Vayigash – What Constitutes a Kiddush Hashem

Pharaoh had two dreams that Yosef interpreted as a forthcoming seven years of plenty and then seven years of famine. After the seven years of plenty and two years of famine Yaakov moved down with his family to Egypt. When Yaakov moved down midrashim say the famine stopped only after two years. The Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachye both ask that if the medrash is true it would seem the dreams, or at least their interpretations were not true and that should cause some doubt on the honesty and trustworthiness of Yosef? The answer they both gave was that the last five years of famine came back after Yaakov passed away.
The source that the famine came back after Yaakov passed away is a Sifri in parshas Ekev. There it says where ever a righteous person steps foot, blessing comes along with him. The Sifri sites other examples and their sources in the Torah, for example Yitzchok going to Gerar, Yaakov in Lavan’s house, Yosef in Potiphar’s house, and then the Sifri tells of what happened when Yaakov and his family reestablished themselves in Egypt, in this week’s Torah portion of Vayigash: “When Yaakov went down to Pharaoh blessing came with him as it says ‘And Yaakov blessed Pharaoh’ (Breishis 47:10). What was the blessing Yaakov gave Pharaoh? It was that the years of famine should desist. But after Yaakov passed away the famine came back as it says, ‘So now do not fear. I will sustain you and your small children etc.’ (Breishis 50:21). It also said earlier, ‘And I will sustain you there’ (Breishis 45:11). Just as the first pasuk was referring to sustaining them during the times of famine so to the later pasuk is referring to sustaining them during times of famine, this is the view of Rebbe Yossi. Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai says that it is not a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of Hashem’s Name) when the words of the righteous are fulfilled in their lifetime but nullified when after they pass away. Rebbe Eliezer ben Rebbe Shimon says I see where Rebbe Yossi is coming from more than the view of my father, that this in fact is a Kiddush Hashem, for as long as the righteous are in this world blessing is in this world but when the righteous are removed from this world, blessing is removed from the world. We also find this similarly by the Holy Ark of G-D which stayed at Oved-edom HaGitti’s house and his house was blessed because of it, as it says, “And it was told to King David saying: ‘The Lord has blessed the house of Oved-edom, and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of the Lord’ (Shmuel Beis 6:12). If that is the case then isn’t it a fortiori (kal vachomer,) for just as the Holy Ark which was not made to receive reward or punishment but rather to house the broken pieces of the first tablets still causes blessing for the place it is in, all the more so the righteous for whom the world was created.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
There seems to be an argument between Rebbe Yossi and Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai on whether the famine came back right after Yaakov died, as Rebbe Yossi said it did, which would complete the fulfilment of the dreams or according to Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai that could not have happened since it would not have been a kiddush Hashem, therefore we are left with the question of when or if the dream about the seven years of famine ever came to fruition. (There is a Medrish Rabba (Breishis Rabba 89:11) which the Ramban indeed quotes that says the famine came back in the days of the Prophet Yechezkel, many centuries later, but the Ramban still asked his question after he quoted the medrish so it seems, according to the Ramban that completing the famine so many centuries later would not answer his question since Yosef’s accuracy is in question during his lifetime which questions the authenticity of the dream.) In any event Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai’s son, Rebbe Eliezer ben Rebbe Shimon disagrees with his father’s assessment and sides with Rebbe Yossi that the famine did continue right after Yaakov passed away and this still constituted a Kiddush Hashem. What exactly was the Kiddush Hashem and what are the famous father and son duo arguing about?

What does seem clear according to both sides is that the lack of Kiddush Hashem does not lie in the fact that after Yaakov passed away and the Egyptians thought they had their food back and lives put back together, but they now fall into another famine and start complaining and questioning Hashem; how can He do this again, or even questioning if there is a G-D controlling the world, for that is not on either view’s radar. Rather they are focusing on the righteous person.
Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai questions how a tzadik can give a blessing, an utterance which must be completely truthful which has the spiritual power to change the events in the world, and then something so divine, so perfect, can now be absolutely erased when the tzadik passes on. Isn’t truth eternal? How can it just disappear like that? It would be a lack of sanctifying Hashem’s name if a blessing emanating from Hashem’s trusted servant who emulates Him and represents His truth and power just vanishes with the physical body of the tzadik, shouldn’t the tzadik’s repercussions be an everlasting imprint on this world?

On the other hand Rebbe Eliezer ben Rebbe Shimon has a totally different take on this situation which we can learn an incredible lesson from. The whole world is created for the sake of tzadikim (the righteous), people who personify being the servants of Hashem, fulfilling G-D’s will in the most exemplary manner, and Hashem showers them with gifts and abilities which they can positively share with the rest of humanity and the world at large. However if the imprint of the righteous would be everlasting it is possible that the rest of humanity would remain stagnant and feel why should we need to improve if we can rely on the blessing of the righteous of yesteryear who left there positive imprints on humanity forever. If that would happen then what would be the point of creating the world. The world would become corrupt because they would have no drive to better themselves.

However what Rebbe Eliezer ben Rebbe Shimon is teaching us is that if everyone would realize that in each succinct generation there has to be tzadikim for it to be worth it for the world to continue to exist and they can’t rely on the blessing of the previous generations then everyone will strive to perfect themselves and try to become righteous. This is a tremendous Kiddush Hashem because it gives people the impetus to constantly try very hard to seek out Hashem’s will and perform His service at the best of their abilities in order for it to be worthwhile for the world to continue to exist in each generation.