At the end of last week’s Parasha, Yaakov comes down to Egypt, finally meets his long-lost son Yoseph, and is introduced to Pharoah. Yaakov blesses Pharoah and Pharoah replies by asking Yaakov his age (47:8). Yaakov responds by complaining that the years of his life have been few and miserable, and he has not even reached the lifespan of his forefathers. His thirty-three word speech to Pharoah caused him to lose thirty-three years; therefore, he died at age 147 as opposed to the 180 years allotted to him. Yaakov's complaint to Pharoah about his life is a complaint regarding Hashem and that is why he lost those years as a consequence. This teaches us an important lesson: we must understand that all the trials, tribulations and stresses of life come to us through the design of Hashem and are intended to help us grow.
Rabbi Twersky tells a story about a time, many years ago, when he had just begun his practice. A man came to him and complained that he is continually depressed. Rabbi Twersky asked the man, "Since when have you been feeling this way?" and the man responded, "Since my doctor told me that I have only six months to live!" Rabbi Twersky was at a loss for words, for surely anyone who’d been given that news would be depressed. He reflected for a few moments and finally told the man, "Just think of all the happiest times in your life and keep those memories constant in your mind". That man followed Rabbi Twersky's advice and lived another thirty years! We learn from this story that our mental attitude has an enormous effect on our physical well-being. What we can take from this is that we all have stress in our lives, but we have to learn how to detach ourselves from our problems and hand them over to Hashem, with the Emunah that everything will work out in the end, as it always does, because Hashem does only good.
This week’s Parasha begins with the Passuk, Vayechi Yaakov be’eretz mitzrayim sheva-esreh shanah. Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years. The Gematria of the word Vayechi is 34, which represents the first seventeen years that Yoseph lived with his father Yaakov and the last seventeen years when they were reunited again in Egypt. Our Rabbis teach us that those were the years that Yaakov considered his best years, and the years when he really lived!
Yaakov calls for Yoseph and asks Yoseph to swear hat he will not bury him in Egypt but transport him instead to be buried with his forefathers; that is, as we learn later in the Parasha, at Mearat Machpelah, where Abraham was buried. Yaakov says: "Deal with me kindly and truly and please do not bury me in Egypt."What does the phrase "kindly and truly", hesed ve-emet, teach us? Rashi comments that the kindness which is shown to the dead is true kindness, because someone who does a kindness for a dead person does not expect to be paid back, and that is what is meant by Chesed Shel Emmet – true kindness!
The next Perek begins with Yoseph receiving word that his father Yaakov is ill. Yoseph brings his two sons Ephraim and Menashe to his father, who then blesses the sons. There are several questions that arise from these verses: Why are Ephraim and Menashe a vehicle for blessing our sons until today? The answer is that Yaakov saw how Yoseph's two sons exemplified a fundamental principal of the Torah. There was no competition between them and neither considered himself greater than his brother. There was no sibling rivalry of the kind we have witnessed throughout history between brothers: first with Cain and Hevel, then Yitzchak and Yishmael, and after that Yaakov and Eisav. We therefore bless our sons that they will emulate Ephraim and Menahse and live up to that ideal. Another reason for following their example is that they were able to survive and stay true to our Torah values in spite of growing up in Egypt's decadent society, and this is something that we are living through in Galut today, and which we must also overcome until the arrival of the Mashiach!
In Pasuk 14, as Yaakov is blessing Ephraim and Menashe, the Torah says: Sikel ey yadav, "he maneuvered his hands". Yaakov crossed his hands so that his right hand ended up on Ephraim, who was on his left side, and his left hand ended up on Menashe, who was on his right side. Why did Yaakov switch his hands when he blessed them? Wouldn't that be another sign that Yaakov would be favoring one brother over the other, as he seemed to do when he gave the Kutonet Passim to Yoseph and not to his other sons? Rashi comments that Ephraim needed that extra Beracha because he saw through Ruach Hakodesh that Yehoshua would descend from him and would be the one to apportion the land and teach the Torah that he learned from Moshe Rabenu to B'nei Yisrael. Yaakov knew that this was true of all of his children: they are different one from the other, just as our own children are different and must be raised in their own way. As Shlomo Hamelech writes in Mishleh, Chanech la’naar al pi darkoh – "Raise your child according to his way!" Every parent today should know and understand this rule when raising their children. A modern dictum that derives from this principle is that "Education is not one size that fits all." To give one child more than another for no reason would create jealousy, but if one needs more than the other, then it is appropriate to act in accordance with the needs of each child. For example, if one child needs extra tutoring, you will hire a tutor, but your other child may not need that kind of tutoring.
Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro explains further that the right side of a person represents his strengths and wonderful qualities. The left side of a person represents his weaknesses, the areas in which he needs to improve. He teaches that when we face a person and stretch our arms without switching them, we are placing our right arm (the stronger arm) on the other person’s left side. This indicates that we are accentuating their 'left' side, reminding them of their faults and deficiencies. When we point our left arm (the weak arm) at their right side, we are symbolically neglecting to acknowledge their attributes. Yaakov teaches us to "switch hands." When we face a person, we let our right arm extend to the person’s right side, emphasizing that person’s fine traits. In this way we are giving someone a meaningful compliment, and reminding them of how much they mean to us and what an integral role they play in our life. Our left, weaker arm, will extend to their left side, indicating that although everyone has their deficiencies, we will not accentuate their shortcomings. In order to be successful in our interpersonal relationships, we must follow this form of focusing on the positive rather than on the negative.
Until today, it is the practice in every Jewish home on Friday nights to bless our sons: Yesimcha Elokim ke’efraim ve’ke’menashe. "Hashem bless you as Ephraim and Menashe".
May we continue to raise our children with true Torah values while we live in Galut (Diaspora). May we also have the insight to raise our children with good Midot and good values and to guide them and teach them each according to their own way, while at the same time ensuring peace between siblings!
Shabbat Shalom! Jack E. Rahmey with the Guidance and Teachings of Rabbi Amram Sananes Leiluiy Nishmat.... Eliyahu Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Garaz
Sarah Bat Chanah Malka Bat Garaz
Shulamit Bat Helaina Yaakov Ben Rachel
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Rav Haim Ben Rivka Meir Ben Latifa
Yitzchak Ben Adele Esther Bat Sarah
Chanah Bat Esther Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
Moshe Ben Garaz Rafael ben Miriam
Moshe Ben Mazal