If you don’t see this week’s issue by the end of the week, check http://parshapotpourri.blogspot.com which may be more up-to-date
Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Parshas Vayechi - Vol. 5,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
B’cha y’varech Yisroel leimor y’simcha Elokim k’Ephraim uk’Menashe (48:20)
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. Of all of our ancestors, why do we specifically bless our sons to be like Ephraim and Menashe instead of Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Yosef, or any of the other tribes? Further, if there is something unique about Ephraim and Menashe, why don’t we just choose one of them to mention; what is the intent of blessing our sons to be like both of them?
The Meged Yosef explains that almost from the beginning of time, there has been a problem of sibling rivalry. It was responsible for the first murder in history, when Kayin killed his brother Hevel due to his jealousy that his brother’s sacrifice found favor in Hashem’s eyes and his did not. Yishmael had to be sent away to protect Yitzchok, and Yaakov had to flee for his life from his brother Eisav. Certainly Yaakov’s children were no strangers to jealousy, as they almost killed Yosef for being their father’s favorite child.
On the other hand, when Yaakov blessed the younger Ephraim to be greater than the older Menashe, which certainly could have been grounds for fighting and anger, we find no hint of ill will between them. As the Shabbos Queen comes to permeate our houses with an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, we specifically bless our sons that they should go in the ways of Ephraim and Menashe and there should be only peace and harmony between them always.
He’asfu v’agidah lachem es asher yikra eschem b’acharis hayamim (49:1)
At the end of his life, Yaakov instructed his sons to gather together so that he could tell them what will happen to them in the End of Days. Rashi explains that Yaakov wanted to reveal to them when Moshiach will come, but the Divine Presence deserted him and he was unable to do so. The Shelah HaKadosh writes that in introducing this subject by emphasizing that his sons should come together to hear this information, Yaakov was hinting to them that the primary prerequisite to the coming of Moshiach is peace and harmony, not the hatred, fighting, and lashon hara which had plagued their relationships with one another.
At the end of the parsha (50:16-17), Yosef’s brothers told him that Yaakov had commanded prior to his death that they should request of him that he forgive their evil sins. Rashi is bothered by the fact that nowhere do we find any indication that Yaakov commanded the brothers to do so. The Shelah HaKadosh suggests that our verse was the source and motivation for their actions. After Yaakov had called them all together and stressed to them the importance of brotherly love and harmony, they read between the lines and inferred a request that they make peace with each other before their time to die would come.
Chachlilei Einayim mi’yayin v’lavan shinayim me’chalav (49:12)
Rav Shalom Schwadron points out that the entire miraculous unfolding of events in the preceding Torah portions is entirely predicated on one chance encounter. The accurate interpretation by Yosef of the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker set in motion a chain of events which would alter the course of Jewish history. It led directly to Yosef’s release from jail, his appointment as second-in-command in Egypt, the fulfillment of his dreams about his family bowing down to him, his emotional reunion with his brothers and eventually his father, and the descent of the Jewish people to Egypt where they were ultimately enslaved by Pharaoh and redeemed by Moshe.
However, the pivotal episode of Yosef interpreting the dreams wouldn’t have occurred were it not for one seemingly trivial exchange. Yosef woke up one morning and noticed that his fellow prisoners looked aggrieved and upset. He chose to initiate a conversation which would literally change the future of all mankind, asking them quite simply (40:6-7), “What’s wrong?”
The Alter of Slabodka once gave an ethical discourse on the topic of greeting others kindly and showing an interest in their welfare. He noted that if a person stood next to the synagogue door and poured a glass of milk for each person who passed by, everybody would rightfully declare him to be a tremendous baal chesed (person who does acts of kindness). However, the Gemora in Kesuvos (111b) derives from our verse that showing another person the white of one’s teeth with a warm smile is an even greater act of kindness than giving him milk.
So often, we pass somebody who looks like he could use a kind word, a warm smile, and a little extra attention, yet the yetzer hara (evil inclination) discourages us from stopping to waste our valuable time on such inconsequential matters. The next time this happens, which will likely be tomorrow, we should remember the lesson of Yosef that nothing a person does is ever minor, and one has no idea what cosmic chain of events he could set in motion with just a few “trivial” words.
Ana sa na pesha achecha v’chatasam ki ra’ah g’malucha … vayomer aleihem Yosef al tira’u ki ha’sachas Elokim ani (50:17-19)
Although it would appear that Yosef attempted to calm and reassure his brothers, Rabbeinu Bechaye writes that nevertheless, he never said explicitly that he forgave them for their actions. As a result, they passed away still responsible for the sin of mercilessly selling him into slavery. Their atonement was only completed when their descendants were later brutally punished as the Asarah Harugei Malchus (ten great Rabbis who were tortuously killed by the Romans).
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv brings a beautiful proof to Rabbeinu Bechaye’s opinion from a Gemora in Yoma (87a). The Gemora rules that if a person hurts or insults his friend, he is only required to attempt to pacify him three times. The Gemora derives this law from the words of the brothers to Yosef (50:17). If Yosef forgave his brothers after their third attempt at appeasing him, how can the Gemora prove that if he wasn’t yet pacified they wouldn’t have been obligated to try further? It must be that the Gemora understood that Yosef never actually forgave them, and it derives from the fact that they didn’t pursue the matter beyond that point that one is only required to make three attempts at asking forgiveness.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (47:29) that in requesting Yosef to place his hand under his thigh, Yaakov was requesting him to take an oath not to bury him in Egypt. The Ramban (26:5) writes that the Avos only observed the mitzvos when they were in Eretz Yisroel, and therefore Yaakov was permitted to marry two sisters when he was outside of Israel. What was the purpose of Yosef swearing not to bury his father in Egypt, as he took the oath outside of Eretz Yisroel and according to the Ramban it wasn’t binding? (Midbar K’deimos Ma’areches Yud 55, Shu”t Avnei Nezer Yoreh Deah 2:306)
2) As a fulfillment of Yaakov’s blessing to Yosef (48:20), fathers bless their sons on Friday night that they should grow up to be like Ephraim and Menashe. Why did Yaakov tell Yosef “B’cha y’varech Yisroel” – by you shall the Jewish people bless – when it would seem more accurate to say “b’vanecha” – by your sons shall they bless? (Oznayim L’Torah)
3) Yaakov promised Yosef an extra part of the land of Israel in addition to his regular inheritance (48:22). After he saw the jealousy which was caused by his earlier preferential treatment of Yosef and its catastrophic effects, why would Yaakov continue to favor him in this manner? (Daas Z’keinim, Ayeles HaShachar)
4) Rashi writes (49:13) that the tribe of Zevulun engaged in commerce and shared their profits with the tribe of Yissochar to allow them to be free to engage in Torah study. For enabling this Torah learning, the tribe of Zevulun receives half of the reward for the study that occurs due to their support. Is it possible to make a similar arrangement regarding other mitzvos, where the supporter who enables the fulfillment of the mitzvah will receive half of the reward? (Derech Sicha)
5) Other than before going to bed, when should one say “Li’yeshuascha kivisi Hashem” – I await Your salvation, Hashem – which is part of the blessing Yaakov gave to Dan (49:18)? (Mishnah Berurah 230:7)
© 2009 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Shema Yisrael Torah Network