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Simcha Groffman

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Kinder Torah
For parents to share with children at the Shabbos Table

Parashas Vayechi

Who Died First?

"I have come to collect the debt that is owed to me."

"Who borrowed money from you?"

"Your brother who passed away."

"Why are you coming to us?"

"Because he had no children and no father. You inherited his possessions. You must use them to pay off this loan."

"Sir, our brother died under very unusual circumstances. He was inspecting an old house with our father. They did not realize how dangerous the house was. It collapsed when they were both inside. By the time anyone could find them in the rubble, they had both passed away."

"I am aware of the terrible tragedy. I am also aware of the fact that your brother had no possessions of his own when he died. However, I claim that your father died first, and your brother inherited his share of his possessions. When he died a few moments later, you inherited from him. Therefore, pay me from that property that you inherited from your brother."

"Sir, we must inform you that we claim that our brother died first. He died penniless leaving nothing behind to pay off his loan."

"Is there any way to determine who died first?"

"No, there were no witnesses and no evidence."

"What shall we do?"

The question is:

Does the creditor receive any money?

The answer is:

This case is discussed in a Mishna (Bava Basra 157a) and in the Gemora (Yevamos 38b). There is no way to determine who died first. Therefore Beis Hillel rule to leave the inheritance with the brothers. The creditor has no definite proof that the father died first. His claim is only doubtful - perhaps the father died first. The brothers, on the other hand, have a definite claim to the money. No matter who died first, they will inherit him. Therefore, we leave the inheritance with the ones who have a definite claim to it. The one with the doubtful claim cannot take the money away from the one with the definite claim. The Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 280:12) rules like Beis Hillel.

Act With Seichel

Yosef brought his sons, Ephraim and Menashe to his father Yaakov, to receive blessings. "Yosef took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Yisrael's left, and Menashe in his left hand toward Yisrael's right, and brought them close to him. However, Yisrael stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim's head, though he was younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh's head. He maneuvered his hands; for Menashe was the first-born" (Bereshis 48:13,14).

* * *

"Abba, Yaakov Avinu did a strange thing when he blessed his grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe. He crossed his hands. He wanted his right hand to rest on the head of Ephraim, who was on his left side, and his left hand to rest on the head of Menashe, who was on his right side. Why didn't Yaakov just move the boys around, putting Ephraim on his right and Menashe on his left?"

"That is an excellent question, Avi. Many of our meforshim ask that question. I would like to share with you the answer of Rav Chizkia Ben Manoach, who is known to us as the Chizkuni. He focuses on a particular phrase in the verse. Yaakov 'secal es yadav' - he guided his hands wittingly. The word 'secal' is the same as 'seichel' - common sense. Yaakov acted with seichel when he crossed his hands."

"In what way, Abba?"

"Yaakov Avinu was a man of great wisdom. There were many times in his life when he needed to switch things around. He had to buy the bechora (firstborn rights) from his brother Eisav, because he would use it properly, whereas Eisav would spurn it (Bereshis 25:34). He also needed to use trickery to get Eisav's brocho from Yitzchak, because Klal Yisrael needed that brocho in order to survive. Lavan, his father-in-law switched his kallah (bride) on the night of the chassanah (wedding), and he had to work and extra seven years to get Rachel, the wife he truly wanted. At the end of the employment period, Hashem made a big switch in the flocks of Yaakov and Lavan, giving our holy forefather the wages that he deserved. So you see, Yaakov Avinu was no stranger to switching things around to make them right."

"What did he straighten out when he switched his hands in giving the blessings to Ephraim and Menashe, Abba?"

"Menashe was the bechor (firstborn). He apparently deserved the blessing with the right hand, which is the primary hand. However, the Torah itself relates that Ephraim, the younger brother would become greater than his older brother, Menashe (Bereshis 48:19). The superior brother should get the brocho with the stronger hand. Therefore, Yaakov blessed Ephraim with his right hand."

"Now we are left with the original question, Abba. Why did Yaakov Avinu switch his hands instead of switching the boys around?"

"Let us return to the answer of the Chizkuni, Avi. Yaakov Avinu acted with seichel. He did not want to embarrass Menashe. It was bad enough that Menashe would be getting a left-handed blessing. It would be even more humiliating to ask him to move over to the left side. Yaakov saved him this shame by allowing Menashe to stay where he was, and just crossing his hands. This minimal amount of kovod (honor) was due to Menashe because he was the bechor."

"What sensitivity! What wisdom! What seichel!"

"Yes, Avi. Yaakov Avinu, our holy forefather, personified the middah of seichel - understanding what needs to be done, and doing it in a way that is a pleasing as possible to other people. We can all learn from his example to use our seichel to be sensitive to the feelings of our fellow man."

Kinderlach . . .

Do you need to give someone some bad news? Do it with seichel. Say it in a time, place, and a way that is as pleasant as possible. Is someone doing something wrong that should be corrected? Act with seichel. First, determine if he is prepared to listen. Then see if you are really the right one to tell him. If so, approach him gently, explaining the problem, and giving him as much help as possible correcting it. Let us consider a third case. Do you have to give someone some good news or a blessing in the presence of another person? May this hurt the other's feelings because he is not the recipient of the good thing? Use your seichel. Praise the other person's good qualities also. Make the blessing as low-keyed as possible. Kinderlach, be sensitive to other people's feelings. Act with seichel.

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