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Parashat Vayechi

Dedicated Le'ilui Nishmat Yosef Ben Rachel, Joe Esses A'h

by his Grandson Joe E. Esses and Family

Parashat Vayechi

May You Be Like Ephraim and Menashe

This week’s parasha begins with the passuk, “Vayechi Yaakov be’eretz mitzrayim sheva esre shana — Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years.” The gematria of the word vayechi 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 Yitzchak 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 despite growing up in Egypt’s decadent society. This is something that we are living through during galut 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 his children were different one from one another, 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 saying that’s derived from this principle is that “Education is not one size fits all.” It is important to act in accordance with the needs of each child. For example, if one child needs extra tutoring, you would hire a tutor, whereas the other child may not need the extra help.

Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro further explains 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 figuratively let our right arm extend to the person’s right side, emphasizing that person’s finer traits. We can give them a meaningful compliment, remind them of how much they mean to us and what an integral role they play in our lives. 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 the negative.

Let Us Unite!

Rabbi Frand quotes a Gemara which 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 (a Roman general), and one is hidden away for the tzaddikim in the world to come. On a literal level, this Gemara is saying that Yosef hid away three valuable treasures he acquired as Viceroy of Egypt, and that Korach found one, Antoninus found one, and the tzaddikim will find one during Mashiah.

However, according to Pardes Yosef, the treasures that Yosef buried in Egypt had nothing to do with money, rather three fundamentals of living that Yosef figuratively hid away for future generations. The first “treasure” was the principle that if Hashem wants someone to be elevated to a position of leadership, he will achieve that position regardless of anyone else’s attempt to halt his rise to power. One can have all the enemies in the world, but he would still prevail if that is the Will of Hashem.

We see this for the first time, in the life of Yosef. He told his brothers that he saw in his dreams that they would come and bow down to him, and despite all the brothers’ efforts to prevent Yosef’s rise to leadership, he became Pharaoh’s second in command through Hashem’s Will.

Korach discovered this treasure the hard way. Korach had challenged the leadership of Moshe Rabbenu. “I want to be the leader.” He tried his hardest to acquire power from his cousin Moshe. However, it was revealed from Heaven that if the Hashem wants someone to be the leader, his leadership is inevitable and unable to be challenged.

The second “treasure” of Yosef’s life 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. Yosef was a religious and observant Jew in Egypt. The Egyptians and their religious practices were completely opposed to the lifestyle practiced by Yosef. One may say, “If you want to be successful in life, you need to give up your religion.” Yosef disproved this philosophy. Pharaoh accepted him as he was.

This lesson, that one can remain a religious Jew and achieve respect from gentile society regardless of one’s religion, was the second treasure that Yosef hid away for later generations. It was discovered with the friendship between Antoninus and Rav Yehudah Hanassi, who compiled the Mishna and led the Jewish community. And yet, Antoninus, the head of Rome, respected and honored him! Rav Yehudah Hanassi acted like a “Jew,” why did Antoninus not hate him? It is because, as Yosef revealed centuries earlier in Egypt, anti-Semitism does NOT stem from the fact that Jews are different from gentiles. One can achieve success in society at large, if one sticks to his principles. 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 hid for the future, is the idea of ahavat achim—brotherly love. We have almost become resolved to the knowledge that inner-communal jealousies, rivalries, and hatred between our friends will always exist. The story of Yosef proved that despite the tensions and the bitter events that transpired between them, it was possible for the brothers to put those differences behind and reach a level of ahavat achim.

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

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 Yaakov, and listen to Israel your father (49:1–2).” Besides their literal meaning, these verses give the message that only if the brothers, and the Jewish nation, avoid opposition, if they always assemble and gather together, they will merit the final redemption.

The Power of Forgiveness

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 Shlomo Bussu explains that Yosef Hatzaddik is seen here as the embodiment of superior middot. Not only does he forgive them for their iniquity, but he did whatever he could to totally rid them of the dispirited feelings and guilty conscience, reassuring them that even their very will to act against him was not their fault but was Heaven-sent.

Rabbi Bussu recounts a story about Rav Nachum Harodna, who easily granted someone complete forgiveness and went above and beyond to show kindness and his lack of hard feelings. The Chafetz Hayyim’s rabbi, Rav Nachum Harodna, zt”l, used to raise money for the poor and needy of his city. He once knocked on the door of a lawyer, but the lawyer became infuriated, and angrily said, “Who do you think you are?! You are an old stupid man! Who appointed you to collect and give out money? You probably take it for yourself! I’m not giving you a penny!” as he slammed the door shut in the face of the righteous Rav Nachum. The Rav stood there quietly the whole time, accepting the disgrace and humiliation, without saying a word. He turned around and went on to the next address as he was uttering words of forgiving the man for what he did.

Not long after, this lawyer was charged with tax evasion, was given a very hefty fine, and was sentenced to two years of imprisonment, alone in a faraway prison. Rav Nachum, who understood that his family was obviously in dire need of help, immediately took upon himself to raise the necessary funds to cover their entire budget for that month, and for every month afterwards he made sure to give them everything they needed.

When the lawyer was finally let out of the remote jail, he was anticipating finding his family penniless and homeless. He assumed that his wife had to sell their home and all their furniture to be able to exist for the past two years. He was incredibly surprised to find out that his family was living in their home. And when he saw how all his children were dressed finely and cleanly as they always were when he left, he could barely open his mouth. “How?” he asked his wife.

When the wife explained that Rav Nachum—the very same Rav her husband had embarrassed and degraded—was the one who had been supplying them with all their needs this whole time, his surprise and wonder turned into embarrassment and a deeply guilty conscience. He ran to Rav Nachum to beg for forgiveness and express his utter regret for his unforgivable way of treating the Rav and tzaddik. From that day onwards, that lawyer’s hand never left the hand of Rav Nachum, and he turned into an outstanding individual, fulfilling the Torah and mitzvot with generosity and happiness. Because of Rav Nachum’s complete forgiveness and ability to extend such kindness, he showed superior middot, such as the ones of Yosef Hatzaddik.

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 to find Yosef’s “third treasure,” to understand the importance of forgiving and maintaining unity among our siblings and all of Klal Yisrael! Amen!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

  • 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?

Summary:

  • “Hashem should bless them as Ephraim and Menashe.” 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. We therefore bless our children to emulate them.

  • Yaakov teaches us to “switch hands.” When we face a person, we should figuratively let our right arm extend to the person’s right side, emphasizing that person’s finer traits with a meaningful compliment. Our left, weaker arm will extend to their left side, indicating that although everyone has their deficiencies, we will not accentuate their shortcomings.

  • Yosef teaches that if Hashem wants someone to be elevated to a position of leadership, he will achieve that position regardless of anyone else’s attempt to halt his rise to power. One can have all the enemies in the world, but he would still prevail if that is the Will of Hashem.

  • Yosef taught that anti-Semitism does NOT stem from the fact that Jews are different from gentiles. One can achieve success in society if one sticks to his principles. Pharaoh accepted him as Viceroy and a religious Jew.

  • The story of Yosef proved that despite the tensions and the bitter events that transpired between them, it was possible for the brothers to put those differences behind and reach a level of ahavat achim.

  • Yosef forgave his brothers and didn’t have any negative feelings towards them, realizing that everything that happened to him was all from Hashem.

Le’ilui Nishmat....

Eliyahu Ben Rachel

Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher

Avraham Ben Garaz

Sarah Bat Chanah

Esther Bat Sarah

Avraham Ben Mazal

Shulamit Bat Helaina

Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana

Rahamim Ben Mazal

Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther

Rafael Ben Miriam

Ovadia Ben Esther

Rav Haim Ben Rivka

Moshe Ben Mazal

Moshe Ben Yael

Yitzchak Ben Adele

Avraham Ben Mazal

Meir Ben Latifa

Chanah Bat Esther

Yaakov Ben Rachel

Malka Bat Garaz

Moshe Ben Garaz

Avraham Ben Kami

Yaakov Ben Leah

Mordechai Ben Rachel

Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal

Natan Ben Rachel

Saadia Ben Miriam

Eliyah Ben Latifa Simhon

Margalit Bat Mazal

Ovadia Haim Ben Malaky

Rabbi Aharon Chaim Ben Ruchama

Anyone interested in Dedicating this Divre Torah L'ilui Nishmat or Refuah Shelemah or

In Honor of someone, can email me at jrahmey@rahmeyfinancial.com.

Checks can be made out to “Mikdash Melech” for $101 and mail to 1326 Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11230 (please put in the memo “Divre Torah Food for Shabbat”)

Anyone interested in past parshiot please go to the website ParashaPerspective.org