A Request for the Ages By Gershon Rossman


In Parashat VaYechi, Yaakov makes his final arrangements before his passing.  He calls Yosef to his bed for two reasons.  One, to ensure Yosef swears that Yaakov will not be buried in Egypt, but will rather be buried with his father and grandfather in Eretz Kena’an. Secondly, Yaakov blesses Yosef.  Instead of offering any other legitimate reason such as Kena’an is God’s Holy Land, Yaakov says that he wishes to be buried in Kena’an to be with his forefathers.

Commenting on the Gemara (Kiddushin 30a), which states that whoever teaches his grandchildren Torah receives the Torah at Har Sinai, Rav Yosef Soloveitchik explains that while most of a person’s Torah education comes from his father, faith in God is indirectly passed through the generations, as it allows a child to see the passing of the Torah from generation to generation.  Perhaps this is what Yaakov is trying to pass on to Bnei Yisrael as they are about to embark on a long, arduous sojourn in Egypt. Yaakov ensures that they never forget their connection to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and reminds of them their faith via the tradition passed down from his forefathers, the Avot.

Yaakov’s second act, however, seems even more perplexing.  The Torah states that Yaakov began to bless Yosef, but immediately begins to describe the blessing given to Efraim and Menashe, not to Yosef.  Rav Mordechai Elon explains that while we know there is no recorded blessing at that point for Yosef, there is no greater blessing for a father than to have his children blessed by their grandfather, again stressing the connection between Am Yisrael and their forefathers. Perhaps this is why every member of Bnei Yisrael is blessed with this same blessing Friday night. This crucial blessing is one to be remembered for the generations, and is applicable to all.

I would like to propose an insight to an intriguing issue in understanding the Mitzvot. We all know that not all the Gedolim include Yishuv HaAretz, living in Eretz Yisrael, in their list of Mitzvot, and there are many reasons given as to why this is. Rav Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat, tells a story that perhaps, when combined with the previous ideas, can offer a solution.  A congregation, which had spent a tremendous amount of money to hire a Chazzan only to find out that his voice is horrendous, approached Rav Chaim Soloveichik.

When confronted, the Chazzan stated that he had in fact possessed all of the required attributes listed in Halachah in order to be a Chazzan: fear of Hashem, married, the proper age, etc.  Rav Chaim’s answer was that while he did fit the conditions to be a Chazzan, those are merely the bare minimum conditions; however, the definition of a Chazzan is someone who can sing pleasantly.

I think maybe this is what Yaakov tries to impart to Yosef and all of Am Yisrael in his last moments. He could have chosen any Mitzvah to stress; however, as important as they are, Mitzvot are merely conditions to being a Jew, as the definition of a proper Jew is someone with a connection to and an appreciation of  G-D and his Torah, which can only be optimally accomplished in the land of God and of our forefathers, Eretz Yisrael.

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