Yaakov Avinu is on his death bed and calls for his son Yosef. Yosef comes and Yaakov requests that he not bury him in Mitzraim, but rather that he bring his body back to Eretz Yisroel for burial in Mearas Hamachpeila. Yaakov then asks Yosef to swear to him that he will carry out his last wishes and Yosef complies.
Rashi comments on why Yaakov Avinu made his request to be buried in Mearas Hamachpeila from Yosef and not from any of the other brothers. Rashi explains that Yaakov asked Yosef because he had the power and authority to carry out his wishes.
In last week’s Sedra the text informs us that Hashem appeared to Yaakov in the midst of his preparations to descend to Mitzraim. Hashem tells Yaakov not to fear from going down to Egypt because He Hashem will bring him back, and that it will be Yosef who will close his eyes upon his death. The Gemarah Yerushalmi, Sotta (chapter 3 Halacha 10) remarks that when close attention is paid to the aforementioned verse it appears to be oddly put and a bit redundant. The exact translation of the Passuk would read: fear not from going down to Egypt, for I will bring you back up and also you will come back up. If Hashem promises to bring Yaakov Avinu back up to Eretz Yisroel it should be obvious that Yaakov is going to come back up. The Yerushalmi explains the repetitiousness of the Passuk as indicating that Hashem’s promise to Yaakov to eventually take out and bring back the entire Bnei-Yisroel also included His promise to bring Yaakov back up for burial in Eretz-Yisroel upon his death.
The Yerushalmi is telling us that Hashem had already promised Yaakov that he would be brought to rest in Eretz-Yisroel. From the fact that Hashem also promises that Yosef will close Yaakov’s eyes it may be derived that Yosef most probably would be involved in caring for his father after his passing on. If Hashem promised Yaakov that he would be buried in Eretz-Yisroel, why did Yaakov have to make Yosef swear to do it? Wouldn’t Hashem’s promise suffice for Yaakov? Furthermore why did Yaakov have to ask Yosef? If Hashem had already promised him burial in Eretz-Yisroel couldn’t he have asked it from any of his sons?
Perhaps the question isn’t a question, but rather an answer. Hashem had already promised Yaakov his burial in Eretz –Yisroel; Yaakov knew what was Retzon Hashem (Divine will); Yaakov knew his destiny. Yaakov was not asking Yosef in spite of Hashem’s promise, but rather because of Hashem’s promise.
When Hashem commands us in the Torah to do a given act we then know it His Divine will for us to do so and then it is our obligation to act accordingly.
When one has no idea what is Hashem’s will it is hard to decipher whether what one does is driven by what is right or by one’s own desire and wants. When, however, one knows clearly what Hashem wants, one must then do everything possible to bring Divine Will into fruition. Hashem informed Yaakov of what He intended for him after his death. Yaakov was thus merely acting on this knowledge of the Divine Will, and doing what was in his power to allow it to occur. Thus Yaakov’s request from Yosef specifically was as Rashi explains, because Yosef had the ability to carry out the command. Yaakov wasn’t making his own personal desire known. Yaakov was merely acting in accordance to Retzon Hashem. Since none of the other brothers would have the ability to carry out Yaakov’s command there was no reason to tell them.
Yaakov finishes giving Brachos to his sons. The Torah concludes and tells us, “Yaakov blessed them; each one according to his blessing he blessed them.” Rashi raises questions on a few points in this Passuk: Yaakov doesn’t seem to bless all of his sons; it rather appears as though he cursed Reuven, Shimon, and Levi. Secondly, the Passuk first tells us that he blessed all of them and then says that he blessed each one according to his own blessing—why the redundancy?
Rashi answers these questions by explaining that the Torah is telling us that although it appears that Yaakov cursed the aforementioned shvatim, he really did bless them as well. The shvatim collectively received the brachos that Yaakov had received from Yitzchok and Yitzchok from Avrohom. In order to avoid the assumption that Reuven, Shimon, and Levi only got this collective bracha the Torah tells us that each received his own personal bracha.
Although Rashi answers the apparent difficulties in this Passuk, we are still left to wonder as to the content of the brachos of Reuven, Shimon, and Levi, as it would seem that they were only rebuked and perhaps even cursed by Yaakov.
If we examine what Yaakov said to these shvatim we will notice that Yaakov didn’t merely tell them that they behaved improperly and were consequently punished, but rather he scrutinized very specific points and episodes. When addressing Reuven, Yaakov makes reference to a particular episode and tells him that it stems from his instinct to act with haste when angered, and that as a result he lost part of his position of greatness.
In light of their tendencies to act rashly when angry, when addressing Shimon and Levi, Yaakov emphasized that together they are a ‘recipe for disaster’. Therefore, Yaakov Avinu recommends that they live apart from one another, and more generally, that they be dispersed amongst B’nei Yisroel.
After a bit of examination we see that Yaakov Avinu didn’t simply criticize Reuven, Shimon, and Levi, but rather that he gave them constructive criticism. Yaakov pointed out their shortcomings and offered insight into the remedies for these pitfalls.
Perhaps Rashi isn’t leaving us with any question, as the Torah does indeed specify what their brachos where. The Torah tells us of the rather precious bracha that they received from Yaakov Avinu — these points of rebuke and guidance – ‘constructive criticism’.
In life, we tend to scorn being told of our shortcomings and therefore tend to resent criticism. In reality, to know of our shortcomings and even more so, to know how to remedy them, is one of the greatest blessings for which one could ask. Rebuke is something we should all learn to cherish, and thus, use constructively.
Near the beginning of this week’s Sedra, the Torah tells us about Yaakov giving Brachos to Ephraim and Menashe. The most noted aspect of this episode is that Yaakov blessed Ephraim before Menashe even though Menashe was the Bechor. When Yosef tried to correct this seeming mistake of his father, Yaakov responded that he was fully conscious of what he was doing, and that there was no mistake. Yaakov Avinu explained that both sons would achieve greatness, but that since Ephraim would be greater he (Yaakov Avinu) had placed Ephraim first. After having told us all of the above, the Torah continues and informs us that Yaakov Avinu blessed them by saying: through you Klal-Yisroel will bless their children (see Targum Yonasson) saying – may Hashem place you like Ephraim and Menashe. Then the Passuk reiterates that Yaakov Avinu placed Ephraim before Menashe.
This narrative begs many questions: why does the Torah need to reiterate that Yaakov placed Ephraim before Menashe? The point had already been made. Secondly, and even more important: Why is it that Yaakov Avinu blesses them by saying that Klal-Yisroel will be blessed through them (through Yosef and his sons)?
The Targum Yonasson emphasizes that the reason Ephraim would become greater and was placed first was because he was a greater Talmid Chochom.
When Yaakov Avinu later on blesses all his sons, he does so according to age. The episode of Ephraim and Menashe is the only exception. What seems to be unique about these Brachos is the fact that the order was changed, and the reason for this unique change was clearly an emphasis on importance derived from the individual’s attributes and qualities as opposed to significance drawn from, say, social norms such as age. The basic standard that Yaakov Avinu used for inverting the ‘natural’, or socially accepted order between Menashe and Ephraim, it would appear, was based on their individual accomplishments. .
Thus our questions are answered: the Torah must emphasize the deviation from the normal, or accepted, age sequence of Ephraim and Menashe in order to call our attention to this uniqueness. The Torah does so twice: when Yosef corrects his father, and then again in the narrative form as it tells us that it is through Menashe and Ephraim Klal-Yisroel will bless their children. The first time was important to make the point. The later repetition is there to in order to connect the fact that the sequence was switched to the idea that it is through them Klal-Yisroel will be blessed.
If parents truly want to bless their children they must bless and praise their personal talents, skills, and accomplishments. It is for that reason that the names of Ephraim and Menashe are used as the introduction to the blessings we bestow upon our sons. The message we are giving them is: your ultimate greatness isn’t a preordained destiny, but rather what you make of yourself.
In this week's Sedra we read the Brachos Yaakov Avinu gave the Shivtei Kah before his passing. Before actually giving the brachos to all the brothers, however, Yaakov Avinu chose to bless Yosef individually through the latter’s sons Menashe and Efraim.
The Torah tells us that when Yosef brought Menashe and Efraim to his father, Yaakov Avinu asked Yosef to bring them forward so that he could bless them. Yosef complied and placed Menashe in his left so that he should be on Yaakov Avinu's right, and Efraim on his right so he would be on Yaakov Avinu's left. Yosef wanted Menashe to be on Yaakov Avinu's right as he was the Bechor and Efraim on his left as he was younger. Yaakov Avinu, however, crossed his hands so that his right hand would rest on the younger Efraim and his left hand on Menashe. Yosef, seeing this apparent deviation from the expected, tried to correct his father. Yaakov Avinu’s response to this attempt at correcting his act was to explain to Yosef that he well understood that Menashe was older, and nonetheless switched his hands. Yaakov Avinu continued that while Menashe would become great and his descendants would be many, Efraim would be even greater and he would have even more descendants.
There is an obvious question here: why did Yaakov cross his hands? He could have just as easily had the two sons switch sides and yet, for some reason, he opted to cross his arms. The Noam Elimelech explains that while Yaakov Avinu felt compelled to place Efraim before Menashe he also tried to avoid making a big deal out of it so as not to offend Menashe.
There are two other noteworthy aspects in Yaakov Avinu's behavior. Yaakov Avinu didn't explain himself to Yosef or to Efraim and Menashe. He did what he needed to do and left it at that. Additionally, after Yosef prompted an explanation, Yaakov Avinu praised Menashe and added that Efraim would be even greater. Yaakov Avinu didn't say that Menashe wouldn't be as great as Efraim so as not to imply that there was some sort of flaw in Menashe; rather, Yaakov Avinu emphasized the greatness of both of them.
We are all Yaakov Avinu's children. Not only are we all Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov's children, but we are Hashem's children. While at times some of us are more right or better than some others among us, we must always bear in mind that all of Bnei-Yisroel are great by virtue of the fact that they are Jews. We must find the positive in every Jew.
In this week's Haftorah we read the parting words of Dovid Hamelech to his son Shlomo Hamelech. Dovid Hamelech has already appointed Shlomo as his successor. His parting words consist of two strikingly different ideas: first Dovid instructs Shlomo to avenge the wrongdoings of Yoav. Dovid then instructs Shlomo to have pity and be thankful to Barzili Hagiladi, and then finally directs Shlomo to somehow take revenge and arrange for an untimely death for Shimi Ben Geira.
While all three commands of Dovid Hamelech relate to acts of passion, in the first and last they involve acts of vengeance, whereas in the second he is instructing Shlomo to act in a thankful and compassionate way. Aside from this distinction, there is another vast difference between the first and last on the one hand, and the middle command on the other. The middle command directing kindness to Barzili Hagiladi is something that Dovid Hamelech himself did, whereas Dovid Hamelech took revenge neither against Yoav, nor against Shimi Ben Geira.
It is clear the reason this Haftorah is chosen for Parshas Veyechi is because Yaakov Avinu also blesses and instructs his children before passing on, and in this way the Haftorah mirrors the Parsha. In our Parsha it is clear that Yaakov Avinu wishes to impart everlasting messages to his children before he passes on; it would stand to reason that Dovid Hamelech would similarly wish to do so. At first glance, however, it seems that Dovid is simply instructing Shlomo as to how to deal with a few particular things. Is there or isn't there here an ever-relevant lesson?
Two contrasts were noted above. Dovid had instructed Shlomo to be unforgiving in some instances, and compassionate in another. But Dovid himself in his own life was never unforgiving. He was, however, compassionate on multiple occasions. Why was Dovid Hamelech commanding Shlomo to take such a divergent approach?
There isn't any doubt that Yoav and Shimi Ben Geira deserved to be punished. Dovid Hamelech nonetheless never carried out such punishment. Why?
Dovid Hamelech didn't have a problem thanking people and being compassionate. At the same time, he understood that violence at times is necessary. Yet, he did not take revenge upon his own enemies. Dovid Hamelech understood that such avenging actions ought not to be undertaken on the basis of emotion Were Dovid Hamelech to have acted against them, he would have been doing so with a feeling of revenge, whereas Shlomo Hamelech did so just because it was the right thing to do.
The lesson Dovid Hamelech was giving to Shlomo Hamelech was precisely that: our emotions may persuade us to take various positive actions or, conversely, negative ones. We may feel that they are right. Whenever our actions may have the potential of hurting someone, we need to make sure that what we do is not out of emotion. Taking action under these types of situations is always a delicate and sensitive matter. In the final analysis, whatever is done should not be out of personal considerations, but because it is right to do so.