More on this Parsha


This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat VaYechi

16 Tevet 5767

January 6, 2007

Vol.16 No.16

In This Issue:

Now I Know

by Rabbi Joel Grossman

This week's Parsha begins with the statement "Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt" (Bereishit 47:28). Rashi notes that the Parsha does not begin with a paragraph break in the Torah. Rashi explains that this suggests that as soon as Yaakov died, the "eyes and hearts of the Jewish people were closed" because of the suffering of the servitude which began after his death.

Rav Moshe Feinstien in his Darash Moshe poses two questions. Firstly, Yaakov was still alive at the beginning of the Parsha, so why is the allusion to the servitude placed here? Secondly, even after Yaakov died the servitude didn't begin until Yosef and his brothers died, as is indicated by the first few Pesukim of Parshat Shemot. If the servitude didn't start until much later, why does the Torah, at the beginning of Parshat VaYechi, connect it to the death of Yaakov?

Rav Moshe answers that Hashem started to find fault with the Jews for failing to appreciate that they were in exile. Even thought they lived in luxury, for Paroh treated them kindly, they should have realized that Hashem had not brought them to Egypt solely to enjoy it. During Yaakov's lifetime, they missed the fundamental lesson that being under the jurisdiction of another nation is itself a great exile, even when that nation treats them with kindness. The Jews first recognized this important fact only after their father died, when they discovered that without Paroh's permission they couldn't bury Yaakov with his fathers. They then realized that they were in exile and suddenly became aware of its implications. Yaakov, however, had begun to feel the exile from the moment he left his home in Canaan to set out for Egypt. For this reason, he didn't want to go to Egypt at all, in spite of the famine, until Hashem promised him "I shall go down with you to Egypt and I shall also surely bring you up" (Bereishit 46:4). The allusion to the exile at the hour of Yaakov's death indicates that this was the factor that showed Bnei Yisrael that they had in fact been in exile the entire time they were in Egypt.

Rav Nissan Alpert, the great student of Rav Moshe Feinstein, offered his own reason why this Parsha is not set off by a paragraph break. He said that life can be unpredictable and mysterious, a "closed book," its final chapter hidden from those in its midst. When people are in distress, they don't know where their salvation will come from. Did Yaakov ever dream that these years in Egypt would be his best? Did he ever imagine that he would see the face of his son Yosef again? That Yosef would have remained righteous?

There were many such surprises. At the end of the day, there is a very good reason why the Hebrew word for world is Olam (Ayin Lamed Mem), which has its roots in the word Ha'Leim (Hei Ayin Lamed Mem), hidden.

Rav David Feinstein quotes the Gemara (Yoma 71a), which cites the Pasuk, "For they add to you length of days and years of life and peace" (Mishlei 3:2). The Gemara explains "years of life" to be a reference to the years of a person's life that are changed from bad to good. A person who lives through hardships and suffering appreciates the pleasant years that may follow much more than a person who has known only peace. Yaakov appreciated his years of peace and quiet all the more so after his years of suffering.

The Torah teaches us this important lesson without ever writing a word about the message of appreciating life and learning from all of our experiences, even the bad ones. As we conclude Sefer Bereishit and scream out the words Chazak Chazak VeNitChazeik, may we strengthen ourselves and our commitment to Hashem with the knowledge that everything He does for us in in our best interest.

Strengthen the Faith

by Chaim Metzger

In this week's Parsha, Yaakov says to his sons,,"Assemble yourselves and I will tell you what will happen at the end of days" (Bereishit 49:1). Rashbam says that Yaakov assembled his sons in order to tell them what portions they will acquire in Eretz Yisrael and the extent of their military strength. Riccanti, on the other hand, maintains that Yaakov wanted to tell them what would happen to them because of their involvement in the sale of Yosef. Chazal (Pesachim 56a) propose that he wanted to tell his sons when Mashiach would come, but, as he was about to do so, his divine inspiration left him and he was unable to reveal the information. Yaakov thought that Hashem left him because one of his children was unworthy. His sons realized this and, to calm their father, they declared, "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad," "Hear, Yisrael, Hashem our God is the only God," showing their firm belief in Hashem. Yaakov, seeing he had nothing to fear, responded, "Baruch Sheim Kevod Malchuto LeOlam Va'ed," "Blessed be his name of glorious kingship forever," thanking Hashem for his righteous sons.

It is noteworthy that although the words of Yaakov's sons made it into the Torah (Devarim 6:4), Yaakov's own words did not. In fact, many authorities maintain that Baruch Sheim is an integral part of Keriat Shema which, if said without proper Kavannah, necessitates repeating Shema. Why, then weren't these crucial words included in the Torah?

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that the reason is found in the meaning of the phrase. When somebody says Baruch Sheim, he is strengthening his belief in Hashem. The generation that left Egypt and received the Torah needed no such Chizuk, because they had personally witnessed so many miracles. They knew without a doubt that Hashem was the one and only God. We say Baruch Sheim after saying Hashem's name in vain because this helps increase a person's fear of Hashem and will hopefully prevent him from making a similar mistake in the future. On this basis, it is understandable why we say Baruch Sheim quietly after saying Shema. It would be embarrassing to us and disrespectful to Hashem to say Baruch Sheim out loud right after Shema, since this would indicate that our recital of Shema was not done properly.

Rav Moshe quotes a parable from the Gemara to explain this. The Gemara compares our recitation of Baruch Sheim to a princess enticed by the smell of stew. The princess's servants don't know whether they should serve it to her and thereby embarrass her with peasant food or withhold the stew and cause her grief. The servants resolve this by giving it to her secretly, sparing her the shame but nevertheless fulfilling her desire. This is similar to saying Baruch Sheim. We want to have the strengthening effects of Baruch Sheim, but we are embarrassed to say it. However, on Yom Kippur, we say it out loud because it is the day on which we acknowledge our faults and shortcomings. On this day, we need all the Emunah we can muster. We should all try our best to strengthen our faith in Hashem and be like the generation that left Egypt, such that we no longer require the recitation of Baruch Sheim.

-Adapted from a Devar Torah found in Darash Moshe

Yaakov - Embalmed or Not?

by Doniel Sherman

This week's Parsha poses a very interesting Halachic problem. After Yaakov died, Yosef commanded his physicians to embalm and mummify Yaakov, as the Pasuk says, "VaYetzav Yosef Et Avadav Et HaRofe'im LaChanot Et Aviv VaYachantu HaRofe'im Et Yisrael," "And Yosef commanded the physicians, his servants, to embalm Yaakov, and the physicians embalmed Israel" (Bereishit 50:2). Mummification is the process of permanently preserving a body in its physical state. This is a very problematic Pasuk, as it contradicts one of Hashem's commands earlier in Sefer Bereishit. As Hashem expelled Adam from Gan Eden, He told him that he would be punished by having to work the ground by the sweat of his brow in order to sustain himself until he dies and returns to the ground. Hashem then concludes by stating, "Ki Afar Atah VeEl Afar Tashuv," "For you are dust and to dust shall you return" (Bereishit 3:19). The two Pasukim are clearly contradictory, as the first Pasuk contains God's command that all bodies be buried and returned to the ground to deteriorate, while the latter Pasuk in VaYechi contains Yosef's command that Yaakov be mummified. How could Yosef have blatantly disregarded Hashem's command?

Shockingly, most Meforshim, including Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Radak, agree that Yaakov wasn't mummified in the usual sense of the word. Rather, the mummification process consisted of adding spices and fragrance to Yaakov's body.

Rabbi Pinchas Winston provides another way to understand this contradiction. He quotes a Midrash that explains that Yaakov was hesitant to be buried in Egypt because he would be worshipped as a god. When Yaakov went to Egypt, the Nile river rose and the famine ended, thus the Egyptians would have had "justification" in deifying him. Yaakov was worried about such a possibility, and took preventive measures by asking his sons to bury him in Eretz Canaan. Rabbi Winston proposes a radical approach; perhaps Yaakov wasn't really embalmed. In fact, Yosef had someone else's corpse embalmed, mourned over and worshipped, while Yaakov's real body was brought unharmed to Mearat HaMachpeilah.

Regardless of whose opinion is accepted, it would seem that Yaakov wasn't really mummified according to the regular understanding of the word. Rather, his body was made sweet smelling, resolving the troubling contradiction.

It is always important to examine the stories we find in Tanach through the prism of Halacha. Doing so often reveals important insights and perspectives about the story and the application of the laws.

To Be a Great Man

by Dani Yaros

In Parshat VaYechi, Yosef brings his two sons, Menashe, his firstborn, and Ephraim, his younger son, to be blessed by his dieing father, Yaakov Avinu (Bereishit 48:1). A few Pesukim later (Bereishit 48:14), Yaakov , rather than putting his right hand on Menashe, the Bechor, and his left hand on Ephraim, the younger, crosses his hands and puts his right hand on Ephraim and his left hand on Menashe. This was very strange, as it is customary to put one's right hand on the Bechor and one's left hand on the younger son. Yosef immediately recognizes this and tries to switch Yaakov's hands, but Yaakov is insistent and refuses to switch his hands. Why did Yaakov cross his hands?

A famous answer is that Yaakov knew that Ephraim's future descendents, which would include the illustrious Yehoshua, would outshine Menashe's descendents. Therefore, Yaakov wanted to give the greater Berachah to the son who would have the greater offspring. But this answer appears problematic. Why would Yaakov give the greater Berachah to the grandson with the greater offspring; he should have given it to the grandson with lesser offspring in the hope that perhaps they will also turn out to be Gedolim. Chazal explain that a greater Tzaddik, who has great responsibility in this world, has a more challenging Yeitzer HaRa than does a lesser person. The reason for this is that through these obstacles and defeating the Yeitzer HaRa, they will become truly great people. Knowing this, Yaakov gave Ephraim the stronger Berachah, foreseeing the greatness of Yehoshua. A similar event occurs in Safer BeMidbar when Moshe Rabbeinu sends the Meraglim to Eretz Yisrael; Moshe gives Yehoshua a special Berachah. Perhaps the same logic could be used to explain why specifically Yehoshua got a Berachah while the other Meraglim such as Kalev did not. Yehoshua was a future leader of Bnei Yisrael and therefore would have a stronger Yeitzer HaRa than the others would. Consequently, Moshe gave Yehoshua a special Berachah to help him deal with his more potent Yeitzer HaRa.

Everyone has strong drives for things which are not necessarily appropriate. However, we should not get discouraged if we feel that our desires are very difficult to suppress. On the contrary, overcoming difficult tests is what makes someone into a truly great person.

-Adapted from a Devar Torah found in "Thinking Outside the Box".

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