facial expression.

Although Yaakov flawlessly handled many trials he faced in his lifetime, such as running from Eisav, working for Lavan, the Dinah trauma, and losing Yosef (these specifically are listed by the Daat Zekeinim), his flaw emerged afterwards, in his retrospection of the events. Instead of rejoicing and praising Hashem publicly for having been saved from each of the trials, Yaakov did what anyone else would have done: he sighed about his suffering. The lesson to learn from Yaakov is to always recognize the good in the trials we face, although finding the bad is the easier thing to do. In addition, we learn from Yaakov that even if one is unhappy with difficult circumstances, that does not give him permission to show his unhappiness to others. He must try his utmost to wear an expression of happiness, as difficult as it may seem.

Suspect Me Not!

by Nachi Farkas

After the burial of Yaakov, the brothers immediately worry that since Yaakov no longer is alive, nothing will stop Yosef from expressing his rage against them. As long as Yaakov was alive, the brothers felt safe, because Yosef would not dare mistreat them in front of their father. With this protection now gone, the brothers had to find some way to appease Yosef so that he wouldn't harm them. To this end, they go to Yosef and bow in front of him. They say that Yaakov wanted Yosef to be kind to them even after death. Yosef reacts by breaking down and crying. He obviously is hurt by the brothers' assumption that he wished them ill. Why, in fact, do they assume Yosef wants to harm them? Why are they Chosheid BeKesheirim, being mistrustful of someone righteous, a quality one would not expect to be exhibited by the brothers?

The Meforshim present a number of reasons why the brothers thought the way they did. The Gur Aryeh suggests that because of the politics in Egypt at the time, Yosef was forced to disconnect with his brothers. The Egyptians might accuse Yosef of playing favorites. Therefore, he stopped inviting the brothers to eat with him. Accordingly, they saw his severance of relations as a sign that he wished them ill. Alternatively, the Baal HaTurim states that during the burial procession, Yosef saw the pit into which he had been thrown and said a Berachah of thanks to Hashem. Seeing that he remembered the way he had been treated made the brothers afraid that he would punish them.

This story can teach us a few lessons. One, it shows the power of being Dan LeKaf Zechut, judging someone favorably. When the brothers misjudge Yosef, he breaks down crying. That the way people thought about him made Yosef so emotional also is noteworthy. One has to be careful not to be accusatory or to misjudge anyone, especially one who has displayed much kindness.

Cheery Reprimands

by Daniel Weintraub

In this week's Parasha, Yaakov blesses all of his sons on his deathbed; however, Shimon and Levi do not receive their anticipated Berachot, but are sharply reprimanded instead. While Yaakov blesses the other brothers with prosperous rewards, like Yehudah's royalty and Yissachar's scholarship, he reprimands Shimon and Levi for their outburst against Shechem. Why are they not bestowed a Berachah?

In reality, Yaakov did not deprive Shimon and Levi of their blessings, but in fact assigned them a very critical blessing, one that would facilitate their participation in Bnei Yisrael's formation. During the Shechem incident, Shimon and Levi had shown their dark and violent sides. At face value, these dangerous traits seem a detriment to Bnei Yisrael's formation. Shimon and Levi knew their shortcomings; therefore, the new prospect of losing their opportunity to partake in building the Jewish nation upset the two brothers. Yaakov did not punish them; rather, he encouraged them to continue their struggle of overcoming their dark sides. When Yaakov states that Shimon and Levi's "weaponry is a stolen craft" (Bereishit 49:5), he means that their dark sides were literally stolen traits and not part of their original beings, encouraging them to overcome their stolen traits to make them equal to their brothers.

In everyday life, we are often overcome with remorse for our past misdeeds. Ruminating only makes us depressed and heart-broken, like Shimon and Levi were. But if we realize that our misdeeds are not part of out intrinsic selves, but rather stolen traits, then we, just like Shimon and Levi, will be able to improve ourselves.

-Based on a Devar Torah by Rav Naftali Reich

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