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Parashat Vayechi

Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Sarah Bat Baheia by Robin and Mark Gadeloff and Family

Parashat Vayechi

May You Be Like Ephraim and Menashe

This week’s parasha begins with the passuk, “vayehi Yaakov be’eretz mitzrayim sheva esre shana — Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years.” The gematria of the word vayehi is thirty-four, which represents the first seventeen years that Yosef 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!

Later in the parasha it says that Yaakov became ill and Yosef brought his two sons Ephraim and Menashe to his father to bless them. It is the practice in every Jewish home on Friday nights to bless our sons, “yesimcha Elokim ke’Ephraim v’keMenashe — Hashem should bless them as Ephraim and Menashe.” Why are Ephraim and Menashe a vehicle for blessing our sons until today?

The answer is that Yaakov saw how Yosef’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 Yitzhak and Yishmael, and finally with Yaakov and Esav. We therefore bless our sons that they emulate Ephraim and Menashe.

Another reason that we bless our sons to be like Ephraim and Menashe is that they were able to survive and stay true to Torah values in spite of growing up in Egypt’s decadent society. This is something that we are living through in thisgalut today, and which we must also overcome until the arrival of the Mashiah!

Focus on Their Strengths

In passuk 14, as Yaakov blesses Ephraim and Menashe, the Torah says that Yaakov “sikel et 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 a sign that Yaakov was favoring one brother over the other, as he seemed to have done when he gave the ketonet passim to Yosef and not to his other sons? Rashi comments that Yaakov knew that Ephraim needed that extra beracha, because he saw through ruah hakodesh that his descendant Yehoshua would be the one to apportion the land and teach the Torah that he had learned from Moshe Rabenu to B’nei Yisrael.

Yaakov knew that all of his children were 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 Mishle, “hanoch la’naar al pi darko — 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 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, whereas your other child may not need the extra help.

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 out 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 positive attributes.

Yaakov teaches us to “switch hands.” When we face a person, we should let our right arm extend to the person’s right side, emphasizing that person’s finer traits. We can give them a meaningful compliment, 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.

Let Us Unite!

Rabbi Frand explains that in Gemara [Sanhedrin 110a] it expounds the expression “riches hoarded by their owner to his misfortune” [Kohelet 5:12] as referring to Korach. The Gemara there teaches that Korach was a very wealthy individual. However, this was a dubious situation, where his wealth actually led to his downfall, as alluded to by Shlomo in Kohelet.

A few lines later, the Gemara mentions that Yosef HaTzadik hid three treasures while he was ruling Egypt. One of the treasures was found by Korach; one treasure was found by Antoninus (the Roman general and politician, a contemporary of Rav Yehudah HaNassi); and one is hidden away for the righteous, in the world to come. On a literal level, this Gemara is saying that of the three fabulous treasures that Yosef hid away (which he presumably acquired as Viceroy of Egypt) Korach found one, Antoninus found one, and the Tzadikim will find one in the Messianic era.

A fascinating Pardes Yosef at the end of Parshat Vayechi has an entirely different take on this Gemara. According to his approach, the Gemara is not speaking about wealth at all. The Pardes Yosef says that the treasures that Yosef buried in Egypt had nothing to do with money, but rather, Yosef’s life embodied three fundamentals of living that he figuratively hid away for future generations to rediscover.

The first “treasure” was the fundamental principle that if the Almighty wants you to be elevated to a position of leadership, you will achieve that position regardless of anyone else’s attempt to halt your rise to power. You can have all the enemies in the world, and the plotters who are against you can rise to the top, but you will still prevail and they will not be able to stop you!

We see this for the first time, in the life of Yosef. He told his brothers that he prophetically saw in his dreams that they would come and bow down to him, and despite all the brothers’ efforts to quash Yosef’s rise to leadership, the Will of the Almighty came to pass!

Korach discovered this treasure (the hard way)! Korach had argued that “the entire congregation is holy.” He challenged the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu. “I want to be the leader.” He tried his hardest to wrest power from his cousin Moshe. However, in his time – once again – it was revealed from Heaven that if the Almighty wants someone (i.e., Moshe) to be the leader, his leadership is inevitable and inviolable.

The second “treasure” of Yosef’s life, writes the Pardes Yosef (who lived into the twentieth century), has to do with anti-Semitism. Some think that what causes anti-Semitism is the fact that we act differently, and if we would act more like the Goyim, they would accept us and not be anti-Semitic. We know that this is not true.

The righteous Yosef was a religious and observant Jew in Egypt. The Egyptians and their religious practices were diametrically opposed to the lifestyle practiced by Yosef. One would think, “How could he achieve a position of authority? He is a Jew.” Anti-Semites say, “We hate Jews. Jews are disloyal. Jews are pushy. Jews are aggressive. Jews are this and Jews are that.” The popular maxim of this philosophy is, “If you want to be successful in life, you need to give up your Yiddishkeit.” Yosef disproved this philosophy. He showed that it was not true by remaining Yosef the Righteous in Egypt, and nevertheless rising to the very pinnacle of Egyptian authority. Pharaoh accepted him as he was.

This lesson, that one can remain “Jewish” and achieve respect from Gentile society regardless of one’s religion, was the second treasure that Yosef “hid away for future generations to rediscover.” When was this “treasure” revealed? It was revealed with the comradeship between Antoninus and Rebbi. Rebbi was Rabbeinu HaKadosh, who compiled the Mishna and led the Jewish community. And yet, Antoninus, the head of Rome, respected and honored him! Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi acted like a “Jew” – why did Antoninus not hate Rebbi? It is because — as Yosef revealed centuries earlier in Egypt — anti-Semitism does NOT stem from the fact that Jews act differently than Gentiles.

Yosef proved this in the time of Pharaoh, and it was “rediscovered” in the era of Antoninus and Rebbi. One can achieve success in society at large, if one sticks to his principles. We see that today too. There are observant Jews in every area of government and industry, in positions of great prominence. They do not need to compromise their religious principles to achieve success and respect.

The third “treasure” that Yosef showed us is that we think there is absolutely no solution to the problem of “hatred between brothers” (sin’at achim). We have almost become resolved to the idea that inner-communal jealousies, rivalries, and hatred was with us, is with us, and will always be with us. The story of Yosef proved that despite the tensions and the bitter events that transpired between them, it was possible to put those differences behind themselves, and reach a level of brotherly love (aha’vat achim).

We look at the controversies and tensions that exist within the Jewish people today, and we ask ourselves “How is Moshiach ever going to come?” This “treasure” of Yosef, the Gemara admits, is still hidden away; it has not yet been “rediscovered.” However, the Gemara assures us that the Tzaddikim in the world of the future will one day find it, and then true brotherly love — Yosef’s “third treasure” — will once again reign within our nation.

The Power of Forgiveness!

In this week’s Parasha we see how Yosef forgave his brothers and didn’t have any negative feelings towards them realizing that everything that happened to him was all from Hashem. Rabbi Ashear in his book “Living Emunah 3” had a similar story of complete forgiveness that’s brought down by Ner Le’ragli of a certain student in Yeshivat Knesset Yisrael of Slabodka who spread false, uncomplimentary information about a fellow student, whom we will call David. The lashon hara he spoke caused David the loss of a prospective shidduch opportunity. David remained unmarried until the time when the Russian army began conscripting single men into its army, and so David was drafted. He endured several years of suffering under the harsh conditions of the Russian military.

Many years later, the man who spread the false rumors in his youth was overcome with guilt, realizing that he had caused David untold suffering and hardship. He did not have the courage to directly ask David for forgiveness, so he wrote a letter to the Alter of Slabodka, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, explaining what he had done and asking that the Rabbi convey to David his request for forgiveness. The Rabbi approached David and told him what the other student had done many years earlier, ruining an outstanding shidduch opportunity and causing him to be drafted.

“No Problem,” David Calmly said. “I completely forgive him.”

The Rabbi found it difficult to believe that David was truly sincere and so he said, “Are you sure, after everything you’ve gone through. That you have no ill feelings toward him?”

“Yes,” David firmly stated. “I believe with complete faith that everything that happened to me was Hashem’s will, and that nobody could break a shidduch or send me to the Russian army other than Hashem. And if He did it, then it must have been the best thing for me, and so I am happy about it.”

The Rabbi kissed David’s head and said, “You are a true tzaddik.”

In perek 49 passuk 1–2, just before Yaakov began to bless his sons, he said: “Assemble yourselves and I will tell you what will befall you in the end of days. Gather yourselves and listen, sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel your father.” Besides their literal meaning, these verses give the message that only if the brothers (i.e. the Jewish nation) avoid dissension, if they assemble and gather together at all times, they will merit the final redemption.

May we have the insight to raise our children with true Torah values and good middot, and to guide them and teach them according to their own way. May we also learn from the third treasure as discussed in Pardet Yosef and as we learned in this Parasha how Yosef had no ill feelings against his brothers as well as in the Rabbi Ashear story the importance to maintain unity among our siblings and all of Klal Yisrael! Amen!

Shabbat Shalom!

Discussion Points:

· What are some of the strengths of each person at the table?

· How do we react when another person hurts us and can we change our mindset to believe that everything that happens is not from that person but directly from Hashem as Yosef HaTzadik understood and how the Yosef in the story also understood?

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

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