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

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Vol. 13   No. 12

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
Sheva Gittel bas Levi Liksenberg z.l.
Le'Mishpachas Tzvik

Parshas Vayechi

The Burial of Ya'akov
(Adapted from the Ramban)

The Cave of Machpeilah

Based on Ya'akov's unusually lengthy description of the Me'oras ha'Machpeilah, the Ramban presents a number of fascinating observations about Ya'akov's relationship with it. Here are some of those observations.

First of all, he explains, Ya'akov took the trouble of describing the cave and all the family members who were buried in it (he did not mention Adam and Chavah), to stress the importance of the location, to encourage Yosef and his brothers to make every effort to bury him there (despite the various problems that, he foresaw, were destined to hinder their efforts). The Torah repeats twice that Avraham acquired the Me'oras ha'Machpeilah as a family burial plot, and as such, the Ramban explains, he would be the last one to be buried there, since one does not bury more than three couples in a family plot (Mechilta). This precluded not only Eisav, but Yosef too. This explains why, before his death, Yosef instructed his brothers that when they left Egypt for Eretz Yisrael, they should take his bones out with them, and bury them wherever they saw fit (Mechilta), bcause, as we explained, Yosef knew that he would not be buried in the Me'oras ha'Machpeilah. And it also explains why Ya'akov talked about the grave that 'he dug for himself' (as Yosef quoted him to Paroh as having said) to preclude all other members of the family (e.g. Yosef and above all Eisav); and why he needed to remind them that he had buried Le'ah there too. It was another way of saying that he had made a personal Chazakah on the Cave by burying his wife there. And he deliberately added that, in order to preempt any attempt on the part of Eisav to claim the first rights to be buried there, since he was the firstborn (although, as Chazal explain, Ya'akov had paid him handsomely for any such rights, many years before). Because had Eisav been buried there, Ya'akov would have had to forego the his rights, since it was accepted practice to refrain from burying two siblings in the same plot of land. Not that all this particularly impressed Eisav. Eisav was not the sort of person to be deterred by mere formalities, or even by agreements (even if there written and signed), as we shall see.


Pomp, Ceremony and War

Ya'akov Avinu's burial was a magnificent affair. Starting from the jewel-bedecked coffin, and going on to the Levayah, during which Ya'akov's coffin was carried by ten of his sons (excluding Levi [who was destined for the priesthood] and Yosef [who was a king]), Efrayim and Menasheh. The entourage was led by Yosef, his servants and elders of Paroh's household, and surrounded by all the elders of Egypt (see I'bn Ezra - 50:7), and it goes without saying, by all the grown-up members of Ya'akov's family.

The apparent afterthought of chariots and horsemen that the Torah adds to the list however, begs elaboration. The Ramban explains that Yosef ordered the cavalry to accompany them in anticipation of Eisav and his sons making trouble. And his suspicions turned out to be fully justified (as will be explained shortly).

Rashi describes the scene at Goren ha'Atad (the granary surrounded by thorm-bushes), where all the kings of Yishmael and Cana'an attacked the entourage at that spot, and how, when they saw Yosef's crown hanging from Ya'akov's coffin, they stopped short, and hung their own crowns besides that of Yosef, in deference to Ya'akov. Yosef's humility (as opposed to the arrogance with which their monarchies were synonymous), it seems, made a deep impression on them and melted their hearts (just like Ya'akov's prostrations did to Eisav almost half a century earlier).

We know of Eisav's arrogant attempt at wresting from Ya'akov his right to the Me'oras ha'Machpeilah (in spite of the documentary evidence that he himself had signed) when they arrived there and his subsequent death by decapitation at the hand of Chushim ben Dan.

What is not so well known is the war that Tz'fo, son of Elifaz (Eisav's son, Amalek's half-brother), waged with Yosef, even as they made their way to Cana'an to bury their father Ya'akov, as Yosifun relates, in an attempt to stop the burial from taking place. Yosef however, defeated his army, taking Tz'fo captive. After the burial of his father, he took him back to Egypt (in chains, together with fifty of his men [Seider ha'Doros, though according to him, this battle actually took place after Yosef and the entourage had returned from the burial]). Following Yosef's death, however, Tz'fo escaped. He made his way to the land of Canpanye, and was crowned king of Kitim. Later, he ascended the throne of Italy. The first king of Rome, he was the one to build the great palace which would later serve the emperors of Rome.

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Parshah Pearls
Adapted mainly from the P'ninei Torah

The First to Sin,
The First to Get Punished

"Vayechi Ya'akov ..." (47:28).

This Parshah is closed (it follows Vayigash without a break), Rashi explains, because it symbolizes Yisrael, whose eyes and heart were closed from the troubles of the subjugation, which the Egyptians were just beginning to subject them to.

Why the eyes and the heart, more than all the other limbs?

It seems to me that it is because the eyes and the heart are the bodies' agents to seek out sin (as we say in the third Parshah of the Sh'ma). The eyes and the heart are the first to sin; let them be the first to suffer.


A Genuine Chesed

"And you will perform with me kindness and truth" (47:29).

Kindness that one performs with the dead, Rashi explains, is true kindness.

The S'fas ha'Yeri'ah explains that this is because one never really knows whether a Chesed performed with a live person is really a kindness, nor does one know at the time what the outcome of one's actions will be.

A Chesed performed with a dead person on the other hand, is truly a Chesed, since there is no question that the deceased needs to be buried.

The word 'Emes' ('Alef', 'Mem' and 'Sof') he concludes, form the first letters of 'Aron', 'Mitah' and 'Tachrichim' (a coffin, a stretcher and shrouds), which comprise the deceased person's basic needs in order to be laid to rest with dignity.


Why Did Ya'akov Switch His Hands?

"He guided his hands, for Menasheh was the firstborn" (48:14).

Why did Ya'akov switch his hands and not the boys? Why did he not simply switch Efrayim to his left and Menasheh to his right?

The answer, says the Panim Yafos, is that Menasheh had done nothing wrong to deserve to lose the birthright. So Ya'akov was particularly careful not to cause him more embarrassment than necessary. He therefore allowed Menasheh the honour of standing on his left-hand side (which was Menasheh's right).

That is why the Pasuk writes "he guided his hands", because (rather than 'even though', as Rashi seems to translate the word "ki") Menasheh was the firstborn (otherwise, he would have switched round the boys and not just his hands).


My Sword and My Bow

" ... which I took from the Emori with my sword and my bow" (48:22).

Targum Unklus translates "with my sword and my bow" as 'bi'tzelusi u'be'vo'usi' (two aspects of prayer).

Why, asks the Sochetchover Rebbi, does Ya'akov compare Tefilah to a bow?

And he explains that just like when an archer shoots an arrow, the further inwards he pulls the string, the further the arrow will travel, so it is with somebody who Davens; the more Kavanah he can muster in his heart, the further his Tefilah will penetrate the Heavens.


The Shechinah Left Ya'akov, Baruch Hashem!

"Gather round and I will tell you ... " (49:1).

Rashi explains that Ya'akov intended to tell them when Mashi'ach will come, only the Shechinah left him, and he forgot when that would take place.

Imagine, says the Ba'al Akeidah, if the Shechinah had not left him and he had divulged the date that Mashi'ach is destined to arrive. Throughout the thousands of years of Galus, in the knowledge that Mashi'ach is not due to arrive for a long, long time, Yisrael would have despaired of salvation, and forgotten their G-d. They would long have assimilated with the gentiles among whom they found themselves during the course of the Galus.

Baruch Hashem, the Shechinah left Ya'akov! Now Yisrael never knew the date of the coming of Mashia'ch, with the result that they lived in hope that any day Mashi'ach will come and redeem them from their misery. This way, Jews were able to go to their deaths with their heads high, with the words 'Ani Ma'amin ... ' on their lips. 'I believe ... in the coming of Mashi'ach on whichever day he comes!'


A Matter of Freewill

(Ibid.) ... The Kanfei Nesharim, on the other hand, explains that had Ya'akov given the date with the consent of the Shechinah, that date would have been final. That in turn, would have negated the possibility of bringing it forward by means of Teshuvah and good deeds.


Baseless Love

(Ibid.) R. Yonasan Eibeschitz explains that Ya'akov deliberately instructed his children to gather round before telling them about the Mashi'ach. The Galus in Egypt, he explains, was the result of the brothers' hatred of Yosef; the first Beis-Hamikdash too, Chazal have taught, was destroyed on account of 'Sin'as Chinam' (baseless hatred [and according to some commentaries, the second one was too]). Ya'akov was hinting broadly to his sons that the prelude to redemption is love of one's fellow-Jew. That is why he said to them "Gather together (i.e. unite) ...and I will tell you".

And this is reminiscent of the story of the man on his death-bed who gave each of his ten sons a thin twig and instructed them to break it, which each of them did with ease. Then he gave them a bundle of ten thin twigs, and again, he asked them to break it, but one after the other was unable to do so.

'See', he told them, 'As long as you live as individuals, anyone can break you. But the moment you unite, you become invincible'.

R. Kook and others, add that just as the hatred that caused the Galus was baseless, so too, must the love that will bring about the redemption be baseless. Learning to love every fellow-Jew, regardless of his background and in most cases, irrespective of his involvement in Yiddishkeit, because he is a Jew, who was born in the image of G-d, will hasten the coming of Mashi'ach.


Ya'akov's Miscalculation

It is written in Sefarim that when the brothers sold Yosef, the nine brothers (excluding - besides Yosef - Re'uven and Binyamin [neither of whom were present at the time]) placed a Cherem on anyone who would divulge the sale, and they included G-d in the Cherem. For the sale, they were punished with exile in Egypt ten times twenty-one (the numerical value of the holy name of G-d Ehekeh [a total of 210]) years.

Ya'akov however, reckoned only nine times 'Ehekeh', according to the number of brothers who sold Yosef, not realizing perhaps, that with the inclusion of G-d in the Cherem, He too, became a partner in the sale. Now nine times twenty-one equals a hundred and eighty-nine. That is when Ya'akov expected the Galus to come to an end, and they would leave Egypt the following year. And that is why Rashi says that Ya'akov wished to reveal the 'Keitz', for 'Keitz' is the numerical value of a hundred and ninety. In fact, one can even interpret the words 'Nistalkah mimenu ha'Shechinah' to mean that the fact that one needs to add the Shechinah to the number nine, was hidden from him.

It seems obvious that this is why the Name 'Ehekeh' is the Name that G-d used at the burning bush, when He first informed Moshe about the Ge'ulah. As we just explained, it was instrumental in determining the number of years they would remain in exile. (R. Shimshon from Astropol)

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From the Haftarah
Adapted from the Ma'ayanah shel Torah

Chesed with a Traveler

"And to Barzilai ha'Gil'adi you (Shlomoh) shall do chesed ... because he came close to me when I (David Hamelech) fled from Avshalom" (2:7).

If Barzilai was good to David on an earlier occasion, asks the Chida, then surely David was obligated to repay him, when the time came? So why did he refer to his repayment as 'Chesed', which implies beyond the letter of the law.

However, he replies, the Mishnah in Pe'ah (Perek 5) teaches us that a traveler (irrespective of his assets) is considered poor, and is therefore permitted to take Leket, Shikchah and Pe'ah without having to return them upon his return.

That being the case, Barzilai ha'Giladi was obligated to give David Hamelech Tzedakah because he was poor (for what is true about a traveler is certainly no less true of a fugitive), and as we explained, David was not obligated to return it later. Consequently, David was correct in instructing Shlomoh to do Chesed with Barzilai, and not just to repay him.

* * *

Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch

Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch and are not necessarily Halachah.

Mitzvah 49:
To Judge the Laws Concerning Fines

We are commanded to judge the case of someone who wounds his fellow-Jew, and to punish him, as the Torah writes in Parshas Mishpatim (21:18) "And when men quarrel ... ". And this is referred to as 'the laws of fines'. And another Pasuk in Emor (24:19) puts all these laws in a nutshell, when it writes " ... like he did, so shall be done to him". This means that according to the pain that Reuven inflicts on Shimon, Shimon shall be made to suffer monetarily, as Chazal traditionally explain the Pasuk. Even if Reuven merely shamed Shimon, without actually striking him, Beis-Din obligate him to pay Shimon for what he did, according to their assessment. Dinei K'nasos, incorporating the damages incurred on a man by a man, and on an ox by an ox or by a man (this text is queried by the notes on the Seifer ha'Chinuch), may only be claimed in a Beis-Din of Semuchim, in Eretz Yisrael.

It is not necessary to enquire as to the reason for this Mitzvah, for it is obvious that if there is no justice then it is impossible for people to live together in peace. In short, the world cannot exist without justice.

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... Someone who strikes his fellow-Jew becomes obligated to pay five things (for the actual wound, the pain, the healing, the work-loss and the shame) ... How these are assessed, and that the shame is assessed according to the status of the one who shamed and of the one who was shamed ... The Din of a sleeping person who shames or who is shamed, or if the person who is shamed dies before having been paid, whether his heirs inherit the debt ... someone who shames a delinquent, a deaf-mute or a child, a convert or a slave ... What if one embarrasses somebody with mere words ... The difference between a Talmid-Chacham and others in these matters ... Someone who kicks his fellow-Jew with his foot, punches him or slaps his face, knicks his ear, pulls out his hair or spits on him ... and other details, are all discussed in Bava Kama in Perek ha'Chovel (83b-84b). The Gemara there also differentiates, with regard to fines, between cases that are common and that entail a financial loss, where we rule that the Beis-Din in Bavel (i.e. where the Dayanim do not have Semichah) carries out the Shelichus of the Batei-Din in Eretz Yisrael (at the time when they had Semichah) and those that are rare or that do not entail a financial loss, where it does not. Concerning this latter case, the Rif cites the 'Minhag of the two Yeshivos' that, even where Beis-Din do not have the power to exact fines, they do however, place the damager in Cherem ('coventry') until he appeases the person whom he damaged, but that in the event the he pays the amount that they assess he ought to pay him, they release the Cherem, whether he appeased him or not. The Mitzvah of judging and punishing someone who wounds his fellow-Jew applies to men, on whom lies the onus of judging, and not to women, who are not eligible to judge, though they are included in the Din of reparations, irrespective of whether they shamed others or others shamed them. The Gemara also discusses how the damages owed to a married woman are divided between herself and her husband.

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