Torah Weekly

For the week ending 22 December 2007 / 13 Tevet 5768

Parshat Vayechi

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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After 17 years in Egypt, Yaakov senses his days drawing to a close and summons Yosef. He has Yosef swear to bury him in the Machpela Cave, the burial place of Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sara, Yitzchak and Rivka. Yaakov falls ill and Yosef brings to him his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Yaakov elevates Ephraim and Menashe to the status of his own sons, thus giving Yosef a double portion that removes the status of firstborn from Reuven. As Yaakov is blind from old age, Yosef leads his sons close to their grandfather. Yaakov kisses and hugs them. He had not thought to see his son Yosef again, let alone Yosef's children. Yaakov begins to bless them, giving precedence to Ephraim, the younger, but Yosef interrupts him and indicates that Menashe is the elder. Yaakov explains that he intends to bless Ephraim with his strong hand because Yehoshua will descend from him, and Yehoshua will be both the conqueror of Eretz Yisrael and the teacher of Torah to the Jewish People. Yaakov summons the rest of his sons in order to bless them as well. Yaakov's blessing reflects the unique character and ability of each tribe, directing each one in its unique mission in serving G-d. Yaakov passes from this world at age 147. A tremendous procession accompanies his funeral cortege up from Egypt to his resting place in the Cave of Machpela in Chevron. After Yaakov's passing, the brothers are concerned that Yosef will now take revenge on them. Yosef reassures them, even promising to support them and their families. Yosef lives out the rest of his years in Egypt, seeing Efraim's great-grandchildren. Before his death, Yosef foretells to his brothers that G-d will redeem them from Egypt. He makes them swear to bring his bones out of Egypt with them at that time. Yosef passes away at the age of 110 and is embalmed. Thus ends Sefer Bereishet, the first of the five Books of the Torah. Chazak!


Dear Diary…

“Yehuda – you, your brothers shall acknowledge...” (49:8)

I feel sorry for the historical biographers of the present generation; their job isn’t going to be easy.

A golden source of biographic information has always been the subject’s letters. Winston Churchill’s war correspondence gives us unparalleled insight, not only on the course of the war, but into the man himself. The same is true of any historical figure. A careful investigator may deduce much insightful information from what is said, and what is not said, to whom and when.

E-mail has put an end to all that.

I remember some forty-five years ago the present writer together with all his school friends waiting anxiously for the daily distribution of mail after school breakfast; whatever nourishment those breakfasts lacked was made up for in the letters from home. Two or three pages of news, love, and encouragement — not to mention a goldmine for biographers — have been replaced by:

“hi. how are you? i’m fine atb. luv. Me. This e-mail has been checked for viruses and for significant content and has been cleared of both.

I wonder if the rise and fall of the written word is evident in that other great biographic storehouse — the diary.

The diary, what a wonderful invention! The innermost loves and fears of the heart committed to paper, locked between a leather binding by a small padlock.

Dear Diary…

That ultimate non-judgmental ear listening with inexhaustible patience to our every hope and frustration.

“Yehuda – you, your brothers shall acknowledge.…” (49:8)

The Targum Onkelos translates this phrase as “…Yehuda, you admitted (your liaison with Tamar) without hesitation; thus your brothers will admit (i.e. acknowledge) you as king.”

The essential character trait of kingship is honesty – even when it hurts.

We all have strengths and weaknesses. However, all our strengths emanate from a single perfect trait, and all our weaknesses from a single negative characteristic. If we develop that single complete part of us, we could perfect our entire character.

Let’s say you’re instinctively honest like Yehuda. If you don’t recognize that virtue, over the course of time deceitful situations will challenge your innate honesty, tarnishing and eroding it until lying will become more comfortable than the truth.

However, if we make ourselves aware of our cardinal virtue and guard it, we can mobilize that strength to combat our negative traits.

For example, it’s six o’clock in the morning: time to get up. You don’t like getting up and you’re just about to cancel the nudnik button on your alarm, when your innate honesty compels you to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous early-morning-rising and leave the button where it is.

Or let’s say you don’t like giving charity very much or helping out other people; your innate honesty will compel you to realize that you must help others less fortunate than yourself. To do less would be less than honest.

”Shimon and Levi are comrades… accursed is their rage.…” (49:5)

Yaakov’s blessing to Shimon and Levi reads more like a curse. However, Yaakov was alerting them to their fundamental qualities. Their strongest positive trait was brotherhood; their strongest negative one was anger.

Fine, you will say, but how do I recognize my strongest trait in order to develop it, especially if I’ve left my personality like an untended field?

“Dear Diary…”

For a couple of weeks, keep a daily accounting of your traits as they manifest themselves in each different situation in which you find yourself. After a while you’ll notice the positive trait that surfaces most often, and when your recognize that strength, you can begin to develop it until your entire character becomes elevated.

Few things can be as dear as a diary.

  • Based on Rabbi Yerucham Lebovitz and Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe

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