Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

For sponsorships and advertising opportunities, send e-mail to:

Back to This Week's Parsha Previous Issues

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Vol. 8   No. 12

This issue is sponsored in honour of
Naomi Beilah Elisheva bas Esther
for a complete and speedy recovery,
together with all the sick of K'lal Yisroel

Parshas Vayechi

Yosef's Motives

"And Yosef's brothers saw that their father had died, and they said 'Perhaps Yosef will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we performed with him' " (50:15).


What does the Torah mean by the phrase "And they saw" that their father had died? Firstly, the term 'heard' would have been more appropriate; and secondly, bearing in mind that they had just returned from burying him, the entire phrase seems superfluous?

Rashi explains that they saw a change in Yosef's behaviour towards them. His ongoing invitation to them to eat with him came to an abrupt end. So they figured that this act of brotherly love must have been put on for the sake of their father, but was not at all genuine, and now that Ya'akov was no longer alive, he had discarded all pretences of friendship. They were afraid that Yosef's true feelings of hatred were now coming to light, and that his campaign of vengeance was about to begin. But they were mistaken.


The Ba'al ha'Turim alludes to another incident which led them to believe that he harbored feelings of ill-will against them. Upon their return journey from Egypt, he explains, Yosef stopped at the pit into which they had thrown him, and recited the b'rochoh of 'she'osoh li nes ba'mokom ha'zeh'. They took this as a sure sign that Yosef had not forgotten what they did to him and that he bore them a grudge. Once again, they were wrong! And not only were they wrong, but in actual fact, both of these acts were rooted in deep piety, demonstrating a very different side to Yosef's character to the one the brothers thought they perceived.


As long as Ya'akov was alive, Yosef had invited his brothers to eat with him in order to please his father, and he sat at the head of his brothers, because that is where his father placed him. But now that his father was no longer alive, explains the Medrash, he was faced with a serious dilemma. On the one hand, his status as viceroy demanded that he continue to sit at the head of his brothers, as he had done during his father's lifetime. On the other hand, in his deep humility, he could not bring himself to sit above Re'uven who was the firstborn, or above Yehudah, the king. So he resolved the problem by no longer inviting them.


Likewise, the b'rochoh that he recited at the pit was a sign, not of any grudge that he bore his brothers, but of his constant awareness of G-d's presence, as was very much his hallmark (see for example Rashi 39:3). If anything, he was minimizing his brothers' role in his sale and demonstrating that even if they had meant him harm, Hashem had meant it otherwise, and Hashem's will had prevailed. It was exactly the opposite of what the brothers suspected. Yosef's incredible midos, coupled with his powerful faith that Hashem alone was running the world, and that no-one could interfere with His plans, rendered any act of revenge on his part totally inconceivable.

And that is precisely what he told them when they pleaded with him to forgive them - "Do not be afraid, because I fear G-d (Targum Unklus). You may have thought evil about me, but G-d thought it for the good ... " (50:19-20).


The K'li Yokor has a third interpretation of the posuk with which we began. According to him, what they saw was that after Ya'akov's death, the famine, which had ceased the moment Ya'akov arrived in Egypt, (five years prematurely) resumed, to run its full seven year course. And it was the five years of famine that frightened the brothers, he explains.

The brothers were sufficiently convinced that Yosef would not harm them directly. However, when they saw that the famine had returned, they feared that Yosef would be tempted to avenge himself on the sale without as much as touching a hair on their heads. All he needed to do was withhold their sustenance during the years of famine and they would all die of hunger. (Indeed, we have a precedece for this in halochoh, where there are certain resho'im whom one is not permitted to kill, but whom one is not obligated to save if they are drowning.)


Here again, Yosef's reply is exactly to the point, as the K'li Yokor himself points out" "And now, do not be afraid; I will sustain you and your children ... " (50:21) - he made it clear that even indirect vengeance was simply not on his mind, for he bore them no grudge.


Incidentally, the K'li Yokor first introduces the resumption of the famine to explain why the inhabitants of Cana'an described the mourning for Ya'akov as "a heavy mourning for Egypt". Why should Ya'akov's death be the cause of Egypt's mourning, since they were unlikely to have been so deeply moved by the tzadik's death? The answer is because the famine had resumed.


Parshah Pearls

(Adapted from the Ba'al ha'Turim)
Short and Sad

"And the days of Ya'akov, the years of his life, were 147 years (47:28).

The Ba'al ha'Turim comments on the irregular manner in which the Torah presents Ya'akov's age. It writes "seven, forty and a hundred", something that it did not do with his father and grandfather. He attributes this to the fact that Ya'akov's life was both shorter and more troublesome than theirs, and starting with the smaller number hints at this.


Watch What You Say

Ya'akov's life-span fell thirty-three years short of his father Yitzchak's 180 years. The better known reason for this is that of the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos (47:9), who sees it as G-d's punishment for his having complained to Par'oh, when in reply to Par'oh's "How old are you?" he said "Few and evil have been the days ... ". 'I returned you Dinah and Yosef! I saved you from Lovon and from Eisov, and you complain!' said Hashem. Consequently, for the thirty-three words of complaint, he lost thirty-three years of his life.

The Ba'al ha'Turim however, ascribes it to Ya'akov's curse, when he said to Lovon "With whoever you find your gods will not live". Based on the posuk in Mishlei "An undeserved curse rebounds on oneself", the Ba'al ha'Turim concludes that that is why Ya'akov died prematurely, 33 years early because he said " ... will not live" - "lo yichyeh" whose numerical value is 33. Interestingly, Avrohom too, was meant to live till 180, like his son Yitzchok, only his life was curtailed by five years to prevent him from seeing his grandson Eisov straying from the path.


True Kindness

"And you will do with me kindness and truth" (47:29). Rashi explains that this refers to the kindness that one performs with the dead, because that is a true kindness for which one expects no remuneration (for who wants to die?).

The word 'emes', the Ba'al ha'Turim points out, forms the first letters of 'oron, mitoh, tachrichin' ('the coffin, the stretcher and the shrouds').


Ephrayim and Menasheh

Ephrayim and Menasheh will be to me like Re'uven and Shimon" (48:5).

Amazingly, the numerical value of Ephrayim and Menasheh is equal to that of Re'uven and Shimon. That is why the former would later receive two portions of land just like the latter.


'Perhaps you might ask, by what right do I raise my grandchildren to the level of my children?' Ya'akov asked Yosef. 'However,' Ya'akov explained, 'when I returned from Padan Arom, G-d said to me "Be fruitful and multiply, a nation and an assembly of nations will descend from you". I thought at the time that those descendants would come from me. But now I see that it is from you that they were destined to come!' (see also Rashi).


The Smaller, The Bigger!

"And he placed his right hand on the head of Ephrayim, and he was the younger one (ve'hu ha'tzo'ir)" (48:14).

The numerical value of "ve'hu ha'tzo'ir" is equivalent to that of "ve'hu hiktin atzmo" (and he made himself small). It is because Ephrayim made himself small that he merited Yehoshua, who was filled with wisdom, as a descendant - Yehoshua, before whom the mighty sun stood still (see also Rashi, posuk 19).


Ephrayim before Menasheh

"And he blessed them (Ephrayim and Menasheh) on that day saying" ("leimor" - with an extra 'vov').


The extra 'vov' is a hint says the Ba'al ha'Turim, for the six times that the Torah places Ephrayim before Menasheh. Alternatively, it hints at the six righteous 'judges' that descended from him.

In contrast, when the brothers, referring to Yosef's dream, asked him "Will you rule over us?", "ha'moloch" there is written with a 'vov' missing, hinting that all the kings who would descend from Menasheh would be resho'im.


No Sin - No End

The opening Rashi in the parshah explains that Ya'akov wished to reveal to his sons when Moshi'ach would finally come, but it was hidden from them. The Ba'al ha'Turim (49:1) adds that he asked them whether this was not perhaps due to their sins, to which they replied that the letters 'ches' and 'tes' did not appear in any of their names, and so they were without 'chet' (sin).

Nevertheless, Ya'akov concluded, he could not tell them when Moshi'ach would arrive, since the letters 'kuf' and 'tzadik' (ketz) did not appear there either.


Brothers in Disgrace

"Shimon ve'Levi achim" points out the Ba'al ha'Turim, is the equivalent numerical value to "Ein lohem cheilek bo'oretz" (they have no portion in the land).


The Thirty Steps

The numerical value of Yehudah is thirty - a hint to the thirty steps with which a king acquires sovereignty.


Yehudah Forever

"The staff of rulership will not depart from Yehudah ... until Shiloh comes" (or, it will not depart forever, because Shiloh will come). Who is Shiloh? Here are two of the explanations offered by the Ba'al ha'Turim:

The numerical value of "Shiloh" is the same as that of 'Moshi'ach.'

"Shiloh" is a hint to Achiyoh ha'Shiloni, the Novi who left Egypt and who later prophesied to Yerovom that the Kingdom would be torn from Dovid and that ten tribes would be given to him.


(Adapted from 'Mitzvos ha'T'luyos bo'Oretz',
based on the rulings of the Chazon Ish by R' Kalman Kahana z.l.)

40. Chazal did not decree the isur s'fichim on fruit of the ground that grew in a field belonging to a gentile, seeing as a gentile is not commanded to observe the dinim of Sh'mitah in the first place. (According to minhag Yerusholayim, whatever grows in a field belonging to a gentile is not subject to Sh'mitah in any case.)

However, if a Jew rented a field from a gentile or if he is a share-cropper in his field, the s'fichim are prohibited.

If on the other hand, a gentile plants seeds in a field belonging to a Jew, even if he does so without the owner's knowledge, the plants are nevertheless forbidden because of isur s'fichim.


41. S'fichim that grow in a field which is hefker (ownerless) are nevertheless forbidden.


42.The plants that we discussed above, that are not forbidden because of s'fichim and which may therefore be eaten, are nevertheless subject to the dinim of kedushas shevi'is, which will be discussed in the forthcoming paragraph.


The General Din of Kedushas Shevi'is

43. All fruit and vegetables that grow in the Sh'mitah-year and which may be eaten, are subject to Kedushas Shevi'is, which comprises four dinim:

1. The owner of the vineyard, orchard or field must leave them hefker. This means that he may do nothing that demonstrates ownership of his property. The field must be left open for any Jew to enter and help himself to the fruit, like a person is free to help himself from anything that is hefker. (This will be discussed further in the following chapter.) In fact, the field etc. is hefker in any event, because the Torah declared it such. Consequently, the fact that the owner does not comply does not deter anyone from entering the field and helping himself (in spite of the owner's objections).

2. Fruit etc. that one collects from Hefker vineyards, orchards and fields may not be sold (as will be explained later).

3. One may only use it in the regular fashion, but not in other ways that inevitably spoil it (as will be explained later).

4. There is an obligation to 'destroy' the fruit, when the time of 'bi'ur' arrives (as will be explained later).


44. It was customary for Beis-din to engage workers to reap the corn and pick the fruit that is permitted in the Sh'mitah. The corn and fruit would subsequently be gathered and placed in storehouses owned by them, and distributed to each family according to its size. The fruit itself was distributed free, but the recipients were charged a fee to cover the remuneration of the Beis-din's employees and other expenses (e.g. transportation) that the storage and distribution incurred. This is known as 'Otzar Beis-din'.


The Fruit of the Vineyard, Orchard and Field are all Hefker, and the Din of a Field that has been Worked

45. We have already explained (in the previous chapter) that the produce of Sh'mitah is hefker to all Jews. Consequently, it is forbidden, in principle, to guard one's vineyard, orchard or field, should they contain fruit to which the sanctity of Sh'mitah pertains. And by the same token, locking the field too is prohibited.


46. It is however, permitted to prevent gentiles from partaking of Sh'mitah produce. Seeing as Sh'mitah fruits are sanctified for the consumption of Jews, gentiles should not be allowed access to them, so as not to deprive them from performing their mitzvah. Consequently, in places where there are gentiles who are likely to partake of the Sh'mitah produce, one is permitted to place a guard at the entrance of the field to prevent them from entering, or to lock one's field. However, one is then obligated to post a notice informing the public where the key can be found.


47. Similarly, one is permitted to lock one's field, to prevent animals from eating the produce, since the obligation to leave the field hefker is for the benefit of people (Jews) exclusively, and not for the animals. Nevertheless, it is forbidden to turn away animals if they are already eating the produce. Nor does the prohibition of feeding animals food that is fit for human consumption apply here (presumably because it is the animal that is helping itself to the fruit rather than a person feeding it).

However, where the animal threatens to damage the tree, one may even chase it away. And one is even obligated to do so if the fruit is detached.


For sponsorships and adverts call 651 9502

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel