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Parshas Vayechi - Vol. 10, Issue 12
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Parshas Vayechi contains the final blessings that Yaakov gave to each of his sons prior to his death. In his blessing to the tribe of Yissochar, whose descendants are known for their dedication to Torah study, Yaakov described him as a strong-boned donkey who rests between the boundaries. Why did he specifically compared Yissochar to a donkey, as opposed to any other animal?
Rav Tzvi Markovitz explains that while Torah scholars also "carry a load" similar to a donkey, this parallel is insufficient, as there are other animals - such as horses - which are also capable of transporting heavy burdens. Rav Markovitz points out 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. Donkeys, on the other hand, 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.
In the Haftorah for Parshas Vayechi, we read about the instructions that Dovid HaMelech gave at the end of his life to his son Shlomo, who would succeed him as king. He commanded Shlomo to remember the vicious curses which Shimi ben Geira had heaped upon him (Shmuel 2 16:7-8). However, because Dovid had sworn to Shimi that he wouldn't kill him for his actions, he advised Shlomo to use his wisdom to find a means to avenge his disgrace and execute Shimi.
Shlomo dutifully called Shimi and commanded him to build a house in Jerusalem, informing him that he must remain within the city limits, for on the day that he departs he will be killed (2:36-37). Shimi agreed to the terms, built a house in Jerusalem, and indeed refrained from exiting the city for three years. At that time, two of his slaves escaped, and he pursued them out of the city to bring them back. Upon hearing of this, Shlomo had Shimi summoned and decreed that because he had violated the conditions of their agreement, he was to be killed.
Although in hindsight this represented a brilliant method of reconciling Dovid's desire to have Shimi punished with his promise not to directly kill Shimi for his act of rebellion, how did Shlomo know that his plan would succeed, as we find that Shimi managed to abide by the condition for three years before an unexpected episode caused him to stumble? Why did Shimi, who was a wise man who understood the consequences of leaving Jerusalem and managed to refrain from doing so for three years, suddenly commit such a foolish mistake, one for which he paid dearly with his life?
The Alshich HaKadosh explains that Shlomo, in his great wisdom, understood human nature profoundly. A person's natural inclination is to crave freedom and to resist any restraint placed upon it. Although Shimi's "jail" didn't resemble the typical cell, in that he was free to enjoy everything offered by the greatest city on earth, he was nevertheless artificially confined. Shlomo recognized that sooner or later, Shimi's need to feel free and unrestrained would win out and he would violate the terms of their arrangement. When this eventually occurred, Shlomo was ready and waiting to execute Shimi in a dignified manner, just as his father had requested.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Parshas Derochim writes that Rochel died just as Yaakov prepared to enter the land of Israel (48:7) because he was only permitted to be married to two sisters outside of the land of Israel. Tosefos writes (Yevamos 20b) that a regular Kohen who marries a widow and is then anointed as the Kohen Gadol (who is forbidden to marry a widow) is allowed to remain married to her since she was permissible to him at the time of their marriage. Why wasn't Yaakov similarly allowed to remain married to Rochel and Leah even in the land of Israel since they were both permitted to him at the time he married them outside of the land of Israel? (Matamei Yaakov, M'rafsin Igri)
2) What is the significance of the fact that Yaakov drew his feet onto the bed prior to dying (49:33), and why does the Torah record this information? (Taz Yoreh Deah 339:4)
3) Although Yosef attempted to calm and reassure his brothers (50:19-21), Rabbeinu Bechaye writes that he never explicitly forgave them for their actions. As a result, they died still responsible for the sin of selling him into slavery. Their atonement was only completed when their descendants were punished as the Asarah Harugei Malchus - ten great Rabbis who were brutally murdered by the Romans. If Yosef forgave them, why did he refuse to say so, and if he didn't forgive them, why was he unwilling to do so after so much time had passed? (Shiras Dovid here and Esther 3:15)
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