Torah Weekly

For the week ending 21 December 2002 / 16 Tevet 5763

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 the first-born 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 Hashem. 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 Hashem 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!


A Kind People

"Yosefs brothers perceived that their father was dead" (50:15)

I once saw a cartoon in "Punch" magazine. A man was lying on a psychiatrists couch looking disturbed. The psychiatrist said to him, "The trouble with you is that youre paranoid. Ask anyone!"

We are sensitive creatures. The smallest unthinking remark can wound us deeply. The Torah gives us a mitzva to be extremely careful not to hurt the feelings of others. On the other hand, we have a miztva not to assume that other people are trying to do us down. We are commanded to judge the actions of others favorably and this is especially difficult, as with all things, when it applies to ourselves. Its all too easy to "read" the words and actions of others completely wrongly.

When the spies returned from scouting the land of Canaan, they reported negatively that it was "a land that devours its inhabitants." Why? Because everywhere they went, there were funerals going on. Rashi explains that G-d had arranged it that way so that the spies could go about their work unhindered. They, however, took this kindness and misinterpreted it. If we have a mitzva to judge our fellow Jew favorably, how much more should the spies have judged G-ds providential guidance favorably.

Similarly, in this weeks Torah portion, after Yaakovs death, the brothers "perceived that their father was dead," meaning they perceived a change in Yosefs attitude toward them. During Yaakovs lifetime, Yosef often invited the family to dine with him and received them all with great warmth.

With Yaakovs passing, the dinner invitations ceased.

The brothers then assumed that the only reason they had been invited during Yaakovs lifetime was out of Yosefs respect for his father. They thought that with Yaakovs demise, Yosefs latent animosity to them was now surfacing.

They were wrong. Yosef stopped inviting them for another reason entirely. After his fathers death, Yosef was faced with a dilemma. Whenever Yaakov would dine with Yosef, Yaakov would forgo his honor and insist that his son sit at the head of the table as befitted the viceroy of Egypt. After his fathers passing, however, Yosef was uncomfortable at the thought of taking precedence over Reuven and Yehuda. On the other hand he could not easily demean his stature as viceroy by taking a "back seat."

To solve the issue he avoided the issue by not inviting them at all.

When it comes to the feelings of others we must always try and think how this will "read" to the other person, to try and put ourselves in their place as much as possible. And when we feel slighted by our fellow Jew, we must always remember that one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Jewish People is that we are a kind people, a people whose nature is not to wound or to hurt.

Midrash Tanchuma

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