Why Was It Necessary To Rule Out The Various Excuses?
In this week’s parsha [Bereishis 47:30-31], Yaakov asks Yosef to bring his body back to the Land of Canaan for burial. It is in this context that just a few pasukim later, the Patriarch explains a related matter to his son:
“But as for me – when I came from Paddan, Rochel died on me in the land of Canaan on the road, while there was just a small measure of land to go to Efras; and I buried her there on the road to Efras, which is Beis Lechem” [Bereishis 48:7].
Rashi comments: “Although I trouble you to take me to be buried in the land of Canaan, though I did not do so for your mother, for, see now, she died near Beis Lechem. The phrase “Kivras Eretz” refers to a measure of land. It is 2000 amos, like the measure of the techum of Shabbos. According to the words of Rav Moshe HaDarshan, with these words, Yaakov continues his apology to Yosef and says, ‘And do not say that rains prevented me from taking her and burying her in Chevron. This is not so, for it was the dry season.’ And I did not even take her there to bring her into the land, and I know that there are hard feelings in your heart against me. But you should know that by the Word of G-d I buried her there so that she should be of aid to her children when Nebuzaradan would exile them and they would pass through by way of her tomb, Rochel would go out onto her grave and weep and seek mercy for them…”
If we were having this conversation, there would ostensibly be no need for this elaborate soliloquy. Yaakov could merely have said, “Yosef, listen well. I had no choice. The Master of the Universe told me what I had to do.” End of discussion. Why was it necessary for Yaakov to say (according to Rashi) “If you think it was because of the rain, it was not the rain; if you think it was because of the distance, it was not the distance; if you think it was too hard, it was not too hard – it was easy.” According to Rashi’s narrative, it was almost as an afterthought that Yaakov explains that this is what Hashem commanded him to do.
The Tolner Rebbe explains in the name of Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz that Yaakov was aware of a very significant psychological phenomenon that was potentially at play here. If someone were to hear a “Bas Kol” [Heavenly Voice] from Heaven that says “Bury her here,” the one who hears such a Voice needs to suspect that maybe he is just hearing what he wants to hear. If, in fact, it would have been a big schlep to bury her in Chevron and it was raining and it was far and he had a personal agenda that argued for him not to do this anyway, then there would be reason to fear that he was in fact imagining a Bas Kol telling him what he wants to be told.
Yaakov Avinu was making a statement that there was NO PERSONAL AGENDA on his part. It was not raining. It was not far. It would have been easy. This was no misinterpretation of the words that I heard from the Ribono shel Olam: Bury her there. Yaakov was admitting that “I, Yaakov Avinu, like every other human being, can be a ‘nogeah b’davar’ [i.e. – have ulterior motives]”. “For the bribe can blind even the eyes of the wise…” [Shemos 23:8] Even the greatest amongst us are vulnerable to the enticements of bribes. Whether the bribe comes in the form of money, or honor, or even avoidance of bother – we must always be on guard against accepting such bribery. Such is the power of ulterior motives.
The Talmud in Sanhedrin teaches that a Kohen Gadol cannot serve on the Court which determines whether to make a leap-month in the Jewish calendar. Kohanim Gedolim [High Priests], who had to immerse 5 times and walk barefoot on the stone floor of the Bais Hamikdash during the extensive service on Yom Kippur, had an ulterior motive to NOT declare a leap year and to thus keep Yom Kippur closer towards the warm summer months. When Yom Kippur comes out the middle of September, it is still air-conditioning weather. When it comes out a month later, in October, the water in the mikveh is considerably cooler.
There are bona-fide reasons to make a leap year and presumably the Kohen Gadol can be trusted to make an honest determination whether it is necessary to add a month to the calendar based on the objective “facts on the ground”. But in reality, people are human and we cannot allow him to participate in the decision making process when it is possible, if not likely, that at least subconsciously, he may allow his own comfort on Yom Kippur to be a factor in his decision making process. Ultimately, people are “nogeah” [have an agenda] and “negius” can bend, corrupt, and pervert the best of intentions.
The Tolner Rebbe then references the following Gemara in Bava Basra [110a]: The Talmud expounds a pasuk in the book of Shoftim [18:3]. When the Jewish people came into Eretz Yisrael in the northern portion of the land, in a section inhabited by the Tribe of Dan, some people set up an idol known as Pessel Micha. Unfortunately, this House of Idolatry remained in existence the entire time the Jews were in Eretz Yisrael. The people needed someone to serve as “priest” for this Avodah Zarah [idol]. They found a person named Yonasan who took the job.
Yonasan was a Levi. For an idol, a Levi was close enough to be the “Kohen” and they hired him. According to the Rabbis, this Yonasan was none other than the grandson of Moshe Rabbeinu. The Talmud discusses a dialog between Yonasan and the scholars of his time. They asked him “How could it be that the likes of you – the grandson of Moshe Rabbienu – could stoop so low as to become a priest to the idols?” He responded: “I have a tradition from my grandfather that a person should rather sell himself out to idolaters rather than become reliant on handouts from society.” He argued that he was forced between the alternatives of begging or working as a pagan priest and based on family tradition, he chose the latter.
In fact, Yonosan misunderstood his grandfather. When Moshe taught that it was preferable to hire oneself out to Avodah Zarah (literally foreign service) than to beg, he did not mean idolatry. He meant work that was foreign to him (e.g. – beneath his dignity). He certainly did not mean paganism!
The Talmud continues to narrate that eventually Yonason repented and sought “honest work”. Dovid HaMelech saw that money was very precious to him, so he put him in charge of the Treasury. The commentators ask where do we see that money mattered to Yonosan? The answer is that any person who could think that Moshe Rabbeinu advocated worshipping idols and therefore explain the words “avodah zarah” in Moshe’s statement to mean literally idolatry rather than “work that is foreign to you” – must be a person who has a hidden agenda. Such a person has ‘negius’. He has a real concern for money. Only with such a hidden psychological agenda, could he make such a grievous error.
This is what Yaakov explained to Yosef. I had no ‘negius’. It was not the weather. It was not the distance. It was not the bother. It was pure and unadulterated. I did this for one reason and one reason only. Hashem told me to do it.
This write-up was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tape series on the weekly Torah portion. The complete list of halachic topics covered in this series for Parshas VaYechi are provided below:
Tape # 037 – Establishing Time of Death
Tape # 079 – The Yissocher-Zevulun Partnership
Tape # 128 – The Sandik
Tape # 175 – Embalming, Autopsies, and Cremation
Tape # 221 – Exhumation: When Is it Permitted?
Tape # 265 – Yahrtzeit
Tape # 311 – Funerals in Halacha
Tape # 355 – Asarah B’Teves
Tape # 399 – Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuso L’Olam Voed
Tape # 443 – Aveilus Issues
Tape # 487 – Determining Date of Moshiach’s Arrival
Tape # 531 – Burial in Eretz Yisroel
Tape # 575 – Honoring an Older Brother
Tape # 619 – Fulfilling the Wishes of the Deceased
Tape # 663 – Belief in the Coming of Moshiach
Tape # 707 – Fasting on a Yahrzeit
Tape # 751 – The Rabbi: Master Or Slave?
Tape # 795 – Hatoras Nedorim – How Specific Must You Be?
Tape # 839 – Buying Cemetery Plot – Investing in Real Estate for Long Term
Tape # 883 – Evil Intentions – Do They Matter?
Tape # 927 – Yissocher – Zevulun Revisited (Avail
Tape # 970 – Being a Sandik−Does It Really Make You Wealthy
Tape #1014 – Will We Make Pesach When Mashiach Comes?
Tape #1058 – Bentching Your Children on Friday Nights
Tape #1101 – Grandfather or Great Grandfather – Who Should Be Sandik?
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.
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