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Parashat Vayechi

In Loving Memory of Freda Dweck A'H, Puah bat Adina,

by her Husband Jakie, and their Children, Grandchildren & Great Grandchildren.

Parashat Vayechi

May You Be Like Ephraim and Menashe

This week’s parasha begins with the passuk, “Vayechi Yaakov be’eretz Mitzrayim sheva esre shanaYaakov 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’keMenasheHashem 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 principle 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 Kayin 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 Mashiach!

Focus on Their Strengths

In passuk 14, as Yaakov blesses Ephraim and Menashe, the Torah says that Yaakov “Sikel et yadavhe 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 darkoRaise 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, and 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.

Charlie Harary told a very personal story about a teacher from his childhood who saw and highlighted his strengths. Throughout his high school experience, Charlie was no stranger to the principal’s office. The principal, Rabbi Eliach, called Charlie’s mother so often that he had her on his speed dial right under his own mother’s number! Any time he would be called to the principal, his mother would rush to defend her son, no matter what the offense.

Although he was frequently getting in trouble, Charlie Harary knew deep down that he was a good kid who had a problem sitting still. It was not until 11th grade that he began to doubt himself. Every year, the school would post the seminar list, a list of kids that would be in charge of welcoming the incoming Freshmen. Charlie knew he was a good kid, and that his name would be on the list. His eyes scanned the alphabetical list down to H, “Hmm… No Harary, maybe I missed it.” He read the list A to Z. His name was not there.

Charlie was devastated, “Maybe I’m not a good kid who can’t sit. Maybe I’m a bad kid after all,” he thought. His self-confidence took a huge hit, and he went home from school early. When he got home, his mother’s phone rang. It was Rabbi Eliach. Charlie’s mother rushed to his defense and said her usual spiel, “He didn’t do it, it wasn’t his fault…” But it was Rabbi David Eliach on the phone, the principal’s son, who was Charlie’s teacher in 9th grade. He wanted to speak to Charlie. He said, “I noticed your name was missing from the seminar board. That’s too bad, you should’ve been on it. You’re a great kid.”

A 30-second phone conversation changed the trajectory of Charlie Harary’s life. All it took was one teacher telling him he saw him, saw his strength, saw that he was good, and it helped influence his entire path.

Humility Protects Against the Evil Eye

Rabbi Frand explains that when Yaakov gave his beracha to Ephraim and Menashe he said, “V’yidgu l’rov—May they reproduce abundantly like fish within the land (48:16),” which sounds like a strange expression. Rashi clarifies, “And may they reproduce like these fish that proliferate and become numerous and the evil eye has no effect on them.”

Why are fish not harmed by the ayin hara—evil eye? The Gemara says, “Just as fish are covered by the sea, out of sight, and the Evil Eye cannot rule over them, so too the Evil Eye will not be able to rule over Yosef’s descendants (20a: 55b).”

Adam never gave names to the fish “because they are hidden from the eyes of man.” The Torah mentions that Hashem brought all the animals to Adam and he gave them names. The Torah mentions the names of various animals – both kosher and non-kosher animals – in various contexts in the Torah. We even know the names of various reptiles and insects. However, the names of species of fish are not mentioned anywhere in the Torah. There are many different kinds of fish. There are thousands of species of fish in the world. Nonetheless, the Torah does not specify any names!

Fish are anonymous. Ayin hara only affects people and things that stand out. If a person has the ability to stay out of the public eye and not stick himself into everyone’s face, it is a segulah for avoiding the evil eye. Anonymity does not necessarily mean that a person is nameless, but if a person is humble, he too has protection. The gematria—numerical value of ayin is 120; that of anavah—humility is 121. Thus, the Chidah says that one with anavah “is above” the evil eye!

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 Mashiach.

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 Hashem wants someone to be the leader, his leadership is inevitable and unable to be challenged. In today’s political climate, it is important to remember this lesson: Hashem will choose a leader who will prevail, no matter what obstacles stand in the way.

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 through 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 them 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 Mashiach 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.

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 strengths. May we also learn to find Yosef’s “third treasure,” to understand the importance of chessed and maintaining unity among our siblings and all of Klal Yisrael! Amen!

Shabbat Shalom!

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?

With gratitude to Hashem and our generous sponsors, we are humbled and honored to announce the publication of our Parasha book:

Etz Haim

Shining Light on the Parasha

We will be announcing purchasing options soon, Be’H.

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