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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Vayechi

But as for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died on me on the road...and I buried her there on the road to Efras, which is Bais Lechem. (48:7)

On what basis did Yaakov expect Yosef to bury him in the Meoras Ha'Machpeilah, when Yaakov did not do so for Yosef's mother, Rachel? Sensing Yosef's possible quandary, Yaakov Avinu responded with the reason that he purposely buried Rachel by the roadside. When the Jewish people were to be led to captivity after the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash, they would receive solace from Rachel's grave. When they passed along the road to Bais Lechem, anguished, persecuted, depressed and exhausted, Rachel's soul would come to her grave to supplicate the Almighty on their behalf. Rachel's cries for her children have been the motif of her resting place. Indeed, to this very day, the broken-hearted Jew comes to Kever Rachel to pour out his heart. The question that confronts us is, if the souls of the dead are aware of their children's pain, what difference does it make where their graves are located? Rachel would certainly have prayed for Klal Yisrael regardless of where she had been buried.

Horav Mordechai Rogov,zl, remarks that a mother grieves for her child's pain when the child continues to be "hers." When children build upon the spiritual heritage infused in them by their parents, when they hold dear the values that their parents cherished, they merit recognition. Children who distance themselves from their heritage, who seem to have a difficult time relating to and "recognizing" their parents, will be undistinguishable to their parents.

Regrettably, the grave has been the place that children return to visit and -- at times -- shed a tear about the present and the past. They visit their mother and they remember: They remember her devotion; her meticulous observance; her sense of commitment; her love for the way of life for which so many have lived and died. This memory may invoke a feeling of remorse; it brings to mind their mother's last wish- that her children maintain themselves in the derech Hashem, path of the Almighty. Indeed, the grave physically marks the connection. It sustains the relationship between parent and child.

In Yaakov Avinu's attempt to arouse Rachel's maternal feelings towards her descendants, he buried her in a place that would be accessible to them when they needed her most. Her grave on the road to exile would inspire their prayers. Through their supplications, they would bond with their mother who would -- in turn -- pray for their survival.

He blessed Yosef and he said,..."O G-d who shepherds me from my inception until this day." (48:15)

Targum Unkeles understands "ha'roeh osi," "Who shepherds me", as "Who sustains me." Interestingly, Yaakov Avinu finds no other time suitable to offer his gratitude to the Almighty for sustaining him and providing for his basic material needs. He refers to the G-d before whom his ancestors walked, whose angel redeemed him from all evil, and adds - "Who has sustained me." Why did Yaakov find it necessary to supplement his praise of Hashem with the more "basic and simple" praise of sustenance?

Horav Gershon Leibman, Shlita, Rosh Hayeshiva of Bais Yosef in France, extends this question. We thank Hashem for our daily bread when we recite Birkas Hamazon. Other than that, we do not offer gratitude for mazon or parnassah, sustenance and our daily livelihood, during our daily tefillos. Even on Rosh Hashanah, at a time when we turn to Hashem to sustain us during the coming year, our prayers revolve around Hashem's kedushah, sanctity, His eminence, our awe of Him; we ask that He dignify us before the nations of the world and that the righteous experience joy and happiness. Yet, we do not ask for sustenance or for any material blessings. Why then did Yaakov find this moment to be appropriate for thanking Hashem for sustaining him? Horav Simchah Zissel, zl, M'Kelm, was wont to say, "Baruch Hashem, I have sufficient food for today." In fact, food is something about which people with class rarely talk. Yet, Yaakov Avinu makes a point to mention it. Why?

The answer is simple, according to Horav Leibman. We think that we are above dwelling upon the concept of food and everyday mundane necessities. We are "flying in the Heavens," attempting to develop our spiritual level, to attain a closer "relationship" with the Almighty. All the while, we ignore the basics - the source of everything. We perceive only that which is immediately in front of us. The infant sees and relies on his mother for his sustenance. As the child matures, his father takes over the "position" of provider. When he becomes an adult, he relies upon himself. He sees that which is before him - he never perceives the real source of his sustenance - Hashem.

Too many partitions separate us from Hahsem - or so we think. Horav Yisrael Yaakov Lubshenski,zl, would always wonder: Why it is that when something goes wrong, we never complain directly to Hashem? We never get "angry" at Him. Instead, we criticize our friends or associates, anyone upon whom we can place blame? Never do we focus on the real source of our problem - Hashem. The reason has been mentioned before. We do not focus on the source; we do not look for the true origin, only for the immediate reason which is before us. We do not search in the distance for Hashem, because regrettably we do not acknowledge His presence in our midst at all times.

For Yaakov Avinu there is no mechitzah, partition, between him and the Creator. Nothing stands between him and his understanding of Hashem's Providence througout every aspect of his life - not even what may seem to be "natural" cause and effect. His parnassah, livelihood, is derived directly from Hashem through Hashgachah Pratis, Divine Providence. It is no different than one who receives a check in the mail from his parents: Will he for one moment consider that this check is a gift from the mailman? No! The mailman is only an agent carrying out his "mission." Yaakov Avinu clearly recognized the source of his sustenance. Therefore, he was able to offer gratitude in turn. It would also serve us well to look beyond the "mailman" and reflect upon the origin of the "check."

May the angel who redeems me from all evil bless the lads, and may my name be declared upon them, and the names of my forefathers, Avraham and Yitzchak. (48:16)

Why does Yaakov mention his own name before he mentions his father and grandfather? Why does he not demonstrate the mitzvah of Kibud Av, honoring one's father? Horav Dovid Feinstein, Shlita, suggests a practical reason for this omission: Yaakov was saying that his grandsons should be a source of such nachas that not only should I be pleased, but even my forefathers will be filled with nachas. Kol Yehudah suggests that Yaakov was referring to the attributes represented by each of the Patriarchs. Avraham Avinu devoted himself to the middah of chesed. He reached out with kindness to an entire world. He was the epitome of altruism. Yitzchak Avinu symbolized the concept of avodah, service to Hashem, through prayer and devotion. Yaakov Avinu was the symbol of Torah. Together, the Avos represent Torah, avodah and gemilus chasadim, which are the three attributes which support and maintain the world.

We now understand why Yaakov placed his name prior to that of his father and grandfather. He blessed his grandsons that they should merit to grow in Torah. It should be their prime focus and direct their lives. Afterwards, once they would have become suffused with Torah, he mentioned "v'sheim avosai," and the names of my forefathers. They could then focus on avodah and gemilus chasadim. One will attain the attributes of avodah and chesed from Torah; from the chesed and avodah, one does not necessarily achieve involvement in Torah.

Along similar lines, this writer once heard the following from his rebbe, Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl regarding the Mishnah in Peah 1:1, in which the Torah enumerates those mitzvos which illustrate that a person eats his fruit in this world, but the priniciple endures till Olam Habah: Honoring one's parents; acts of loving kindness; attendance at the synagogue; opening one's home to wayfarers; visiting the sick; marrying off a young woman; attending to the needs of the deceased; prayer; establishing harmony among people and husband and wife. Those are the social mitzvos that engender incredible reward. The Mishnah closes with the statement, "V'talmud Torah k'neged kulam," "And the study of Torah is opposite /greater than all of them." This Mishnah seems to imply that while social mitzvos are certainly important, they do not replace Torah study. Study retains primacy over all other mitzvos. The text, however, does not support this interpretation. The words "k'neged kulam" should be translated as "opposite them." Instead we are translating it as "goes above them."

Horav Katz explained that the Mishnah teaches us an important lesson. Every endeavor which a Jew takes upon himself to perform, regardless of its purpose, must be "stood up" opposite the Torah and reviewed: Does it meet the Torah's halachic criteria of right and wrong? While these mitzvos are noble and virtuous, they must follow the standards and guidelines set forth by the Torah -- or they can be transformed into a negative endeavor. Establishing a shul is truly a wonderful undertaking, but one must address the appropriateness of the time and place of this mitzvah. Peforming an act of altruism does not grant one license to do as he pleases. Everything we do must be addressed by the Torah or the act loses its credibility.

All these are the twelve tribes of Yisrael...He blessed them each according to his special blessing. (49:28)

Rashi explains that Yaakov Avinu gave each of his sons his individual blessing, uniquely cogruous with his individual nature and personality. He then gave a collective blessing to all of them together. Horav Eli Munk, zl, explains that the Jewish nation is founded on the principle of unity in plurality. Each tribe is called upon to perform its particular function, based upon its specific character trait. Hence, each tribe constitutes a unit by itself. Why, then, did Yaakov bless them collectively afterwards?

Horav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zl, derives a significant lesson from this pasuk. It is important for everyone to utilize his individual abilities and attributes for the betterment of the klal, wider community. The blessing of individual talents carries with it a requirement that the person contribute these assets to the tzibur, congregation. Furthermore, when each person acts in the collective interest, in harmony with others, everyone becomes enriched. Thus, each tribe gained by the others' involvement. Each tribe merged its attributes with the traits of the other tribes. Yaakov Avinu sought this symbiotic unity when he blessed all of his sons together.

And Yosef went up to bury his father. (50:7)

Yaakov suffered during the majority of his life from various afflictions: Eisav; Lavan; problems with his children; the premature death of Rachel. One would think that in death he would finally be able to repose in peace. In the Talmud Sotah 13a, Chazal tell us otherwise. When the funeral procession accompanying Yaakov's coffin arrived at his final resting place at Meoras Ha'Machpelah, Eisav confronted the mourners, contesting the title to Yaakov's plot. The tribes argued that Eisav had sold it to Yaakov. A debate ensued in which each side claimed right to this holy site. When Eisav asked for Yaakov's deed, certifying his purchase of the burial plot, the tribes decided to send Naftali back to Egypt to retrieve the deed. In the meantime, they would wait. Chusim ben Dan, who was deaf, was present during this dialogue and inquired regarding the cause of the delay. When he was told what was occurring, he exclaimed, "My grandfather will be compelled to lie in degradation until the deed is brought!" He immediately arose and killed Eisav. Why was it that Chushim was the only one who was so reactive? Was he more concerned about Yaakov's honor than Yaakov's own sons, who seemed to be negotiating with Eisav?

Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, suggests that the Talmud implies the answer when it refers to Chushim's deafness. The brothers had slowly been drawn into a discussion with Eisav. While the debate continued back and forth they thought they were besting Eisav. Although this might have been true, during this time period Yaakov's body lay in shame. They did not realize what they were doing. Human nature causes one to adapt slowly to a given situation. The brothers' dispute with Eisav dulled their sensitivity to their father's shame. Chushim, who was not a part of the debate because of his impairment, was consumed with anger when he was told what was occurring. His senses were not dulled. He reacted in an expectable manner.

Horav Shmuelevitz goes on to explain that human beings are endowed with the gift of "histaglus", adaptability. We adapt to the conditions in which we are placed. We have seen people who had been exposed to the unspeakable horrors of the concentration camps, who experienced the most cruel and heinous torture, survive to rebuild their lives. As circumstances worsened, they found the ability to adapt to the situation, the courage and fortitude to go on. Indeed, one who has undergone a tragedy or has survived a horrifying incident will certainly be changed by the experience. The power to continue, to go on and start over again, is due to adaptability. This wonderful gift can, at times, be less beneficial. Like every attribute endowed to us by the Almighty, it all depends upon how we use it.


1. What is chesed shel emes?

2. Why did Yaakov bow down to the head of his bed?

3. Regarding which privileges were Menashe and Efraim considered Shevatim?

4. To which two leaders that descended from Menashe and Efraim does Yaakov allude?

5. What personal prayer did Yaakov make when he rebuked Shimon and Levi?

6. How does Yaakov Avinu refer to Moshiach?

7. Which Shevet would produce two hundred heads of the Sanhedrin?


1. Kindness that is totally true, totally altruistic, i.e. this refers to the chesed one performs for the dead, where he will receive no reward.

2. a. He bowed down to the Shechinah, which was at the head of the bed. b. He thanked Hashem that his "bed," an allusion to his family, was perfect; none of his children was a rasha.

3. They each received separate portions in Eretz Yisrael; they added to the number of Shevatim; they each had a Nasi for their Shevet; they each had their own degel.

4. Gideon from Shevet Menashe; Yehoshua from Shevet Efraim.

5. He prayed that his name not be mentioned in regard to Korach's dispute and Zimri's public chillul Hashem.

6. Shiloh.

7. Yissachar.

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