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

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Vol. 10   No. 12

This issue is sponsored by the Chaitowitz Family
in loving memory of
Avraham Shalom ben Sh'neur Zalman z.l.
Meir Daqvid ben Shlomoh Eliezer z.l.
Rifkah bas Yonah z.l.

Parshas Va'Yechi

Switching the Birthright

Ya'akov took the Bechorah from Reuven and gave it to Yosef, Rashi explains, because he sinned against his father, moving his father's bed from the tent of Bilhah, Rachel's handmaid, to that of his mother Leah.

This may be reason enough to penalize Reuven. But how will that justify Ya'akov contravening the Pasuk in Ki Seitzei, which specifically forbids passing the birthright from the Bechor to another son, asks the Or ha'Chayim. And, quoting the Gemara in Bava Basra, he stresses that this prohibition even applies to taking the Bechorah from a bad son, and giving it to a good one?


We first need to know whether the Avos were under obligation to observe the Mitzvos at all, asks the Or ha'Chayim. After all, he says, Ya'akov did marry two sisters and Avraham did not perform the B'ris Milah until he was a hundred, to mention just two of the instances where the Avos did not fulfil the Torah's commandments.

He quotes the Ramban, who ascribes Ya'akov's marriage to two sisters to the fact that he was living in Chutz la'Aretz at the time that he married them. Indeed, the moment Ya'akov entered Eretz Yisrael, Rachel died, and this was due in part to the fact that he had just entered Eretz Yisrael and that he could not live there with two sisters. So the one that he married last had to die.

But he disagrees with the Ramban. Who told the Ramban, he asks, that Ya'akov only kept the Torah in Eretz Yisrael? After all, he says, this is a personal Mitzvah, which has no connection with the land itself, and as such, there is no difference between Eretz Yisrael and Chutz la'Aretz?

In addition, one might ask, what was on Ya'akov's mind? He knew that his residing in Charan was only temporary, and that he would soon be returning to Eretz Yisrael. Did he really marry Rachel on the understanding that the wife he loved so dearly would die young, before he even arrived home?

And besides, the problem of Avraham not having performed the B'ris Milah until reaching the age of a hundred, as well as the current one (switching the birthright), both of which the Avos 'contravened' in Eretz Yisrael, remain unanswered.


To answer the Or ha'Chayim's question on the Ramban (even though it will not resolve the other difficulties), we need to understand the reasoning behind the Ramban's distinction between Eretz Yisrael and Chutz la'Aretz with regard to the Avos and their performance of the Mitzvos.

We have cited before, the Rashi, who, with reference to the Pasuk "ve'Samtem es devorai eileh ... ", explains how the Mitzvos in Chutz la'Aretz, are meant to prepare us for our return to Eretz Yisrael, so that they should not be new to us when we return. It seems that the Mitzvos were really given to us to keep in Eretz Yisrael. Our keeping them in Chutz la'Aretz, albeit min ha'Torah, is no more than a form of Chinuch (much in the same way as the Rabbanan obligated a child to perform Mitzvos).

In the same vein, it would be logical to say, the Ramban maintains, that the Avos only accepted on themselves the performance of the Mitzvos in Eretz Yisrael, where the Mitzvos are an intrinsic obligation. In Chutz la'Aretz, where their obligation will only be based on education, they declined to obligate themselves.

In fact, the Ramban himself intimates this explanation (in Toldos 26:5).


The Or ha'Chayim, however, explains the actions of the Avos differently than the Ramban (although with a little careful thought, it is clear from what we just said, that part of his theories also form the basis of the Ramban's approach). The Avos received their tradition, the Or ha'Chayim explains, from Adam ho'Rishon, via Chanoch, No'ach and Shem. And that tradition comprised the seven Mitzvos of the Noachide code. The Mitzvos of the Torah were not given to them, nor did they have any obligation to fulfil them. They were however, fully aware of the Taryag Mitzvos, as well as the Mitzvos de'Rabbanan (for Chazal have taught that Avraham kept all the Mitzvos, even Eiruv Tavshilin).

In that case, observing the Mitzvos in their case, was subject to reward, whereas contravening them was not subject to punishment. Now the Avos, who loved G-d, took upon themselves to keep the entire Torah in principle (see for example Rashi on the Pasuk in Toldos 26:5). However, wherever they considered it beneficial to bypass the Mitzvos, they did so without hesitation, if they felt that the advantages outweighed the losses. That is why Ya'akov married two sisters, that is why Avraham waited until he was commanded to fulfil the Mitzvah of Milah, and that is why Ya'akov felt justified in taking away the Bechorah from Reuven and giving it to Yosef, since Reuven did not deserve to retain it, and Ya'akov was not committing any sin in the process.


It is also possible he says, taking the issue one step further, that the Avos received specific Divine instructions each time they appear to have transgressed Torah law. Because if Avraham, in his capacity as a Navi, was believed (by Yitzhak) to contravene the prohibition of murder, and Eliyahu (by the people) to build a bamah and bring Korbanos outside the Beis-Hamikash on Har ha'Karmel, then why should Ya'akov not be believed when he claimed that Hashem had instructed him to marry Rachel and Le'ah, or to pass the Bechorah from Reuven to Yosef, which were not forbidden to him in the first place. This explanation is difficult however, in light of the Gemara in Pesachim, which describes how Ya'akov Avinu will, in time to come, decline to bensch, due to the fact that he married two sisters. This would in no way be feasible if he married Rachel and Le'ach by Divine command, which would render it a Mitzvah.


To explain why Ya'akov gave the Bechorah specifically to Yosef (one of his youngest sons) and not say, to Yehudah, or to any of his older brothers, the Or ha'Chayim cites a Zohar. When he married Le'ah, the Zohar says, Ya'akov believed her to be Rachel, and indeed, that is what he thought throughout the night. In fact, Reuven was conceived that night, and in the world of deeds, he was the son of Le'ah. In the world of thought, however, he was the son of Rachel. That is why although, factually, Reuven was born the Bechor, when Ya'akov decided to deprive him of that right, it was only right to give it to his Bechor in thought, Yosef.


Parshah Pearls

Cause and Effect

"Yisachar chamor gorem (Yisachar is a bony ox)" 49:14.

Like a donkey, Yisachar bent his shoulder to bear the yoke of Torah.

Seeing as the word "gorem" is missing a 'Vav', the phrase can also be translated as 'Yisachar was brought about by a donkey'. Le'ah, it will be remembered, had bought Rachel's rights in Ya'akov that night for the duda'im (the jasmin) that her son Reuven had given her. Ya'akov, unaware of the transaction, was making his way to Rachel's tent, and it was the braying of Ya'akov's donkey that Le'ah heard, that prompted her to go out to meet him and bring him to her tent instead. That night, Yisachar was conceived.

It can truly be said that both the cause and the effect of Yisachar were a donkey!


Between the Borders

"Rovetz bein ha'mishpesayim (crouching between the borders)" 49:14.

The same word appears in Shoftim (5:16) "Lomoh yoshavto bein ha'mishpesayim".

The Sanhedrin sat in the Lishkas ha'Gazis, which was half in the Kodesh and half in the Chol (between the borders), the Ba'al ha'Turim explains, and it was Yisachar that comprised the majority of the Sanhedrin.

In addition, he says, Yisachar was situated by the sea, between the borders of the sea and dry land.


The Great Leader

"Dan will fight for his people, like the unique tribe of Yisrael" (49:16).

Like David, Rashi explains (even though he - Dan - was the son of a hand-maid (Redak).

The Ba'al-ha'Turim bears out Rashi's explanation, with no less than three hints, all contained in the three Pasukim that form Dan's B'rachah.

1. The first letters of the three Pesukim ("Dan", "Yehi", "Li'yesh'uascha"), add up to the same numerical value as 'ke'David' (spelt with a 'Yud', as it sometimes is); 2. The word "ke'achad (like the unique ... )" has the same numerical value as 'ke'David' (without a 'Vav', as it usually is); 3. The first and last letters of this Pasuk ("Dan ... YisraeL) add up to thirty-four, like 'ke'David'.


A Hind Let Loose

"Naftali Ayalah sheluchoh ha'nosen imrei shafer (Naftali is a hind let loose, who produces beautiful words)" (49:21).

This prophecy pertains to the battle between Barak and Sisro, where Barak took ten thousand men from the tribe of Naftali, says the Ba'al ha'Turim. And it is because of the major role played by Devorah, that the Pasuk compares Naftali to an ayalah (a female deer), rather than to an ayal (a male one).

The beautiful words, he explains, refer to Shiras Devorah, which she sang after the victory. In fact, he adds, "imrei shafer" has the same numerical value as 'shir u'shevochoh' (song and praise).

Finally, he points out, the numerical value of ''Ayalah sheluchoh ha'nosen imrei shafer" is equivalent to that of "va'Toshar Devorah u'Barak ben Avino'am ba'yom ha'hu" (the introduction to Shiras Devorah).


Among the Cows

"Bein Poras Yosef, Bein Poras Alei Oyin (A fruiiful son, Yosef, a fruitful son above the (evil) eye" (49:22).

Ya'akov did not begin Yosef's blessing with his name, like he did with his other sons. The reason for this, explains the Ba'al ha'Turim, was in honor of his royal position (as in speaking with a king, one never begins with his name). Instead though, he did him the honor of beginning with his two sons, he says, since the numerical value of "ben poras" is equivalent to that of 'Menasheh ve'Ephrayim'.


"ben poras", he adds, also comprises the same letters as 'ben poser' (the interpreting son).

And the word "poras" also contains the same letters as 'poros' (cows), because he interpreted Paroh's dream of the cows. Rabenu Bachye goes one step further. He interprets "bein Poras Yosef" as 'among the cows', because, he explains, when Yosef pointed out various discrepancies between Paroh's dream and the way Paroh related it to him, the latter asked him in amazement whether he had been 'among the cows'.


Binyamin's Heritage

"lo'Erev yechalek sholol (in the evening, he will divide the spoil)" 49:27.

Unklus interprets the B'rachah of Binyamin in connection with the fact that the Beis-Hamikdash was built in his portion. In that context, the Ba'al ha'Turim's comments that "lo'Erev yechalek sholol" has the same numerical value as 'eilu ha'Korbonos' ('eilu' spelt with a 'Yud'). Because the Kohanim who had served during the day would indeed divide the Kodshei Kodshim and their various gifts (of Kodshei Mizbe'ach) each evening.


The Sun, the Moon and the Tribes

The first letters following each of the names of the tribes ("Bechori, Achim, Atoh, Le'Chof, Chamor, Yodin, G'dud, Sh'meinoh, Ayalah, Ben, Ze'ev"), the Ba'al ha'Turim observes, add up to three hundred and sixty-five (like the days of a sun-year). Whereas the final letters of each b'rachah ("oloH, be'YisraeL me'choloV, TzidoN, oveD, the 'Hey' of Hashem, eikeV, meleCH, shofeR, echoV, sholoL") add up to three hundred and fifty four (corresponding to the days in a moon year). And he links this to the Pasuk in Yirmiyah (31:34/35) "So says Hashem, who gives the sun for the light of day and .., the moon and the stars to illuminate the night ... that just as these Divine laws will not move from before Me, so too, will Yisrael never cease to be a nation".


Dan and Gad or Gad and Dan?

Ya'akov gave Dan precedence over Gad, because that was their order of birth. Moshe, on the other hand (in Parshas Ve'zos Hab'rachah, gave Gad precedence, because he (Moshe) was buried in his portion of land.


Learning from one's Predecessors

"ve'Zos asher diber lahem avihem (and this is what their father said to them)" 49:28.

When Moshe blesses K'lal Yisrael, he takes up his cue with the very same word "ve'Zos ha'B'rachah asher beirach Moshe ... ", precisely because Ya'akov ended with it.

And this is what David Hamelech meant when he said in Tehilim (119:100) "I will reflect (learn) from the elders".

Part of the beauty of our heritage is that leaders do not search for new paths, but rather look back to learn from their predecessors.

Like the story of the traveler, who arrived at a crossroads, to find the sign post which should have told him which way to turn, broken, lying on the ground. At first, he was at a loss which direction to take, until a passer-by reminded him that even if he did not know the direction in which he was going, he did know the direction from which he had come. So he picked up the sign post, placed it accordingly, and proceeded on his way.


It Takes Forty Days

"And forty days were completed (va'yimle'u)" (50:3).

The Torah uses the same word ("va'yimle'u") in Toldos (in connection with the birth of Rifkah's twins, Ya'akov and Eisav. This is a hint, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that it takes forty days for a baby to form inside the mother's womb.


History of the World

(Part I) (Adapted from the Seder Ha'doros)

Starting from The Era Following the
Destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash


The Nasi, Raban Shimon ben Gamliel the second (son of Raban Gamliel ha'Zaken), whose death occurrs at the time of the Churban, is the first of the ten martyrs to die. Rebbi Chanina S'gan ha'Kohanim is killed at this time too, as is Rebbi Yishmael ben Elisha, the Kohen Gadol. The death of the other seven martyrs will only occur beginning from the time of the fall of Beitar, fifty-two years later.

The author of 'Eileh Ezkerah' that we recite on Yom Kipur, erred in relating the deaths as if they all took place at the same time.

Actually, Titus intended to kill Raban Gamliel the second (son and successor of Raban Shimon ben Gamliel mentioned earlier) too. Indeed he would have done so, had Raban Yochanan ben Zakai not interceded on his behalf, eliciting a promise from him, that the Nasi would be spared.

Rebbi Papayas, Rebbi Yochanan ben Bag Bag and his son, Rebbi Elazar, all witness the Churban. Rebbi Tzadok and his son, Rebbi Elazar, are colleagues of Raban Yochanan ben Zakai, who is appointed Nasi after the death of Raban Shimon ben Gamliel. He moves the Sanhedrin ha'Gadol from Yerushalayim to Yavneh.



Yosef ben Gurion (better known as Yosifun) writes his Seifer after the Churban. Despite the fact that some of his words appear to contradict Chazal in Perek 'Hanizakin' in Gitin, one should bear in mind that he was both a wise man and a Tzadik, who preceded the Gemara by hundreds of years. He was a first-hand witness to the events that took place at the time of the Churban and his account is both authentic and reliable.


The Emperor Nero is assassinated, in which case, the Nero who converted must have been either a general or a different king with the same name. However, the Seifer Chayei ha'Melachim records two opinions as to whether the Emperor Nero died or whether he disappeared. Augustun the high priest concludes that he must have converted (conforming with the Gemara in Gitin).



The first generation after the Churban: Raban Yochanan ben Zakai dies at the age of a hundred and twenty, five years after the Churban. He is succeeded by Raban Gamliel, the son of Raban Shimon ben Gamliel the martyr (grandson of Raban Gamliel ha'Zaken). He is the thirty-third link in the chain of tradition that began with Moshe at Har Sinai. His contemporaries are Rebbi Eliezer ben Hyrkanus (known as Rebbi Eliezer ha'Gadol) and Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chananyah the Levi, both disciples of Raban Yochanan ben Zakai.

Rebbi Eliezer ben Hyrkanus is the Rebbi Eliezer S'tam mentioned in Shas, and Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chananyah is the Rebbi Yehoshua S'tam. In their days the Emperor Julius of Rome, wants to rebuild the Beis-Hamikdash.

Rebbi Yossi ha'Kohen, Rebbi Shimon ben Nesanel and Rebbi Elazar ben Arach are all disciples of Raban Yochanan ben Zakai. Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah (a Kohen) is appointed Nasi in place of Raban Gamliel, who is deposed for slighting Rebbi Yehoshua. But a short while later, Raban Gamliel is reinstated, and Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah is honoured with giving the weekly lecture every third week.

Rebbi Eliezer ben Ya'akov lives at that time and so does Rebbi Eliezer ha'Kalir (the famous Paytan), though according to Tosfos, he is Rebbi Elazar b"Rebbi Shimon, who lived a few generations later (after the Churban).

Rebbi Yehudah ben Beseira, who merited longevity, was a colleague of Raban Yochanan ben Zakai.



Rebbi Akiva ben Yosef succeeds Raban Gamliel as Rosh Yeshivah. Rebbi Yishmael is Rebbi Akiva's Chaver. It is not however clear whether the extremely wealthy Rebbi Tarfon, who is a Kohen, is his Rebbe or his Chaver. Rebbi Yehoshua ben Korchah, who also merits longevity, and who will actually be one of the Rebbes of Rebbi Yehudah ha'Nasi, is a contempory of Rebbi Akiva, and so are Rebbi Elazar ben Chisma, Rebbi Yochanan ben Gudgoda and Rebbi Yehudah ben Teima.

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