Torah Weekly

For the week ending 11 January 2020 / 14 Tevet 5780

Parshat Vayechi

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Parsha Overview

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 an d 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!

Parsha Insights

The Descent of Man

"All Israel shall bless, saying: 'May G-d make you as Ephraim and as Menashe.'" (48:20)

Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky, one of the great sages of the previous generation, was once sitting in an airplane next to the head of the Histadrut, the Israeli Labor Federation. As Reb Yaakov was of advanced age, his children insisted that he travel in Business class to minimize the rigors of the journey from America to Israel. The rest of his family traveled in Economy. As soon as the "fasten seat belt" sign went off, one of his grandchildren bounded forward and said, "Zeide, would you like a drink?" Not long afterwards, another grandchild appeared and said, "Zeide, are you comfortable? Would you like another pillow?" This grandchild was followed by another and yet another. This monotonous procession of doting grandchildren did not escape the notice of the head of the Histadrut. After the fifth grandchild made his exit, he turned to Reb Yaakov and said, "Forgive me, Rabbi, but may I ask you a question?" "Of course," replied Reb Yaakov. Said the man: "I couldn't help notice the tremendous respect your grandchildren give you. I'm lucky if I get a birthday card from my grandchildren. What's your secret? Why is it that your children and grandchildren give you such respect?"

Reb Yaakov replied, "You see, we believe that we are descended from people whose spiritual greatness is almost impossible for us to imagine: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe. My rebbe (Torah teacher) used to say without false modesty and in total sincerity that he didn't come to the ankles of his rebbe, neither in Torah learning nor in purity of character. If you asked my rebbe's rebbe about his rebbe, he would have said the same. If you extrapolate this backwards even a few generations it becomes very difficult for us to have any idea of the greatness of the Vilna Gaon, who lived only some 250 years ago, let alone of the Avot, the Patriarchs.

"Ever since that supernal moment when G-d spoke to our ancestors at Sinai, our spiritual journey has been ever downward. That's why our children give us respect, because they see us as closer to Sinai than they. We are one generation closer to the giving of the Torah.

You, on the other hand, believe that you share common ancestry with the ape. So why should your children respect you? You are one generation closer to the ape than they are! They see themselves as a step up the ladder of the 'ascent of man.' In their view, it is you who should give them respect."

"All Israel shall bless, saying: 'May G-d make you as Ephraim and as Menashe.’”

On Friday nights throughout the Jewish world, the first thing that a father does upon returning from shul is to bless the children with the words of this verse: "May G-d make you as Ephraim and as Menashe."

Why, of all our towering spiritual giants, are Ephraim and Menashe singled out to be the paradigm of blessing? Why don't we say, “May G-d make you like Avraham, or like Moshe”?

The phrase "the generation gap" was coined by sociologists to denote the lack of mutual understanding between generations. But in Judaism, the generation gap is the discrepancy between the spiritual attainments of one generation and those of its predecessor, for the march of history, spiritually, has been inexorably downward.

The reason that we bless our children to be like Ephraim and Menashe can be found in Yaakov's words to Yosef a few verses earlier: "Ephraim and Menashe will be to me as Reuven and Shimon." (48:5)

Although Ephraim and Menashe were Yaakov's grandchildren, they had not slipped down the rungs of the spiritual ladder; rather, they had managed to hang on to the spiritual level of the previous generation, of their uncles Reuven and Shimon.

When a father places his hands on the head of his children on a Friday night, he blesses them that they should be able to raise themselves above the downward march of history, to maintain the spiritual level of the previous generation and escape the downward spiral of the generation gap.

This issue is sponsored by ECG Resources, a wealth management firm with over 35 years of experience, in honor of Rabbi Avrohom Rockmill.

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