One of the major features of this week’s Parashah is the Berachot that Yaakov gives to his sons. To Dan he says, “Dan Yadin Amo KeAchad Shivtei Yisrael” (BeReishit 49:16), that he will judge the people, based on the relationship between Dan’s name and the word “Din,” judgment. Chazal explain that this is referring to Shimshon HaGibor, who was from Sheivet Dan and served as a Shofeit for twenty years.
In another case, the Gemara (Pesachim 4a) tells a story about a man who would go to court over everything, commenting that such a man must be from Sheivet Dan. From the Pasuk, it seems like Yaakov is giving a Berachah to Dan, but here, it seems to be more like a Kelalah (a curse).
Rav Henoch Leibowitz answers that Yaakov is saying that Din is a Midah of Dan. Midot in a person (character traits), just like Midot in business (measurements and weights), have to be used in certain amounts at certain times. This is why there is no Mitzvah commanding us to have good Midot; there is no such thing as purely good or purely bad Midot. Sometimes a good Midah can becomes a bad Midah, and sometimes a bad Midah can be used in a good way. (Rambam disagrees with this, saying that there are two Middot which are purely bad: anger and arrogance.) The Din in Dan wasn’t a bad trait of judging, but in Pesachim, a person takes this Midah too far. Any Midah in conjunction with an improper measurement or an improper time is not a good trait.
Ramban (BeReishit 49:16 s.v. Dan Yadin Amo) explains the Pasuk differently, that it is referring to vengeance. Be’eir Yitzchak explains that the reason that the Torah doesn’t use the word “Nekamah” that it typically uses for vengeance is that “Yadin” means using lawful vengeance, like what Chushim Ben Dan did. Before Yaakov dies, he makes his sons promise that they will bring him to Me’arat HaMachpeilah to bury him. They fulfill their promise, as the Pasuk describes (50:13), “VaYisu Oto Banav Artza Kena’an VaYikberu Oto BiM’arat Sedei HaMachpeilah Asher Kanah Avraham,” “And his sons carried [Yaakov] to the land of Canaan and they buried him in the cave of the Machpeilah field that Avraham had bought.” There is a famous Midrash that states that Eisav appears and tells them that Yaakov can’t be buried there because he already had used his spot when he buried Leah. The Shevatim argue that Yaakov had bought the Bechorah and, therefore, should have a place to be buried there. They continue arguing, and they finally say that they have a receipt for Me’arat HaMachpeilah but they left it in Egypt. They send the fastest one of them, Naftali, to get the document. In the meantime, Chushim Ben Dan feels that it is a disgrace for Yaakov to have to wait unburied. Therefore, Chushim hits Eisav with a club. Is this the correct thing to do? Yes, what Chushim did is correct, but why does only Chushim feel this way. Why doesn’t anyone else take action? Rav Leibowitz explains that Chushim is deaf and is therefore not able to be part of the argument. He is still focused on the main goal of burying Yaakov, whereas the rest of them got stuck on the argument and lost sight of the main goal. We should always know to focus our eyes on the main goal and not be focused on the side distractions.
The idea of focusing our eyes and hearts on the goal comes from the beginning of the Parashah as well. One of the many quirks of Parashat VaYechi is that it starts off with no break between it and the last Parashah. Thus, it is known as a closed Parashah. But what is the significance of its being a closed Parashah? What is the significance? Rashi explains, based on Midrash, that VaYechi is a closed Parashah because once Yaakov dies, the eyes and hearts of Bnei Yisrael are closed off due to the misery of the bondage as the Egyptians subjugate them. An alternative explanation is that Yaakov wishes to reveal the “End of Days”, i.e., the time of Mashiach, to his sons, but then is was closed off from him. The Midrash relates a third answer, which Rashi doesn’t quote. It explains that VaYechi is closed because all the troubles of the world are now closed off to Yaakov.
A number of questions are asked about this comment of Rashi. Siftei Chachamim asks why the beginning of the Parashah is closed instead of the section of the Parashah in which Yaakov either passes away or is trying to tell his sons about the end of days. Siftei Chachamim answers that the beginning of the Parashah is the only place the “closing” would be noticeable. Torat Menacheim asks why Rashi does not quote the third explanation of the Midrash. Why did Rashi pick the two negative ones, especially since the last Pasuk of Parashat VaYigash before the “closing” discusses how Bnei Yisrael thrived in Goshen, suggesting a positive explanation? He answers that the third explanation doesn’t fit with the theme of the Parashah, which is Yaakov’s passing. Mizrachi contends that, contrary to Rashi’s first explanation, it doesn’t seem that Yaakov’s death is the beginning of the slavery. However, the Gemara explains that Yaakov’s death is the beginning of the time when the Mitzrim start enticing people and paying them, thus getting them into the mentality of working. This is what leads to the slavery.
Another question can be asked about this comment of Rashi. Why does Rashi, in his first explanation, mention the “heart and eyes” of Bnei Yisrael as opposed to any other body part? This can be explained based on a Mishnah in Pirkei Avot, which states that two things keep a man from sinning: working and learning Torah. In Masechet Berachot, the Talmud Yerushalmi describes the process of sin: the eyes see, the heart desires, and the body acts. This is why working and Torah stop one from sinning. Working keeps one’s eyes focused, and learning Torah keeps one’s heart pure. This focus can save one from sinning.
Before Yaakov’s death, Bnei Yisrael keep their eyes and heart focused on the goal of Torah, just as Chushim Ben Dan later stays focused on the goal of burying Yaakov. After Yaakov’s death, however, Bnei Yisrael’s heart and eyes are closed, as Rashi states. Since Bnei Yisreal are no longer focused, the Mitzrim can start taking advantage of them. Thus, Yaakov’s death leads to the Egyptians’ enslavement of Bnei Yisrael.
In this week’s Parashah, we learn of the Midah of Din and how great it is, but we also learn that as a Midah, we must use it strictly in proper proportions. Similarly, we also have to know how to control our eyes and heart, being neither overzealous nor blind to the ultimate goal. Hopefully, if we all use our Midot, eyes, and heart well, we should merit to have the Mashiach come BiMheirah VeYameinu.