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December 24-25,1999 - 16 Tebet 5760

Pop Quiz: For how long did Egypt mourn for Ya'akob?

Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

Ya'akob told his sons to come around him so that he could bless them before he left this world. He began by rebuking Reuben for getting involved in his father's conjugal bed. Then he addressed Shimon and Levi, and cursed their anger which was displayed when they destroyed the city of Shechem. The Midrash tells us that Yehudah, who was next on line, shrank back because he was afraid of what his father would say to him, but Ya'akob blessed him instead.

We see from here that a blessing doesn't only mean being praised and having good wishes heaped upon oneself. If someone points out our fault and emphasizes our shortcomings so that we can better ourselves, that is called a blessing. Ya'akob knew that for some of his children, pointing out areas for improvement is the best berachah.

When someone gives us criticism, let's try to see how this can lead us to self improvement. Although it may hurt our feelings somewhat, if we look to better ourselves and are sincerely aiming to improve, we will try to take it constructively, and this will help us change. In the long run, this may be the best berachah!

Rabbi Reuven Semah

"And do kindness and truth with me - Please do not bury me in Egypt" (Beresheet 47:29)

A story is told of a successful young shopkeeper before the war, who used to pray in a Hasidic shul, and who owned two styles of clothing.

One was regular business attire that was perfect for the business world that he was in, and the other was the Hasidic garb, which was more suitable for the shul in his neighborhood. Every morning he would put on his Hasidic clothing and attend an early morning class and pray Shaharit.

Afterwards, he would go home and change into his business suit and go to work. After work, he returned home, changed again and went to pray minhah. One afternoon he was late for minhah and almost went straight to shul. He remembered at the last minute and went home to change, and missed minhah. At this point he came to the realization that he had had enough of this faking and decided to "come clean" and wear his business suit to shul. As he expected, the moment he walked into shul with his short jacket and beard rolled up, a number of elderly members ran up to him to ask him what was wrong. "Nothing really," he replied." I have always dressed this way in public, and I decided that it was high time that I stopped fooling you all, and let you see the real me." The young man didn't expect much praise, but hoped to get at least some credit for being honest. But he was embarrassed when one man came forward and said with a sigh, "We always knew that you dressed differently 'out there,' but we thought you were fooling them. Now we know that all along you were really fooling us!"

Every G-d-fearing Jew seems to live two lives - one in shul and the Bet Midrash and the other in his secular dealings. Only one life is real, and the other functions as a support for the real life. Which is it? Rabbi M. Kimmelman used this story to explain the statement that Ya'akob Abinu made in asking to be buried in the land of Israel. The phrase he used was "hesed v'emet - a kindness and a truth." This seems contradictory. Kindness means something extra, and truth implies something that is earned. Ya'akob was asking Yosef a big favor, to make all of the effort to take him out of Egypt and bury him in Israel. But it would ultimately end up as an act of truth. The land of Israel was where Ya'akob "really" lived. That is where he should be buried. Shabbat Shalom.


"Shimon and Levi are brothers" (Beresheet 49:5)

In the context of the pasuk, the word "achim," which is usually translated as "brothers," is interpreted as "comrades." Shimon and Levi are paired together as comrades in arms, who conspired together to commit a violent act against the people of Shechem. From the fact that Ya'akob calls them "achim," we may infer that he viewed them as equals, neither one having any distinction over the other. Interestingly, this quality did not last very long. In the end, they went different ways. Levi went on to serve as the symbol of Torah. Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, the leaders who shepherded Am Yisrael during its formative years, are descendants of Levi. Shimon's descendants had a derogatory reputation.

Zimri, who openly defied Moshe and cohabited with a pagan princess, and initiated the rebellion that was the cause of 24,000 Jews, was from the tribe of Shimon. It was Pinhas, a descendant of Levi, who had the zealous response which quelled the ensuing plague.

The tribe of Shimon was small in number, because so many of them perished as a result of their sins. Shebet Levi's numbers were also small, but that was due to their constant exposure to the sanctity of the Aron Hakodesh. Neither received an official portion in Eres Yisrael. The reason for the individual exclusion of each, however, was different. Levi did not inherit a portion because Hashem is considered to be his portion. He is to be totally dedicated to the sacred, not involving himself in the mundane. Shimon, on the other hand, did not receive land as a punishment for his transgression.

Where did they differ? How did two brothers, seemingly equal in nature and temperament, uniform in their attitudes and observance, separate and go in different directions? Rav Shimon Schwab suggests that while Ya'akob apparently rebuked both brothers equally, Levi applied himself, corrected his error and adjusted his attitude considerably. He devoted himself whole-heartedly to the study and dissemination of Torah. The two brothers started out the same way. One, however, listened and accepted the mussar - reproach - that he received, to a greater degree. Levi listened to the point that his descendant, zealous for the honor of Hashem, killed the prince of the tribe of Shimon as he was committing a repugnant act. It is not one's sin that destroys an individual as much as his unwillingness to correct and mend his ways. One's character is reflected most deeply in his sincere teshubah. (Peninim on the Torah)

Answer to Pop Quiz: 70 days.

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