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Parshas Vayechi - Vol. 11, Issue 12
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Parshas Vayeishev begins by recording that after emerging triumphant from his struggles against Lavan and Eisav, Yaakov returned to Canaan to settle in his homeland. Rashi explains that after his lengthy exile, Yaakov desired to finally settle down and live in tranquility. However, Hashem rejected his request, and shortly thereafter, Yaakov's suffering continued with the disappearance of his beloved son Yosef.
Rav Moshe Aharon Friedman of Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem explains Yaakov's reasoning based on the concept (Ramban Bereishis 12:6) of Maaseh Avos Siman L'Banim - the actions of the Avos (Patriarchs) are a portent to their children - and just as Yaakov was compelled to endure galus (exile) and suffering as a paradigm for his offspring, so too he wanted to model for them the concept of geulah (redemption) by living out his remaining years in peace and serenity. Unfortunately, he was premature in his thinking, as he still had to undergo the pain of 22 years of separation from Yosef.
Ultimately, Yaakov was reunited with Yosef when he once again traveled to exile in Egypt for his final 17 years, which indeed represent the concept of geulah. However, although Parshas Vayechi begins with Yaakov's years of redemption, it ends with his death, which leads at the beginning of Parshas Shemos to yet another period of national galus and enslavement. Why are there two different exiles recorded in such close proximity, yet split between two different books of the Torah?
Rav Friedman explains that there were two different processes transpiring, first the exile of the Avos, and then the exile of their offspring. Yosef uniquely spanned both of these categories, as in one sense he was clearly one of Yaakov's 12 sons, which makes him a descendant, but in another sense he was the father of Ephraim and Menashe, who themselves became part of the 12 tribes, which makes Yosef like an Av.
Not surprisingly, in Yaakov's blessing to Yosef just before his death, he said (49:24) mi'sham ro'eh even Yisroel - from there he shepherded the stone of Israel - and the word even is a contraction of the words Av (father) and Ben (son), alluding to Yosef's dual nature. This insight can also help us appreciate why Parshas Vayechi concludes by recording that Yosef died (50:26), yet Parshas Shemos once again tells us (Shemos 1:6) that Yosef and all of his brothers died. Why does the Torah mention his death twice? Sefer Bereishis is the book of the Avos, so it ends by stating that Yosef the Av died, while Sefer Shemos is the book of the children, so it records the death of Yosef in his role as a son.
The Gemora (Taanis 5b) teaches that Yaakov never died, and even though the Torah seems to say that he was embalmed, eulogized, and buried, in reality he never actually died. Similarly, the Gemora (Kesuvos 103a) teaches that after Rav Yehuda HaNasi died, he continued coming to his house every Friday night. In his Gilyon HaShas commentary on that Gemora, Rav Akiva Eiger cites the Sefer Chassidim (1129), who writes that he arrived wearing Shabbos clothes and made Kiddush for his living family members. The Megaleh Amukos points out that the word Nasi is an acronym for nitzutz shel Yaakov Avinuć - a spark of our father Yaakov, as the Arizal writes that Rav Yehuda HaNasi possessed a glint of Yaakov's soul, and therefore he too never truly died. Additionally, the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 96:5) points out another parallel between them: Just as Yaakov lived in Egypt for 17 years, so too did Rav Yehuda HaNasi live in Tzippori for 17 years.
Rav Friedman adds that the cycle of exile and redemption that we see at the end of Sefer Bereishis and the beginning of Sefer Shemos can also be found within the recent fast day of Asarah B'Teves (10 Teves). The verse in Zechariah (8:19) makes mention of a fast in the tenth month (Teves), but doesn't specify on which date it should be observed. There is a Talmudic dispute (Rosh Hashana 18b) whether the fast should be held on 10 Teves, which was the day on which Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem began, or on 5 Teves, which was the day when the news of the destruction of the Temple reached the Jews living in Babylon.
The Chasam Sofer calculates that from the beginning of the siege on 10 Teves until the final blow of the exile on 5 Teves almost two years later, there were a total of 702 days, which is the numerical value of Shabbos. This alludes to the fact that one of the reasons they were being punished was for desecrating Shabbos, and it provides a deeper insight into the Abudraham's opinion that maintains that we are required to fast on Asarah B'Teves even if it falls on Shabbos (see Bais Yosef Orach Chaim 550), although the Shulchan Aruch rules otherwise, and the issue is purely theoretical, as the design of our calendar prevents this from ever occurring.
Rav Friedman notes that other sources teach that the actual sale of Yosef into slavery by his brothers took place on Asarah B'Teves, the day when Yaakov's desire to model geulah by living in tranquility was torn asunder. Additionally, the Chasam Sofer writes that Yaakov died at the beginning of Sukkos, in which case the 70 days of embalming him and crying over his death (50:3) concluded on 25 Kislev, the first day of Chanuka. After traveling for several days, Yosef ordained a seven-day mourning period (50:10), which was followed by a journey to the family burial plot in Chevron, in which case the day of Yaakov's burial was Asarah B'Teves. However, although Yaakov was buried on this day, it was also the date on which Eisav was killed, as Rivkah prophetically predicted (27:45) that both of her sons would die on the same day.
Asarah B'Teves contains an element of galus, as it is the day on which Yosef was sold into slavery and on which Yaakov was buried. At the same time, it was also the day of Eisav's downfall, which represents geulah, as Rivkah prophesied that on the day that one of her sons declined, the other would ascend (Rashi 25:23). Every year on Asarah B'Teves this cycle repeats itself, and on this day Hashem evaluates whether to end the exile and being the final redemption. This insight into the pivotal nature of this day gives us an additional appreciation of the opinion that we must fast on this day even if it falls on Shabbos.
The Chofetz Chaim explains that the entire ordeal of the brothers' encounter with Yosef appeared so illogical and nonsensical that it defied all understanding, yet in one split second, in just two words, Ani Yosef (45:3) - I am Yosef - suddenly the entire cacophonous picture became perfectly clear. All of the seemingly inexplicable events and details fell into place, and everything made perfect sense. So too there will come a time in the midst of our darkness when we will merit Hashem's revelation in all of His glory and splendor. Upon hearing just two words, Ani Hashem - I am Hashem - all of our questions and difficulties will vanish into thin air and the entire story of our dark and bitter exile will become crystal clear as we experience the redemption that Yaakov modeled for us, may it happen speedily in our days.
In the 1980s, one of the most esteemed talmidim (students) in the Mir yeshiva in Jerusalem got engaged to the daughter of a very wealthy man. Some of the other students in the yeshiva cast aspersions on the match, suggesting that the groom had "sold himself" by pursuing a spouse based on financial considerations instead of seeking to marry the daughter of a respected Torah scholar, as they believed would have been more appropriate for somebody of his caliber.
The rumors and allegations eventually reached the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Nochum Partzovitz. The custom in the yeshiva at that time was to arrange a celebratory meal during the week of Sheva Berachos whenever one of the students got married. At the festive meal for this talmid, Rav Nochum spoke in honor of the occasion. He began by quoting the Mishnah in Avos (6:4) that teaches that the way of Torah is to eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of deprivation, and toil in Torah study. The Mishnah promises that one who does so will be praiseworthy in this world, and all will be good for him in the World to Come.
Rav Nochum commented that people mistakenly think that the approach delineated by the Mishnah is a necessary prerequisite to success in Torah study, and that a person who is unwilling to endure physical discomfort will be unable to grow in his Torah knowledge. However, this cannot be the case, as Rav Yehuda HaNasi, the redactor of the Mishnah, was incredibly wealthy and lived a life of tremendous luxury, as did many other great Rabbis throughout the generations, and despite the fact that they did not adhere to the prescription of the Mishnah, they still attained great heights in their Torah knowledge. Rather, when Yaakov blessed each of his sons at the end of his life, the blessing he gave to Yissochar, whose descendants are known for their dedication to Torah study, was va'yeit shichmo lisbol - he bent his shoulders to carry a burden, which Rashi explains as a reference to the yoke of Torah study. Rav Nochum pointed out that Yaakov didn't say vayisbol - he carried a burden - but rather that he bent his shoulders to demonstrate his commitment that even if life presented him with many challenges, he was still prepared to persist with his Torah study without being distracted. However, in the event that one's life circumstances do not present him with the difficulties experienced by others, this in no way detracts from his ability to succeed in his studies. Rav Nochum concluded by proclaiming that the groom had spent his entire time in yeshiva engrossed in Torah study, fully prepared to carry whatever burdens he may be presented with and never once seeking out physical luxuries. Precisely because he was so devoted to Torah, Hashem arranged for him to marry the daughter of a wealthy man who respects Torah scholars and is prepared to provide him with his physical needs. Not only does this arrangement in no way detract from the groom's commitment to Torah, but just the opposite, the Gemora teaches (Megillah 28b) that properly understanding the Torah requires a clear head, and being freed from potentially distracting concerns about providing for his family is actually beneficial in this regard. After hearing this insight from the Rosh Yeshiva, none of the other students ever dared to again question the groom's motives or dedication to Torah study.
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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) Other than Krias Shema al HaMita and Tefillas HaDerech, when should one say li'yeshuascha kivisi Hashem - I await Your salvation, Hashem - which is part of the blessing that Yaakov gave to Dan (49:18)? (Mishnah Berurah 230:7)
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