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JANUARY 9-10, 2003 16 TEBET 5764

Pop Quiz: Which of Ya'akob's wives' children did Ya'akob bless last?


"May Hashem make you like Efraim and Menasheh" (Beresheet 48:20)

Ya'akob told Yosef that all the Jewish people will bless their children with these words, "May you be like Efraim and Menasheh." Among the many reasons given as to why Jews should always bless their children to be like these two sons of Yosef and not other great personalities, is that Menasheh, the older brother, did not show any jealousy when he saw his younger brother being blessed with the right hand. Usually the concept of sibling rivalry would have caused the older to resent the younger one, but when Ya'akob saw that there was no ill feeling between the two brothers, he told Yosef, this is the example we should have when blessing our own children. It may be suggested that this came about not only because of Menasheh's superb character, but also because Yosef put so much love into them that each one felt special in their father's eyes. Hence, there was no room for jealousy.

We, as parents, must try our best to show as much love and affection as possible to each child so that their self-esteem and self-confidence will be as strong as it can be. This will bring out the best character traits in them and leave no room for jealousy or resentment. A tall order? No! This is included in the blessing of Ya'akob that we will be able to bless our children and raise them in such a way to be like Efraim and Menasheh. It's up to us to try our best; the rest we pray to Hashem for success. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"And may they proliferate abundantly like fish within the land." (Beresheet 48:16)

At the end of his life, Jacob blesses his son, Joseph, and his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. He says, "May they be like fish which are fruitful and multiply." Rashi quotes the Midrash that adds, "and you will be like the fish that are not affected by the evil eye." Jacob blesses them and says that you shall be like fish that live calmly, unseen by man (Talmud Berachot 20a). We can all picture the serene image we see when we visit the aquarium of fish swimming around all day in peace. In their natural habitat, they are unseen by man as they are covered by the ocean.

The Talmud explains that Joseph earned this blessing of immunity against the evil eye because he averted his own eyes from the advances of Potiphar's wife. Hashem rewards measure for measure. A person who guards his eyes and doesn't look where he shouldn't be looking will be guarded from other's people's eyes looking at him.

Many people are extremely sensitive when it comes to the evil eye. One can debate about the power of the evil eye, and we will leave that for another time. However, it does exist. At the same time, when attending a wedding, we notice that progress has been made regarding the bridal party. Some wear gowns that properly reflect our Jewish standards. It would be proper if all of the guests who attend the weddings would also wear formal wear that would reflect our Jewish standard. This way, more people will have the opportunity to guard their eyes and thereby merit Joseph's blessing of being protected from the evil eye. Knowing the great abilities of our people, one should be optimistic that the trend of progress will continue and we will have great serenity and peace. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah


"Yehudah, your brothers shall praise (elevate) you" (Beresheet 49:8)

Despite the fact that he was the fourth son, Yehudah spoke up to save Yosef's life. He was also the valiant spokesman for Binyamin. Hashem rewarded him for his valor, promising that the future leadership of Am Yisrael was to be his. Ya'akob's prophesy applied not only to royalty, but also to the full name of nationhood which eventually was derived from Yehudah's name: "Yehudim." Rabbi Avigdor Miller explains that the word Yehudah in its noun form is derived from "hod" which denotes elevation, splendor or majesty. As a verb it acquires the meaning of praising or elevating. It is therefore used for thanking, because the recipient thanks the benefactor by praising and elevating him. We may suggest that only a secure and elevated person acknowledges another's contribution and, consequently praises him. These attributes of dignity and pride in the elevated status of a Jew are reflected by our name, "Yehudim." These traits must be reflected not only in our name, but in our personality as well. They must always characterize our aspirations for Judaism. It is not enough for us to be satisfied with Jewish survival; we must nurture Judaism so that it will flourish and thrive. These same goals should be instilled in our children. When Torah scholarship is secondary to other "pursuits," then children receive a message that Torah observance is archaic and no longer a source of pride. To be a kingdom of priests we must maintain a spiritual aristocracy, an eminent sense of pride in our spirituality and Jewishness. (Peninim on the Torah)


"And Yosef dwelt in Egypt" (Beresheet 50:22)

In the Gemara (Pesahim 119a) Rabbi Chama says that Yosef hid three treasures in Egypt. One was revealed to Korah, the second to Antoninas, and the third is hidden for sadikim until Mashiah comes.

Why hasn't any archaeologist searched for the third treasure?

Possibly, the words of Rabbi Chama are an allegory. He is not referring to monetary treasures, but three invaluable lessons to be learned from the life of Yosef:

1) No one can interfere with a person's destiny.

Yosef dreamed of leadership and Hashem wanted him to be a ruler in Egypt. Despite his brothers' efforts to destroy him by throwing him into the pit and selling him as a slave and his subsequent arrest in Egypt, ultimately he became the ruler of the land.

Korah declared war against Moshe and Aharon, hoping that Elisafan, the nasi of their tribe would be demoted, so that he could take over. Moshe, Aharon and Elisafan were all destined to leadership and Korah's actions only brought about his own downfall.

2) It is a myth that the only way to succeed in the secular world is by compromising on Torah and Judaism.

Yosef proved this erroneous. He rose to the highest position in the government of Egypt, yet remained a sadik from beginning to end.

The closest confidant of Antoninas, king of Rome, was Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi. Regardless of his closeness to the king, he remained a sadik and attained the title of Rabenu Hakadosh - Our Holy Teacher.

3) Though, unfortunately, at times brothers quarrel, their animosity and hatred is not everlasting. Eventually, they make up and love each other.

This was evident with Yosef and his brothers. While in the beginning "they hated him" (37:4), at the end he forgave them and they lived in harmony. This will also be experienced in the Messianic Era.

Throughout history there has been much strife and fragmentation in the Jewish community. Prior to Mashiah's coming, however, all Jews will do teshubah and be sadikim. The Rambam in the concluding halachah of the Mishneh Torah writes that "in that time" (when Mashiah will come) there will be no more jealousy and rivalry, and the entire world will be involved in comprehending G-dliness. (Vedibarta Bam)


Question: Why do we say, "Rabanan (our Rabbis) Barechu et Hashem hameborach"?

Answer: 1) Since the Rabbis are the ones who study the Torah, we ask permission from them to read it. 2) Since, if the aliyot were given in the order of people's knowledge, the Rabbis would actually deserve to receive the aliyot which follow Levi, we ask permission from them to take an aliyah. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


"[Ya'akob] blessed [his sons]; each according to his blessings he blessed them." (Beresheet 49:28)

The Torah says that Ya'akob blessed all of his children. Yet, the "blessings" that he gave to Reuben, Shimon and Levi did not really sound much like blessings. He rebuked Reuben for his haste, and he criticized the anger of Shimon and Levi. How could this be considered a blessing?

Ralbag explains that each and every person is prone to make mistakes, and it is his job to try to overcome his faults. Unfortunately, many people tend to deny or overlook their shortcomings, and they therefore have little chance of improving. If someone were to point out their flaws in a way that would make them understand the need for self-improvement, this would be a tremendous favor.

Ya'akob was not simply interested in bestowing his best wishes for success on his children. He desired for them to become the best people they could possibly be. So when he pointed out certain imperfections to a few of his sons, he actually was blessing them that they should correct their faults and become even greater sadikim.

Question: Do you have an open ear for constructive criticism? Can you think of one specific flaw in yourself that needs to be corrected? What are you doing about it?


This week's Haftarah: Melachim I 2:1-12

This haftarah tells about the end of Kind David's life, when he gave instructions to his son and successor, Shelomo, to be carried out after David's death. This is similar to our perashah in which Ya'akob gathers his children around him and blesses them before his passing.

Answer to Pop Quiz: Rachel's.

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