Torah Weekly

For the week ending 2 January 2010 / 15 Tevet 5770

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 ofEretz Yisraeland 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!


Mirror, Mirror

“Yosef took the two of them - Ephraim with his right hand, to Yisrael’s left, and Menashe with his left hand, to Israel’s right; but Yisrael extended his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head though he was the younger and his left hand on Menashe’s head. He ‘made his hands wise’ for Menashe was the first born” (48:13-14)

Strange things happen to people when they look in a mirror. Their normal expression changes. An eyebrow is raised. Lips ever so slightly pursed. The head to the right and then to the left.

When we look in the mirror, we see ourselves not so much as we really are, but as we’d like to be. Head held a little higher, the posture more erect, holding in our breath so that clothes don’t betray the evidence of two too many slices of chocolate cake.

When we look at other people, however, our perspective changes radically. Rather than emphasize the positive we tend to scrutinize others for their defects and lay the stress on what’s wrong with them. What we see in ourselves as prudent, in others becomes stingy. Where we are vivacious, others are loud.

In this week’s Torah portion, when Yaakov blesses Yosef’s children Ephraim and Menashe, he crosses his hands and places his right hand, the stronger of the two, on the younger son Ephraim, and his weaker left hand on Menashe, the elder son. As Yaakov wanted to bless Ephraim with his right hand, wouldn’t it have been easier for him to have told Ephraim to stand opposite his right hand and Menashe opposite his left, and that way there would have been no need for him to cross his hands?

The right side symbolizes two things: strength and importance. The left side also symbolizes two things: weakness and insignificance. When we look at ourselves in the mirror our right hand is reflected on the right side of the mirror. In other words, our strengths are reflected as being important. Our left hand — the hand that characterizes weakness — corresponds to our left hand in the mirror. Meaning that we see our weaknesses as insignificant. However, when we stand opposite someone else, our right hand corresponds to their left hand, meaning we emphasize their shortcomings. Our left hand is opposite their right. We play down their strengths.

This is what Yaakov was teaching the two brothers Ephraim and Menashe. When you look at each other, use the same eyes that you would use for yourself. See your brother’s weakness as secondary and his virtues as his essence.

For maybe the smaller brother will be greater than the elder.

  • Sources: Rabbi Chaim MiVerlodjzin in Beit Yitzhak, Rabbi Chaim Zvi Senter

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