Vayechi -The Threat of Potential Hatred

After Yaakov was buried towards the end of this week’s Torah portion of Vayechi, the conclusion of the Book of Breishis, the Torah relates, “Yosef’s brothers realized their father was dead and they said, ‘Perhaps Yosef will nurse hatred against us and then he will surely repay us for all the evil that we did to him.’ So they instructed that Yosef be told, ‘Your father gave orders before his death, saying: Thus shall you say to Yosef: “O please kindly forgive the flagrant offense of the servants of your father’s G-D.”‘ And Yosef wept when they spoke to him” (Breishis 50:15-17).
  The last Medrish Tanchuma in the Book of Breishis concludes by explaining what exactly the brothers saw that informed them that their father had passed away. Didn’t they just bury him? “What did they see now to make them afraid? Rather they saw that when they were coming back from burying their father, they saw that Yosef went to make a blessing at the pit his brothers threw him in, just as any person is obligated in making a blessing at the place a miracle was performed for him by saying, ‘Blessed is Hashem who did a miracle for me at this place’. When [the brothers] saw this, they said that now that our father is dead Yosef will nurse hatred against us and then he will surely repay us for all the evil that we did him.’ So they instructed that Yosef be told, ‘Your father gave orders etc.’ We searched and could find that Yaakov actually made this command. Rather, come and see how great the power of peace is, for Hashem wrote in His Torah these words for the sake of peace.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 It would seem that the brothers suspected that Yosef might be harboring hatred in his heart for what they did to him many years before, and was waiting until their father died to take revenge on them.So they rightfully lied for the sake of peace, to prevent any harm.
 The Full Commentary of the Tur on the Torah, after quoting a part of this medrish, explains what the brothers meant about Yosef nursing hatred in his heart, “meaning, if only Yosef will nurse the hatred in his heart and not take any action; and if he wants to take any action against us and punish us for what we did he should look at the results, that we caused him to become king (viceroy) over Egypt through selling him.” The Tur then explains why Yosef cried, which was because “it sounded like Yaakov was suspicious of him [that he would take revenge]. From here we see that Yosef never told Yaakov about his sale, for if Yaakov  had known then  he himself would have commanded Yosef to appease and forgive his brothers. The Medrish (Pesiksa Rabasi 3:2) in fact says that Yosef made sure never to be alone with his father once he came down to Egypt, so that his brothers won’t think that he told Yaakov that they sold him.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 Yaakov and his family had been living in Egypt with Yosef taking care of them for 17 years., Yosef was overjoyed after he saw that his brothers completely regretted what they had done and he revealed himself to them. Now, after their father’s death it has been about 39 years since he had been sold by his brothers. Besides the fact that Yosef is known to be uniquely righteous, i.e. he is called Yosef HaTzadik, if that is the case, it has been so long and it seems he had no hatred in his heart, certainly none that would potentially come to fruition through exacting punishment on his brothers,  then why did the brothers suspect him after their father’s burial, to the point that they lied for the sake of peace and the Torah even agrees that it was the right thing they did?

 It would seem that the potential threat of hatred lurking in anyone’s heart is so complex and dangerous that even for the greatest of the righteous there is a rightful concern that it might be lurking there and taken into action. So proper precautions are allowed to be taken to protect oneself from potential revenge based on hatred, to the extent that one is allowed to lie for the sake of peace, and to quell hatred.

 Because in the brothers eyes this threat was potentially there, then Hashem attests that they took proper precautions to protect themselves even though the reality was Yosef had already completely forgiven them and was not harboring one ounce of hatred in his heart.

Vayechi – Life Cycles

 In the concluding Torah portion for the Book of Breishis, parshas Vayechi, Yaakov passes away and the Torah relates that the brothers mourned for seven days (Breishis 50:10). The last Medrish Tanchuma in the book of Breishis concludes that from this pasuk we learn the laws of shiva, the day mourning period following the death of a close relative. The medrish then asks why the mourning period is for exactly seven days?, and answers that it is contrary to the seven days of partying for a wedding, sheva brachos. The Etz Yosef, quoting the Yifeh Toar, asks what does one have to do with the other,  that the text of medrish (which the Etz Yosef says we don’t have) says “just as he comes he will go?” The Yefeh Toar explains that this hints to the fact that there is no point to life in this world, and its joys, because in the end a person will die;, just as he comes he will go. Therefore, just as the days of partying we have for a wedding, which is for the sake of having children (if Hashem grants the couple to have children), is for 7 days, so too the days of mourning are the same amount. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 We must put in context what it means that there is no point to life and happiness in this world. For if that is really true, then why have days of feasting by a wedding, and what about what the Mesilas Yesharim says in the first chapter, “…but the path to the object of our desires is this world, as our sages of blessed memory have said, ‘This world is like a corridor to the World to Come (Avos 4:21).’ The means which lead a man to this goal are the mitzvos, in relation to which we are commanded by G-D, may His name be blessed. The place of the performance of the mitzvos is this world alone.” If that is the case than doesn’t this world have a very important role in our lives and the Torah even says in the curses of parshas Ki Savo “because you did not serve Hashem, your G-D amid joy…” (Devarim 28:47). So we see how important life is in this world, as well as living it up happily and serving Hashem with joy. s So how can the Yefeh Toar be saying there is no point to life and happiness in this world?

However,, the answer is, that vis a vis the World to Come, this world is nothing, as the Medrish Tanchuma concludes, “The Holy One Blessed Be He said that in this world you are pained over the righteous, mourning for 7 days. In the future to come I will switch their mourning to glee and comfort them and cheer them up from their depression (Yirmiyahu 31:12). And I will comfort Tzion and its destruction, as it says, ‘For Hashem will comfort Tzion, He will comfort all her ruins; He will make her wilderness like Eden and her wasteland like a garden of Hashem; joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music’ (Yeshayahu 51:3).
 The Medrish Rabba concludes Sefer Breishis the same way as the Tanchuma, and the Yefeh Toar there explains that “this pasuk is only a hint to the concept of seven days of shiva but it’s not a Torah level obligation. Mourning for seven days is only Rabbinic. Since that’s the case the medrish was wondering why the rabbis enacted mourning to be for that long, isn’t there a punishment for mourning over the dead too much (See Devarim 14:1)? That is why the medrish answers that 7 days is opposite the sheva brachos, 7 days of feasting by a wedding. (Sheva brachos is learned from Shimshon in Pirkei diRebbe Eliezer, parenthetically.) Since it’s better to go to a mourners house then to go to a party house, and the hearts of the wise are at a mourners house and the hearts of fools are in a party house, therefore the days [of celebrating and mourning] are equal… there is another reason [why they are equated] because the days of feasting by a wedding has a connection to the days of burial, for since a person is destined to die, therefore he feels compelled to try to have children, and ensure offspring… Therefore, the days of mourning were set up as 7 days just as the days of partying after a wedding.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
  If it is so bad to mourn too much over the dead, then why is it permissible to set up these seven days of mourning just to equate it to the seven days of partying at after a wedding? Isn’t it still going overboard;, why risk the punishment?

However, it would seem that the lesson learned from equating them two is such an important lesson that it’s worth it for the Rabbis to enact seven days of mourning. In fact, the reason for the punishment of overly mourning is the same as for Shiva, to realize that this world is temporary and we should not put too much focus on it, as mentioned in the Sforno Devarim 14:1, “there is no reason to mourn excessively for the person who has passed as he, at least, has not experienced any loss, on the contrary, he has been promoted to the region of eternal life, something of which our sages in Avos 4:6-7 have said that a single hour of the serenity experienced in that life is worth all the combined delights ever experienced during one’s transient life on earth.”

There is definitely a very important attitude to live life and enjoy it in this world;, it is the corridor to prepare yourself for the ultimate joy of basking in Hashem’s presence in the next world and part of the preparation is to be happy while serving Hashem. That is part of living life properly, but it must be with the perspective that it is just temporary, it’s not the beginning and end of life. There is much more to life than this world and the real joy is in the World to Come. This equation puts one’s mindset into the proper perspective, if focused on accurately, that as important this world is the main place to look forward to is the World to Come.

Vayechi – Putting Your Mind to Going Against the Norm

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This dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of Harav Avraham ben Tzvi Mordechai Kanarek zt”l on his first yahretzeit, this Shabbos, the 14th of Teves. May it be a zechus for his holy neshama.

This week’s Torah portion of Vayechi is the concluding portion of the Book of Breishis. Yaakov blesses all his children, including 2 of his grandchildren from Yosef, Ephraim and Menashe. Though Menashe was older, Yaakov switched his hands for his stronger hand to be on Ephraim as the Torah records:

13. And Yoseph took them both, Ephraim at his right, from Israel’s left, and Manasseh at his left, from Israel’s right, and he brought [them] near to him. יג:וַיִּקַּ֣ח יוֹסֵף֘ אֶת־שְׁנֵיהֶם֒ אֶת־אֶפְרַ֤יִם בִּֽימִינוֹ֙ מִשְּׂמֹ֣אל יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְאֶת־מְנַשֶּׁ֥ה בִשְׂמֹאל֖וֹ מִימִ֣ין יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיַּגֵּ֖שׁ אֵלָֽיו:
14.But Israel stretched out his right hand and placed [it] on Ephraim’s head, although he was the younger, and his left hand [he placed] on Manasseh’s head. He guided his hands deliberately, for Manasseh was the firstborn. ידו:ַיִּשְׁלַח֩ יִשְׂרָאֵ֨ל אֶת־יְמִינ֜וֹ וַיָּ֨שֶׁת עַל־רֹ֤אשׁ אֶפְרַ֨יִם֙ וְה֣וּא הַצָּעִ֔יר וְאֶת־שְׂמֹאל֖וֹ עַל־רֹ֣אשׁ מְנַשֶּׁ֑ה שִׂכֵּל֙ אֶת־יָדָ֔יו כִּ֥י מְנַשֶּׁ֖ה הַבְּכֽוֹר:

The word used at the end of pasuk 14 discussing switching his hand is   שִׂכֵּל   which is in the past active, forceful tense ((פיעל, literally meaning he put his mind into it. The Radak explains that Yaakov, “put his mind into his hands, as if they did what they did [i.e., the switch] with a mind and with wisdom. For Menashe was the firstborn, and [Yaakov] saw through prophesy that he would be smaller in blessing. This is [using] the mind, for if he would have his right hand on the head of Menashe, what mindfulness would that have been because that is just the way of the world?!” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The right side is known in halacha and kabbala to be stronger and more important, therefore it makes sense to be placed on the one getting the main blessing, which would normally be the firstborn, in this case Menashe. However, Yaakov saw through prophesy that Ephraim deserved the bigger or stronger force of a blessing, as, for example Yehoshua Bin Nun and other leaders of the Jewish people throughout history came from Ephraim (see Radak on pasuk 19.)

Therefore, he switched his hands to put the right, stronger hand on Ephraim.
Now when the Radak explains why the Torah says this took a bit of wisdom and intelligence to do it is because it doesn’t take too much intelligence to do things in the way of the world, meaning what is normal, meaning it would have been normal to put his right hand on Yosef’s firstborn son, Menashe, but it sounds like it took some effort or an intellectual decision to go against the norm and figure out what must be done which was to switch his hands.

But what seems to be the big deal? What was the challenge Yaakov had to overcome which needed him to actively put his mind (with force) into making the decision that he made? Shouldn’t it have been obvious and simple to Yaakov that he was supposed to switch his hands? He saw  through prophecy that Menashe deserved the smaller blessing, which there is no truer or clearer communication of Hashem’s word; that should have made him arrive at this decision. This also wasn’t the first time that he did something which seemed to have been out of the norm. He himself received the main blessing from his father, Yitzchak, by tricking his firstborn brother Esav. He also had used stealth and trickery to deal with his father-in-law Lavan; so why would this be a hard decision, which needed such detail as putting his mind to it in order to make the right choice? Obviously, the right decision should be made, and figuring out how to apply the prophecy should have been easy to figure out, especially  for Yaakov Avinu who had such a high level of emuna and bitachon in Hashem, as well as such a close relationship with Him that it should have been simple to make a decision like this one to switch his hands if prophesy indicates he should do so!

However, it would seem based on this Radak that on some minutely slight level even Yaakov Avinu could be affected by what’s considered normal and it was a challenge for him to figure out how to do the right thing. And only because he put his mind to it and made an intellectual decision to switch his hand was he able to do so.

We see from here how hard it is to go against what is considered normal, for example societal norms, even when they are antithetical to what is right. However, we also see that there is a tool that can be used to fix the issue, which is wisdom; using our heads to overcome what people say is normal but is in reality  the wrong choice.  It is only by using our heads can we choose to make right decisions and to follow the proper way of life.

Vayechi – Ben Porat Yosef

This dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of my rebbe, HaGaon HaRav Avraham ben Tzvi Mordechai Kanarek, zecher tzadik kadosh livracha who passed away this past week on the 14th of Teves. Yehi zichro baruch!

In Vayechi, the last Torah portion of the Book of Breishis, Yaakov gives each of his sons a blessing which, if you read them carefully, you will find that Yaakov really highlighted the unique traits that each brother was born with and developed as he grew up, as well as providing a peek into the future with specific prophecies for each brother.

About Yosef, Yaakov began by saying (Breishis 49:22):

A charming son is Yoseph, a son charming to the eye; [of the] women, [each one] strode along to see him. כבבֵּ֤ן פֹּרָת֙ יוֹסֵ֔ף בֵּ֥ן פֹּרָ֖ת עֲלֵי־עָ֑יִן בָּנ֕וֹת צָֽעֲדָ֖ה עֲלֵי־שֽׁוּר:

The Medrish Rabba, as explained by the Matnas Kehuna, gives an eye opening  depiction behind the beginning of Yaakov’s blessing to Yosef. With a “play on words” of פֹּרָת֙  the Medrish says that this word describes 6 things about Yosef: (1) Yosef broke the brotherly pact he had with his brothers by telling his father bad news about them. (2)  The brothers violated their side of the deal by selling him to Yishmaelim (Arab merchants). (3) Yosef broke away from his master’s wife by not listening to her. (4) She betrayed Yosef by sending him to jail. Rebbe Abin said  that he acquired a great and exulted position through the dreams of the (5) fruit, i.e. grain, and the (6) cows that he interpreted for Pharaoh. About all these things it writes, “And the maidservants… drew near” (Breishis 33:6). This thing He said to him, ‘it is upon Me to pay you for that eye.’ “[Each one] strode along to see him.” It happened that when Yosef went out to rule over Egypt the princesses were staring at him from between the lattices and they threw rings, bracelets, and necklaces at him in order to get him to look up and stare at them, nevertheless, he did not stare at them. Hashem said to Yosef, ‘You did not lift your eyes and stare at them, I swear that I will give your daughters an amount in the Torah, referring to a measure of a parsha. The section that talked about the laws of a daughter inheriting where there is no son was said because of the daughters of Tzelaphchad, the son of Chefer, from the tribe of Yosef. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Medrish describes in brief all the trials and tribulations Yosef went through with the quarrels between him and his brothers, ultimately being sold into slavery and then being betrayed by his master’s wife and thrown in jail. He had every excuse to draw attention to himself in order to boost his confidence. Besides, he knew he was good looking as the pasuk and Rashi recounts, “’And Joseph had handsome features’: As soon as Joseph found himself [in the position of] ruler, he began eating and drinking and curling his hair” (Breishis 39:6). Still in all, he did not give in to the temptation of the Egyptian princesses who were trying to entice him to notice them.

But if you think about it, what was the big deal? Yosef was known as Yosef Hatzadik, the righteous one, for overcoming the temptations presented by Potiphar’s wife. He had his father’s face embedded in his mind to do no evil. He remembered all of his father’s teachings and lived by them day in and day out, never forgetting that Hashem runs the world. So what was the big deal about Yosef not looking up when these ladies were trying to get his attention?

We see from here how powerful the drive to be noticed is. The temptation to be seen and acknowledged is so great that even someone on the level of Yosef Hatzadik, could have fallen to temptation and therefore Hashem rewarded him measure for measure for ignoring the attention the princesses were trying to give him instead his great granddaughters got eternal attention from the Torah as a whole section of the Torah was learnt because of them, all in the merit of Yosef staying focused on task and not giving into the temptation of being noticed by the Egyptian princesses.