Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Parshas Vayechi 5777

פּרשׁת ויחי
Sorry this is late, but here is the Dvar for Parshas Vayechi:  So, the first verse is ‘Vayechi Yaakov b’Eretz Mitzraim shiva esrei shanah, vayehi yi’mei Yaakov sh’nei chayav; sheva shanim, vi’arbaim u’mi’as shanah/And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt 17 years; and it was, the days of Yaakov - the years of his life; 7 years, and 140 years.’ So, there are some nice commentaries on this verse that I would like to share with you, with Hashem’s Help:  


1) The Nikolsburger Rebbe (Rebbe Yosef Yechiel Michel Lebovits shlita) asks; why does the Torah separate between the ‘7 years’ and the other 140?  Why is it written this way?  So, in his beautiful way, he answers this question by quoting the verse in Mishlei (24:16) that says ‘A righteous person falls seven times and gets back up again (vi’kam)’.  The Gematria/numerical value of the word ‘קם, (to arise or get back up) he says, is 140.  So this, he explains, is one of the reasons why the Torah lists Yaakov Avinu’s age the way it does:  The 7 first because a righteous person (like Yaakov Avinu) usually falls at least seven times.  But then afterward the 140 (see above), because Yaakov Avinu always got up whenever he fell![1]  This is very important for every single person. 


Sometimes we might, Rachmana Litzlan/may the Merciful One save us, fall, but we can always get back up and come back to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.  Just because you might have fallen and sinned doesn’t mean you can’t get back up.  You can. 


2) One time, when The Tzemach Tzedek (Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson zt”l - the third Lubavitcher Rebbe) was learning in Cheder, his teacher taught the first verse in Parshas Vayechi according to the commentary of the Baal HaTurim zt”l that Yaakov Avinu lived the best years of his life in Egypt.  When he came home, he asked his grandfather, The Alter Rebbe (Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi zt”l - the first Lubavitcher Rebbe) how Yaakov Avinu lived the best years of his life in Egypt, when it is so spiritually barren and low?!?!  Answered Reb Shneur Zalman zt”l:  It is written (in Parshas Vayigash) that Yaakov ‘sent Yehudah ahead of him…. to show the way to Goshen’.  The Midrash explains that this was to set up a House of Study for Yaakov’s sons to learn Torah.  When one studies Torah, one is brought close to Hashem, so that even in Egypt one can live a true life. (Quoted in the book HaYom Yom). 


3) The Tosher Rebbe (Rebbe Meshulam Feish Lowy zt”l) asks; why does the Torah say ‘Vayechi Yaakov/And Yaakov lived’?  Usually it would have said ‘Vayehi/And it was’ - and it might have even been more grammatically correct to say it that way!! 


So, he quotes from the Zohar, which says that the biggest light comes from darkness.  Like if you have a tough situation, it usually forces you to bring out inner goodness from within yourself that you hardly even knew you had.  A greater good comes out from things that might look dark at first.  Mitzraim/Egypt, we know is like the lowest place on earth and Yaakov Avinu was one of the best people if not the best person on earth, so it was hard for him in Mitzraim/Egypt.


Think about someone as spiritual as Yaakov Avinu in a place as lowly as Mitzraim/Egypt!!  So, Reb Lowy zt”l explains that this is why these were the best years of Yaakov Avinu’s life.  Because he was forced - in spiritually barren Egypt - to bring out more good from within himself, and as the Zohar says (see above), a greater light comes out of darkness.  And a proof for this that he brings is that Gematria/numerical value of the word ‘טוֹב is 17 - the amount of years that Yaakov Avinu spent in Egypt!!  (From Avodas Avodah). 

Okay; back to the parsha:  The Torah says that Yaakov was about to die, so he called Yosef and had him swear that he wouldn’t bury him in Mitzraim/Egypt, and he would bury him where his fathers were buried, i.e. Maaras Hamachpela.  As we know, Rashi HaKadosh brings 3 explanations for reasons why, but this time we will focus on a commentary of one of the later commentators:  


So, HaRav Chaim ben Betzalel zt”l (brother of the Maharal zt”l) explains that someone who is buried in Eretz Yisrael/The Land of Israel comes back faster than someone who isn’t when Hashem in His Kindness brings everyone back to life (may He do so very speedily in our days).  


And, based upon this, HaRav Avraham Yaakov Pam zt”l explains that this is one of the reasons why Yaakov Avinu wanted to be buried in Israel; because he loved Avodas Hashem/Service of Hashem so much, that he wanted to come back as quickly as he could so that he could get back to Serving Hashem.[2] We should all try to take this lesson from Yaakov Avinu, to love Hashem so much and want to serve Him that much.  May we be zocheh/have the merit to this, Amein vi’Amein.  


Back to the parsha:  Yosef HaTzaddik swore to Yaakov Avinu that he would do so.  Soon, Yosef heard that Yaakov Avinu was sick, and he took his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe with him, and he came to him. It was told to Yaakov Avinu that Yosef had come to him, so he exerted himself and sat up on his bed.  Yaakov Avinu told Yosef HaTzaddik that Ephraim and Menashe would be like his kids (they are part of the 12 Shevatim/Tribes), but any kids that Yosef had after that, would be his, i.e. Yosef’s.  Yaakov Avinu was blind, and he told Yosef to bring his kids to him, and he would bless them. Yosef brought Menashe – the older – to Yaakov’s right hand with his left, and Ephraim to Yaakov Avinu’s left with his right.  Yaakov however put his right hand on Ephraim’s head, and his left on Menashe’s. Now, as the older, Menashe would have usually had the right hand on his head.  Yosef told Yaakov Avinu that it wasn’t the right way to put his hands, but Yaakov Avinu told him that Menashe would become great also, but Ephraim would become greater.  


Yaakov blessed them saying: ‘Bicha yivareich Yisroel leimor; yisimicha Elokim ki’Ephraim vi’chi’Menashe/With you shall Israel bless saying;, may Hashem make you like Ephraim and like Menashe.’ This is why a lot of parents bless their kids on Shabbos that way.  And the question is asked; why do parents bless their children to be like Ephraim and Menashe?  Why not other great righteous people from the Torah - like the Avos/Forefathers?  


So, there are two answers I will bring found in the Sefer M’Shulchan Govoha:  So, first it quotes from HaRav Shlomo Bloch zt”l:  And he explains that by blessing Ephraim and Menashe that they should ‘be like Reuven and Shimon to me’, Yaakov Avinu was making them like people before them.  So, Reb Bloch zt”l explains, this made there be no Yi’ridas HaDoros (the concept that each generation is not spiritually as good as the last one) for them.  And this is why parents bless their children to be specifically like Ephraim and Menashe, he says:  Because parents wish their children to be as good or better than previous generations as well.  


And then the book gives a second explanation:  Obviously, Menashe, being the firstborn, would usually have gotten the blessing with the right hand!!  It must have hurt to have Ephraim get the right hand!  But the M’Shulchan Govoha says that Menashe was not even jealous of Ephraim!  So, he explains that parents want their children to be like this:  Never getting jealous of others and accepting what comes to them and what doesn’t. (From Sefer M'Shulchan Govoha)


Okay; back to the parsha:  Yaakov Avinu told Yosef that he was about to die, and that Hashem be with him, and would bring him to the land of his Forefathers. In Aliyah Revi’i, Yaakov called his sons, and he told them to gather around and he would tell them what would happen in the end of days, i.e. Yemos HaMashiach/the Days of Mashiach. 

Rashi HaKadosh quotes from Gemara Pesachim (56a) and Midrash Bereishis Rabbah, which explain that at the moment that Yaakov Avinu wished to reveal to them the End  (times of Mashiach), the Shechinah/Divine Presence left him and he couldn’t tell them what would happen in times of Mashiach.  


But then the Ruzhiner Rebbe (Rebbe Yisroel Friedman of Ruzhin zt”l) says a beautiful thing that essentially cannot be left out of a Vayechi Dvar Torah:  He quotes the “Rashi” listed above and explains that, true, Yaakov Avinu was not allowed to reveal the End of Times, but…… he was allowed to reveal to them how to bring Mashiach:  By telling them to gather around, he taught them that the way to bring Mashiach is for all the Jews to gather together and have Achdus/oneness.[3]  This is really something to think about…..


So, anyway, Yaakov Avinu now blessed his sons.  But; you can notice that some of the “blessings” that Yaakov Avinu gave his children were actually rebukes!  So why are they called blessings? 


Answers HaRav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l; the biggest blessing of all is making known to someone their true self.  Yaakov Avinu, in his blessings, essentially told his children who they were - which lets them know what to work on and how to refine themselves - and that is the biggest blessing of all.[4]  We should ponder this….


Okay, so Yaakov Avinu gave Reuven a blessing, but also sort of a rebuke - the same for Shimon and Levi - and to Levi he gave Kehunah/Priesthood.  To Yehuda, he gave kingship.  About Zevulun, he said that he would dwell on the seacoasts.  


And Rashi HaKadosh quotes from Midrash Tanchuma, which explains that this means that he would be involved in business and support the people of Yissachar, who would be involved in Torah study all day.  About Yissachar, he said that he was a strong-boned donkey.  


And Rashi HaKadosh tells us from Midrash Bereishis Rabbah that this means that he would bear the Yoke of Torah - just like donkeys bear loads. (There is much to say about the Yissachar-Zevulun relationship, but we will not get into it here.  See last year’s report for a commentary on it).  About Don, he said that he would avenge his people, and that he would be a like a serpent who bites the horses’ heels causing the rider to fall backwards.  


Rashi HaKadosh explains that this refers in part to Shimshon, who came from Don, and just like the snake who doesn't touch the rider, but hurts him by hurting the horse, so too with Shimshon, when he Davened/prayed for one last burst of strength, and his prayer was answered, and he was able to pull out the pillars from the avodah zarah/idol worshiping place, and though he didn’t touch the people, he still killed them. 


For Gad, Yaakov Avinu said that a troop would troop forth from him.  For Asher, he said that rich food would come from him and he would yield delicacies.  About Naftali, he said that he was a swift gazelle, and that beautiful sayings would come forth from him.  For Yosef, he said that he was charming to the eye, and that they (as Rashi HaKadosh, quoting from Midrash Bereishis Rabbah, explains, his brothers and Potiphar’s wife) heaped bitterness upon him, and became quarrelsome. But basically, he said that he held on to Hashem.  For Binyamin, he said that he was a wolf, in the morning devouring plunder, and at night dividing spoil.  


After blessing his sons, Yaakov Avinu commanded them and said to them essentially that he was going to die and he told them to bury him in the cave that is in the field of Ephron (Maaras Hamachpela). The Torah then says that Yaakov expired.  Rashi HaKadosh quotes the Rabbis from Gemara Taanis 5b who say that since it says that Yaakov expired, and didn’t say that he died, then he didn’t actually die, just went up to Shamayim/Heaven.  Yosef cried over Yaakov, and he told the physicians to embalm Yaakov, and they did. When the days of mourning the death of Yaakov Avinu had passed, Yosef HaTzaddik asked Paroah’s household to tell Paroah about the oath that Yaakov had him take – to bury him in Israel, and to ask if he could.  Paroah said that he could. Yosef, all Paroah’s servants, the elders of his house, all the elders of Mitzraim/Egypt, Yosef’s entire household, and his brothers and his father’s household went up with him. Only their young children and their flocks and cattle did they leave in Mitzraim/Egypt. Yaakov’s sons carried him to Israel, and they buried him in Maaras Hamachpela.  


Now, Gemara Sotah Daf 13 discusses this:  It says that Esav was arguing with Yaakov’s sons about Maaras Hamachpela. He said that he, (Esav) should be buried next to Leah, since she “should have been” his wife. They told him that he had sold the birthright to Yaakov, so he (Esav) actually technically shouldn’t have married Leah.  


Esav said to them that at least he should have some part in Maaras Hamachpela, but as the Midrash says, when Yaakov Avinu encountered Esav after leaving Lavan’s house, he put all his money down, and told him that he could have the money if he would give him his share in Maaras Hamachpela, which Esav of course, agreed to.  So the brothers yet again could reject his argument.  He asked them if he could see the deed, but they said that it was in Mitzraim/Egypt. So Naftali ran back to Mitzraim/Egypt to get the deed.


Meanwhile, Chushim, the son of Don who was deaf, couldn’t hear what was going on, but he was upset that Yaakov Avinu wasn’t getting buried, so he took something, and hit Esav’s head off, and Esav’s head rolled into Maaras Hamachpela.  


Now, I have a question that I have not yet been able to answer:  If you look closely, you will notice that the people who “acted” in this situation were Naftali - a son of Bilhah - and Chushim - a grandson of Bilhah.  What is the significance of the fact that they were the people who “took action” and the fact that they were both from Bilhah?  If anyone has seen anything on this or has an answer please let me know.  Thanks everyone.  

But I posed this question to HaRav Daniel Yaakov Travis shlita, and he answered that perhaps it is to teach us that "little people" can do big things. (Bilhah, being the shifchah of Rachel, would have made her likely the lowest of the wives of Yaakov Avinu in other's eyes, unfortunately).  But again, if you have seen an answer to this or think of one, please comment and let me know. 

So, anyway, at the end of the parsha, Yosef HaTzaddik dies at 110, and he was embalmed.  


And just one last parting thought for Sefer Bereishis - a very beautiful one:  Says Rebbe Asher Weiss shlita:  Sefer Bereishis is like the first day of school:  Our parents are accompanying us - walking with us to school before our first day.  They get us ready and help to encourage us.  And, as we walk into school, we keep looking back at them and waving.  Explains Reb Weiss shlita; in Sefer Bereishis, we are “walking” with our parents - our Avos/Forefathers and Imahos/Foremothers, and they are helping to encourage us and get us ready to “go to school” - to learn the rest of the Torah.  And, as we walk into Sefer Shemos, going into the rest of the Holy Torah, we keep looking back at Sefer Bereishis - at our parents - and waving.  (From Minchas Asher).


There are 85 pessukim/verses in this parsha and 1534 pessukim/verses in the entire Sefer Bereishis.  B’Ezras Hashem Yisbarech/with the Help of Hashem, He is Blessed, we will begin Sefer Shemos next week and start learning it together.  May everyone be zocheh/have the merit to do so, Amein vi’Amein, so may it be Hashem’s Holy Will.  


This Dvar Torah is dedicated to all who need yeshuos – in whatever way.  May this Torah be a zechus for them. 


Chazak Chazak V’Nischazeik!!!

I wish every single Jew a wonderful, wonderful week full of holiness!
  1. From  Told over by Reb Ari Mirzoeff shlita.
  2. From  Told over by HaRav Shalom Rosner shlita.

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