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Parshas Vayechi 5759

Outline Vol. 3, # 10

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

This issue is dedicated in memory of "Uncle Billy" Chelnik from his nieces and nephews.


The Netziv was the last Rosh Hayeshiva of the famous Volozhin Yeshiva. After the Yeshiva closed, he raised funds to pay for the remaining debts.

One wealthy person refused to contribute. The Netziv told him that, as a renowned Torah scholar, he had always tried his utmost to fit his role. Since people called him such a scholar, if he were not to live up to the standard, he would be making people out to be liars. Similarly, a man well-known as a charitable person, has a responsibility to live up to charitable standards -- otherwise, he would be making his acquaintances out to be liars.

Those who heard the Netziv speak, said that this logic was irrefutable. It did the trick, as well.

A similar idea was stated by the Nesivos Shalom: Why is it assumed that the Rebbe is the greatest authority? Perhaps one of the students is a greater scholar? The Nesivos Shalom answered, "Indeed -- quite possibly it is so. Nonetheless, the fact that the Rebbe was put in the position of leadership and sacrifice gives him a certain measure of divine help. However, the student who was not put into such a situation of leadership and sacrifice -- does not receive the same assistance."

Jewish leaders exemplify modesty. At the same time, leaders cannot dodge responsibility. The above statements show us how our leaders retain their humility and, at the same time, accept responsibility. There is no claim that a lofty position indicates a prior greatness. Rather -- a lofty position indicates a grave responsibility -- one must strive to fulfill one's duties.

The Blessings (Brochos)

In the Parsha, Yaakov "blessed" his sons. Yet, only some of the sons receive "blessings." Initially, Yaakov reproves several of the sons -- to such an extent, that the verses refer, not to blessing, but to "cursing." ("Their anger should be cursed." 49:7)

Ibn Ezra and Ohr Hachayim suggest that the Patriarch praises worthy qualities, and, at the same time, alerts his sons about dangerous tendencies. Blessing is contingent upon elevating the good characteristics, and -- at the same time -- conquering negative ones.

The impetuousness of Reuven, and the violence of Shimon and Levi, were condemned. In contrast, however, Yehudah is praised for his self-control. When, for example, Shimon and Levi would have killed Yoseif, Yehudah asked, "What profit is there in killing our brother and covering his blood?" (37:26)

Rashi refers to this as "removing one's self." The Patriarch rewarded Yehudah with the promise of monarchy, for this is the quality of leadership: removing one's personal interests and assuming responsibility. (See Rashi, 49:9)

We find the identical characteristic in Yehudah's descendent -- Dovid Hamelech. Powerful warrior and general, Dovid nonetheless refrained from taking action in numerous cases involving himself. Jewish Law strictly protects the king's honor, but Dovid, even when fully justified, declined to prosecute many who belittled his rule. Dovid, too, refrained from acting against Shaul, even though such action would have been considered self-defense against the man who sought to have him killed. Dovid was able to separate his personal interests from his responsibilities.

Yoseif's Behavior -- The Dreams

A reader asked for an explanation of Yoseif's behavior towards his brothers. The commentaries offer several explanations, but the controversial and fundamental words of the Ramban have often attracted our attention.

When the brothers first found their way to Egypt, the verse stated, "Yoseif remembered his dreams." Ramban declared that the prophet is personally obligated to bring about a fulfillment of his prophecies. Yoseif had to contrive ways to bring the entire family to Egypt, in order to see to it that his dreams would be actualized.

When the dreams had occurred, years earlier, the brothers had been angry. They saw Yoseif as condescending. Now, however, Yoseif saw that the dreams revealed his obligation. He would have to separate his own desires from his duty. Even though the dreams, illustrating Yoseif's rule, appeared to be for his own benefit, Yoseif realized that Hashem had put him in a position of service -- for the benefit of his people and mankind.

Altogether, the story of Yoseif and the brothers fulfills the prophecies of the Forefathers, that the Jews would be enslaved in a distant land. As Maharal states: "Don't say that the sale of Yoseif caused the exile; rather, the descent into Egypt caused the sale." (G'vuras Hashem, chap. 10) Yoseif, however, had to do his share to bring about the realization of the exile.

Yaakov and the Brochos:

Recently, a friend asked regarding Yaakov's obtaining the brochos from his father through deception. "If the blessings were meant for Yaakov, why did he have to take action in order to obtain them?" The Ramban which we quoted provides the answer. The prophecies of the Torah are not merely forecasts. They are messages for our daily lives. They suggest, they command, but they do not coerce. We must make the hard choices; we must take the initiative.

Rivka mothered her twins. She knew through prophecy that only Yaakov would be entitled to the brochos, and that it was incumbent upon her to act -- in order to avert disaster. Indeed, we find explicitly in the Zohar that Hashem told Rivka Imainu to tell Yaakov, and that, if she had not done so, all would have been lost. (Zohar, Toldos, 142)


The Talmud relates that the men mourned for Moshe Rabbenu thirty days, but for Aharon both the men and women mourned exceedingly. The reason was that Aharon, who pursued peace, was beloved by all the people. Moshe, however, was involved with teaching Torah and judgment, and was involved with a more restricted audience.

This familiar story is strange. The Torah's account of the mourning highlights the praise of our great leaders, and shows that they were greatly missed. Why, precisely at this point, do the Rabbis reduce the glory of Moshe in contrast to that of Aharon?

In reality, the point is quite different. The account of the mourning was truly in praise of both Moshe and Aharon. Their roles, however, were different. Not everyone will be an immensely popular leader. Moshe was the judge. It is impossible that everyone will always love one who rules with integrity. He must decide cases that cannot come out to everyone's liking. As the well-known saying says: The Rav who is not about to be fired is not a Rav, but the Rav who has been fired is not a person. (Shimusha Shel Torah)

Doesn't the Torah tell us this? How often do we see complaints between elements of the Jews and Moshe...

Leadership is primarily service for the public good, but not necessarily self-gratifying.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.



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