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Posted on January 2, 2015 (5775) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Parshas Vayechi

Seeing the Light

This parashah describes Yaakov’s final days and his burial, and then relates that, after Yaakov’s death, his sons were afraid that Yosef would take revenge on them for selling him. The Torah relates that the brothers therefore said to Yosef (in Yaakov’s name), “Anah / Please, kindly forgive the spiteful deed of your brothers and their sin, for they have done you evil . . .”

The midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) quotes Hashem: “Because you prayed using the word ‘Anah,’ the Kohen Gadol will, in the future, enter the Holy of Holies and say, ‘Anah Hashem’.” Why?

R’ Moshe Schwab z”l (1918-1979; Mashgiach of the Gateshead Yeshiva) explains that the above verse from our parashah represents the first time that Yosef’s brothers recognized that they had sinned by selling Yosef. (Although in Parashat Miketz they had blamed their troubles with the Egyptian viceroy on their hardheartedness toward their brother, they still believed that they were correct in selling him.) Thus, in the continuation of their plea to Yosef, the brothers refer to themselves as “the servants of your father’s G- d,” as if to say, “How did we succeed in recognizing our sin? Because we employed the Divine spark that is within us and raised ourselves above our prior level.” (Yosef responded, “Am I in place of G-d?” — as if to say humbly, “I do not have a Divine spark equal to yours; I am but a tool in G- d’s hands, and I could never harm you.”)

When the Kohen Gadol entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur and pleaded for the Jewish people, he similarly said, “We have raised ourselves from our prior level and therefore recognize that we have sinned. Please respond by forgiving us.” (Ma’archei Lev IV p.159)


    “Please, if I have found favor in your eyes, please place your hand under my thigh and do kindness and truth with me–please do not bury me in Egypt.” (47:29)

Midrash Rabbah teaches that Yaakov knew that the soil of Egypt was destined to turn into lice during the Ten Plagues; therefore, he did not want to be buried there.

R’ Yitzchak Isaac Chaver z”l (1789-1852; rabbi of Suvalk, Lithuania) writes: Yaakov was not worried that his remains would turn to lice. Rather, he was worried that the holiness of his remains would prevent the soil in which he was buried from turning into lice. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Yad Mitzrayim)


    “Then Yisrael prostrated himself towards the head of the bed.” (47:31)

Rashi z”l writes: “He turned towards the Divine Presence. Our Sages infer from this that the Shechinah is above the head of an ill person.”

Why is the Shechinah found above the head of an ill person? R’ Chaim Friedlander z”l (mashgiach ruchani of the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak; died 1986) explains: The term “Shechinah” refers to Hashem’s “presence” in our lower world, which is dependent on whether we make room for Him to be revealed here. Specifically, the degree to which the Shechinah rests upon a person is dependent on the degree to which he humbles himself, as we read (Yeshayah 57:15), “For so says the exalted and uplifted One, Who abides forever and Whose Name is holy, ‘I abide in exaltedness and holiness–but I am with the contrite and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite’.” Since a person who is ill is more likely to feel humble and subdued than is a healthy person, the Shechinah is more likely to be found at a sickbed than elsewhere. (Derech L’Chaim Al Derech Hashem p.241)


    “Yaakov was told, ‘Behold! — your son Yosef has come to you.’ So Yisrael exerted himself and sat up on the bed . . .” (48:2-3)

    “When Yaakov finished instructing his sons, he drew his feet onto the bed . . .” (49:33)

R’ Yechiel ben Shlomo Maharich z”l (Poland; 19th century) writes: This teaches that when a person has something important to say, he should adopt a respectable posture. He should not sit haphazardly nor lay on a bed until he has finished what he has to say. (Ha’deot V’hamidot: Sha’ar Ha’dibbur 2)


    “Then Yaakov called for his sons and said, ‘Assemble yourselves and I will tell you what will befall you in the End of Days’.” (49:1)

Rashi comments: “He wished to reveal to them the end of Yisrael’s exile, but the Shechinah departed from him and he began to speak of other things.”

Why couldn’t Yaakov reveal when the exile would end? R’ Shlomo Kluger z”l (1784-1869; rabbi of Brody, Galicia) explains: Not knowing when the exile will end gives a person the ability to bear the pain, for he can believe, “Tomorrow we will be redeemed.” In turn, this prevents people from losing their faith in Hashem as a result of their suffering.

R’ Kluger continues: In this light, we can understand why the Midrash Tanchuma connects our verse with the verse (Yeshayah 43:22), “You did not call to Me, Yaakov, for you grew weary of Me, Yisrael.” It is as if Hashem said to Yaakov, “You are not doing Me a favor by revealing the End of Days to your children. To the contrary, you will cause them to grow weary of Me.” (Dimat Ha’ashukim p.6)


    “Yissachar is a chamor garem / strong-boned donkey; he rests between the boundaries.” (49:14)

Why did Yaakov call his son Yissachar, the leading Torah scholar among all of Yaakov’s sons, a “donkey”? R’ Moshe David Valle z”l (Italy; 1697-1777) explains that the word “chamor” / “donkey” is an allusion to “chomer” / “material” (as in “materialism”). The word “garem,” usually translated “strong-boned,” also can mean “breaking.” Yissachar, through his Torah study, breaks materialism. Without Torah study, writes R’ Valle, there is no way to overcome materialism.

R’ Valle continues: The inclination for materialism “rests between the boundaries.” This indicates that the moment one leaves Torah study, materialism is ready to grab hold of him; one does not even need to travel a distance from the bet midrash to be ensnared. (Ohr Olam)


    “Yaakov finished instructing his sons, and he drew his feet onto the bed, and he expired and was gathered to his people.” (49:33)

R’ Menachem ben Meir Tzioni z”l (Speyer, Germany; 15th century) notes that the verse doesn’t say that Yaakov died, leading our Sages to say that Yaakov did not die. Rather, Yaakov is clothed in a spiritual form like Adam before the sin and wanders through the world like Eliyahu Ha’Navi doing good for the holy nation.

R’ Menachem Tzioni continues: This requires explanation, for Yaakov himself asked to be buried. Moreover, we read (50:15), “Yosef’s brothers perceived that their father was dead.” Perhaps Yaakov’s children did not know the secret that our Sages revealed and even Yaakov himself did not know it. Or, Yaakov simply chose not to reveal what he knew.

R’ Menachem Tzioni adds: Most tzaddikim do not take this form after death, though some do. The Gemara (Ketubot 103a) relates that Rabbi Yehuda Ha’nassi would return each Friday night after his death, wearing the same Shabbat clothes he wore in his lifetime, to recite kiddush for his wife. Though the deceased are exempt from mitzvot, since this miracle was done for him, he had the halachic status of a living person in all respects. (Sefer Tzioni)



    The following are excerpts from an address by R’ Kalman Kahana z”l, rabbi of Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim, at a gathering to celebrate the grape harvest on behalf of an otzar bet din during the shemittah year of 5747 / 1986-87. (The otzar bet din concept was discussed in prior issues of Hamaayan.) The address was delivered at Kibbutz Sha’alvim on 15 Av 5747 / 1987.

More than a year ago, when we started to think about this shemittah year, some [kibbutz] members wondered, “How can we strengthen and encourage farmers in advance of the shemittah?” This was not easy. The current shemittah occurs at a time of economic hardship, without the savings or “fat” which we were able to live off of in prior shemittot. The last few years have been difficult ones for agriculture. We knew that much encouragement and strengthening were needed.

I was very worried that, G-d forbid, we would not succeed. But G-d has helped us.

These efforts began in 5698 [1937-38]. I want to emphasize this, and I think it is important to do so. Shemittah [observance] in Eretz Yisrael did not begin in 5712 [1951-52, the first shemittah after independence], but rather in 5698. It continued in 5705 [1944-45], but only in isolated places. One settlement stood out at the front: Kibbutz Chafetz Chaim. That place had been settled only months–it felt like days–before the shemittah. Chafetz Chaim was alone on a hostile front. I remember that the newspapers called for the lands of the kibbutz to be confiscated. But they [the kibbutz members] remained strong. All of this took place under the guidance of the Chazon Ish [R’ Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz z”l; died 1953]. It was he who renewed shemittah observance in Eretz Yisrael, and no one else. [Ed. note: R’ Kahana refers to shemittah observance as opposed to working the Land after selling it to a non-Jew, relying on the hetter mechirah.]

Thank G-d, in 5712 there were additional shemittah observing settlements belonging to the Poalei Agudat Yisrael movement, namely Yesodot, Sha’alvim and Bnei Re’em. Other settlements from outside of Poalei Agudat Yisrael also could be counted among the shemittah observers, namely Kommemiut and Kfar Chabad. Later, thank G-d, the idea became even more widespread.

The editors hope these brief ‘snippets’ will engender further study and discussion of Torah topics (‘lehagdil Torah u’leha’adirah’), and your letters are appreciated. Web archives at start with 5758 (1997) and may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.

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