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 Sarah, 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
Listening to the Little Voice
“Reuven, you are my firstborn, my strength…Accursed is their rage for it is intense…” (49:1-7)
Nobody likes being told they did something wrong.
And no one has yet walked the earth who was not a candidate for correction.
How do we overcome our inherent talent for self-justification and admit that we messed up, and realize that by accepting that reproof we can grow immeasurably?
Rabbi Yehuda b'Rabbi Shemuel bar Nachmani said: Because Reuven and Shimon and Levi accepted the rebuke of their father they merited that their names would be associated with those of Moshe and Aharon (in Parshat Shemot), to fulfill the verse “an ear that hears life’s reproof will dwell among the wise.” (Mishlei 15:31) (Yalkut Shimoni)
It must have been very difficult for Reuven and Shimon to accept such criticism, or our Sages would not have heaped upon them such praise. And that, even though they were great tzadikim eager to find ways to improve themselves, and the reproof came from their father Yaakov whose purity of intention was undoubted, and also these words of reproof were among the last to leave his lips — nevertheless it was very hard for them.
If it was hard for such great people as Reuven and Shimon, what hope do we have to be able to hearken to honest and constructive criticism?
When Avigail took King David to task and told him that it was wrong to spill blood and to kill Naval, she finished her reproof with the words, “And don't say, because I am king, there is no one to take me to task — You take yourself to task!” It's apparent from Avigail's adding those last words, that without that final admonition David might not have accepted her criticism.
If King David needed that extra admonishment, how are we to be able to hear honest criticism?
There's a little voice inside each of us that says at a time like that, "He (or she) is right, you know…" Usually we manage to silence that little voice with pride and self-defense. But if we take to heart Avigail's words, "You take yourself to task!", and imagine that it's not someone else criticizing us but “we ourselves”, we will find that that we have become bigger and better in the process.
- Source: Chidushei HaLev