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Parshas Vayechi - Vol. 4,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Sim na yad’cha tachas yereichi (47:29)
In asking his son Yosef to place his hand under his thigh, Rashi explains that Yaakov was requesting him to take an oath not to bury him in Egypt. However, it is difficult to understand why Yaakov asked him to hold his circumcised region while doing so. Earlier we find (24:2) that Avrohom made the same stipulation with Eliezer regarding the selection of a wife for Yitzchok.
Rashi explains there that this condition was appropriate, as the taking of an oath requires a person to hold on to an object which is a mitzvah (e.g. a Sefer Torah). In the case of Avrohom, circumcision was the first mitzvah he was commanded to perform. It was also a mitzvah which was dear to him because it was performed with great suffering. In the case of Yaakov, however, this mitzvah wasn’t specifically commanded to him. Further, the Medrash explains that he was called “ish tam” (25:27) because he was born circumcised (“tam” = complete and whole), in which case this mitzvah wasn’t even performed by him.
As a result of these difficulties, Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl suggests an original understanding of Yaakov’s instructions. Although he used the same words as Avrohom, he wasn’t referring to the place of his circumcision. Yaakov’s words literally mean, “Place your hand under my thigh.” In this case, his intention was that Yosef should swear while holding his gid hanasheh (sciatic nerve). For Yaakov, this was indeed the first mitzvah that was directly commanded to him, and just as with Avrohom’s circumcision this mitzvah came at great personal cost to Yaakov, as it left him (32:32) walking with a painful limp.
Yissochar chamor garem roveitz bein hamishp’sayim (49:14)
Rav Tzvi Markovitz questions why the tribe of Yissochar, whose descendants are known for their dedication to Torah study, is specifically compared to a donkey as opposed to any other animal. He posits that while Torah scholars also “carry a load” similar to a donkey, this parallel isn’t sufficient, as there are other animals – such as horses – which are also capable of transporting heavy burdens. He explains that although all animals carrying loads must inevitably stop to rest, there is a critical difference in how they do so. When horses stop for a break, their burden must be removed until they are ready to continue, while donkeys are able to lie down and rest even while still carrying the weight on their backs.
There is a well-known, if perhaps apocryphal, story which is told about Aristotle. In between lessons, Aristotle’s students once bumped into him “on the wrong side of town,” in an area known for its immoral activities. Unable to reconcile his current behavior with the lofty philosophical teachings that he espoused during his lectures, his students asked for an explanation. Aristotle answered them, “When class is in session, I am the great Aristotle, and I share my pearls of wisdom with the world. At other times, I am not the Aristotle with whom you are familiar.”
It is specifically to donkeys that the tribe of Yissochar is compared, as those who “carry the load of Torah” must also periodically stop to recharge. The distinguishing characteristic of true B’nei Torah is that in contrast to Aristotle, they conduct themselves even at these moments in accordance with their year-round behavior, never casting off their “burden” for even a moment.
V’zos asher diber lahem avihem vay’varech osam is hasher k’virchaso beirach osam (49:28)
Just prior to his death, Yaakov gathered his sons together one last time to charge them with continuing his spiritual legacy. In addition to addressing them collectively, Yaakov also spoke to each son individually, and our verse seems to indicate that his message to each son was some form of blessing. This is difficult to understand, as Rashi explains Yaakov’s final words to Reuven, Shimon, and Levi more like words of rebuke than of blessing. In what way was his harsh criticism considered a blessing?
Rav Uri Weissblum answers that we must redefine our understanding of a blessing. If somebody is sick but doesn’t realize it, or perhaps knows that he is sick but is unable to diagnose his illness, a doctor who diagnoses the sickness and clarifies its treatment is offering him a tremendous gift. Similarly, if someone has a large pot with a hole in the side, giving him gifts to put in the pot which will only fall out will leave him with nothing. A better “gift” would be to bring the hole to his attention so that he may fix it and retain his future acquisitions. Therefore, Yaakov felt that the most appropriate “blessing” he could offer to his three eldest sons was to point out to them the characteristics which needed improvement (Reuven’s impetuosity and Shimon and Levi’s anger). Calling their spiritual illnesses to their attention would allow them to “plug the holes” to become whole and ready for future blessings.
Rav Yisroel Salanter points out that everybody has his own personal “holes” which need fixing. He suggests that this is the intent of the Mishnah in Avos (4:2) “u’bore’ach min ha’aveirah” – a person should flee from “the sin.” Rav Yisroel explains that every person has within himself one bad middah (character trait) which constitutes the root of his personal struggles. The yetzer hara (evil inclination) attempts to disguise this trait so as to prevent its identification and cure. By calling their personal weak spots to their attention, Yaakov was indeed giving his sons a tremendous blessing.
The lesson of Yaakov’s final words wasn’t limited to his immediate children, as it is relevant to everyone. Yaakov teaches us that it is not a person’s sins or what lot in life a person receives that is critical, but what he makes of them. If a person acknowledges and learns from his flaws and difficulties, he can turn even his biggest mistakes into the greatest of blessings.
Vayomer Yosef el echav anochi meis … v’ha’alisem es atzmosai mi’zeh (50:24-25)
Our verses contain Yosef’s final words to his brothers prior to his death. Yosef promised his brothers that their descendants will be redeemed from Egypt and made them swear to bring his bones to the land of Israel when they are freed. Just before these parting instructions, Yosef’s brothers begged his forgiveness for being jealous of him, hating him, and selling him into slavery. Yosef answered them that they had nothing to fear, as he felt no ill-will toward them and had no intent to hold a grudge or harm them in any way. Although on the surface Yosef’s final message seems unconnected to the previous dialogue, Rav Akiva Eiger suggests that our verses are actually a continuation of that conversation.
Yosef buttressed his claims that he harbored no ill-will against his brothers for their actions by offering two additional proofs. First, the Gemora in Berachos (5a) advises that if a person is unable to subdue his yetzer hara (evil inclination) and no other technique proves effective, he should remember the day of death, as this will surely humble him. Yosef hinted to his brothers that he knew his death was imminent and dwelling on it had removed any negative feelings toward them from his heart.
Second, the Gemora in Shabbos (152b) teaches that the bones of a person who has any jealousy in his heart will rot after his death. By requesting that his brothers carry his bones back to Eretz Yisroel for burial, Yosef was hinting that he was confident that his bones would remain intact and not decay, which could only be the case if he was sure that he had removed any last vestige of ill-will from his heart.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Torah states (47:29) that the days of Yaakov’s dying drew near, in contrast to Yitzchok who referred to (27:2) the day of his death. Why does the Torah discuss the days of Yaakov’s death when there was only one day on which he actually died? (Tosefes Beracha)
2) Yaakov blessed Ephraim and Menashe that they should exceedingly multiply their numbers (48:16). However, when one examines the various censuses that were conducted in the Torah, their descendants were comparable in number to all of the other tribes, not substantially greater. In what way was Yaakov’s blessing fulfilled? (Peninim MiShulchan HaGra)
3) As a fulfillment of Yaakov’s blessing, fathers bless their sons on Friday night that they should grow up to be like Ephraim and Menashe. While doing so, should one place only one hand on his child’s head or do so with both hands? (Siddur Yaavetz, Siddur HaGra Leil Shabbos, Torah Temimah Bamidbar 6:23 footnote 131)
4) The blessing that Yaakov gave to Yehuda (49:8-12) contains all of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet except for one. Which letter is absent and why? (Rabbeinu Bechaye)
5) Rashi writes (49:13) that the tribe of Zevulun engaged in commerce and shared their profits with the tribe of Yissochar in order to allow them to be free to engage in the study of Torah. How is this role hinted to by the name of their tribe? (Gan Yosef)
6) What is the connection between the Presidential inauguration and Parshas Vayechi?
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