These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly portion: #1231 – Day of Death or of Funeral? Customs and other Yahrtzeit Issues. Good Shabbos!
Do Not Tell Your Father “I Am Doing It for You;” Tell Him “I Am Doing It for Me”
Yaakov made Yosef take an oath (shavua) that he would not allow him to be buried in Egypt but would bring his body back to Eretz Yisrael for burial in the Cave of Machpelah. Yosef’s response was, “I will act according to your words.” [Bereshis 47:30]. According to the simple reading of the pasuk, Yosef is positively responding to Yaakov’s shavua and agreeing to bury him in Eretz Yisrael.
The strange thing over here is that if a parent asks his child to please bury him in Eretz Yisrael, every son would comply with such a request without taking an oath. For some reason, it seems that Yaakov felt very uncomfortable here, to the extent that he forced his son to take an oath to corroborate this commitment.
I saw an interesting interpretation in the sefer Darash Mordechai by Rav Mordechai Druk, which may be upsetting to us, but unfortunately, sometimes, it can be very true. He cites an observation from his mother. In Birkas HaMazon, we say “V’Na al tazricheinu Hashem Elokeinu Lo l’ydei matnas basar v’dam v’lo l’yedei halva’asm” – We ask that our livelihood come straight from the Almighty and not via “gifts from flesh and blood.” Rav Druk’s mother asked – why do we use this expression “gifts from flesh and blood” in the Bentching – why not “gifts from man” (matnas Adam)? She answered – this means we should not need to ask for help from our own “flesh and blood” – i.e., our children – to take care of our financial needs. No one wants to be dependent on his children for support.
There is a famous oft-quoted statement: One mother can take care of ten children, but ten children cannot take care of one mother. Lo l’ydei matnas basar v’dam is not referring to “people in general”, but specifically to our own flesh and blood, our children. Please Hashem, let it be that I do not need to come on to the largesse of my children for my basic needs.
The Shaloh haKadosh in fact says (and one has to be the Shalo”h haKadosh to suggest such a bold idea) that when Yaakov arrived in Egypt and was greeted by Yosef, Yaakov said “Amoosa ha’Paam” (Let me now die) [Bereshis 46:30]. The usual interpretation was that Yaakov expressed happiness: I can now die a happy man that I have been reunited with my beloved son Yosef. The Shalo”h states that Yaakov was saying “Now that I am going to need to be dependent on my son Yosef to support me and provide for my needs here in Egypt – I would rather die!”
With this thought in mind, we can understand two things. First, we can understand why Yaakov was so nervous about his funeral arrangements that he made Yosef take an oath. Yaakov was very uncomfortable with the whole idea of asking his son for a favor. Second, we now have a new insight into Yosef’s response: “I will act according to your words.” It does not mean “I am going to go ahead and fulfill your wishes and bury you in the Land of Canaan.” Anochi E’eseh kiDvarecha means “I also am going to do as you say. I also want to be buried in Eretz Yisrael!”
Yosef is saying to his father – the reason I am going to fulfill your request is not for your sake. I am going to do it for my sake because I want to be buried there as well! The greatest way of assuring that I will be buried in Eretz Yisrael is that when my children see that I schlepped you back to Eretz Yisrael, I can assume they will do the same for me. Yosef was in effect putting Yaakov’s mind at ease. “Dear father, do not consider this a favor you are asking from me. It is in no way an imposition on your son because I am not doing it for you. I am doing it for me!”
Not Why Weren’t You Like Yosef? But Rather Why Didn’t You Use the Spiritual Power That Is Our Legacy from Yosef?
The Rambam [Yesodei HaTorah 5:10] paskens that if someone violates Torah law without being forced to, but merely as a callous and wanton act of disrespect for the Word of G-d, he has desecrated the Name of G-d (Chillul HaShem). This is not a case of someone who has a strong desire for pork or a lust to engage in promiscuous activity, rather, this speaks of someone who violates Torah law out of spite (l’hach’is). The Rambam continues that if a person does a mitzvah or refrains from doing an aveirah for no ulterior motive (not for seeking honor or reward or fear of punishment) but simply because it is the Will of G-d – he has Sanctified the Name of G-d. He gives as an example of this, Yosef’s refraining from sin when tempted by the wife of Potiphar.
If a person sits in the privacy of his home – nobody sees him, nobody watches him, nobody knows what he is doing – and yet he refrains from doing an aveirah simply because the Ribono shel Olam said so, that is a Kiddush HaShem, by definition.
There is a famous Gemara [Yoma 35b]:
To the wicked person they say (prior to Judgement in the Next World) “Why did you not engage in Torah study?” If he says, “I was handsome and entangled with my evil inclination,” they say to him “Were you any more handsome than Yosef?” They say about Yosef HaTzadik that each and every day the wife of Potiphar would attempt to seduce him with words. It was a daily battle and yet he went ahead and refused her advances – not because of fear or honor but solely to fulfill the Will of the Almighty. We tell the wicked person: “Look at Yosef!” The Gemara concludes that Yosef is me’chayev ha’Resha’im. He is the paradigm of a handsome person who was tempted to sin by beautiful women, and yet he withstood those temptations.
The Sefas Emes asks a question here: We tell a wicked person “Why were you not you like Yosef?” The wicked person can have a quick comeback: “I was not like Yosef because my name was not Yosef haTzadik!” Suppose someone tells me “You know Rav Chaim Kanievsky has this big chumra that he observes – why don’t you keep that chumra?” I will tell him “I don’t know if you haven’t noticed this, but I am not Rav Chaim Kanievesky! I am not on that spiritual level!” How can the Heavenly Court come to a new arrival and ask him “Why were you not like Yosef?” The answer he will give is obvious: “I am not Yosef! Yosef was the classic Tzadik Yesod Olam – what do you want from me?”
In order to understand the Sefas Emes’ answer to this question, we must first grasp the implication of a pasuk in this week’s parsha: The brothers were afraid of what Yosef might do to them after Yaakov died. He called them and said to them: “Fear not, for am I instead of G-d? Although you intended me harm, G-d intended it for good: in order to accomplish – ka’yom ha’zeh – that a vast people be kept alive.” [Bereshis 50:19-20].
What does the expression ka’yom ha’zeh (literally – like this day) mean in this sentence? The English translation in many Chumashim is “it is as clear as day”. But the Be’er Moshe suggests another interpretation which is based on an earlier pasuk in Sefer Bereshis. When Yosef was faced with the seductive temptations of Potiphar’s wife, the pasuk says “Va’yehi ka’yom ha’zeh” (and it was like on this day) [Bereshis 39:11]. The Be’er Moshe says the “Ka’yom ha’zeh” in Parshas VaYechi is alluding to the “Ka’yom ha’zeh” in Parshas VaYeshev. Meaning – Egypt was an amoral society, immersed in promiscuity. Not one Jewish woman in all the years of servitude had a willful promiscuous relation with someone other than her husband. Who gave Klal Yisrael the power to do that? It was Yosef HaTzadik. The fact that Yosef HaTzadik withstood the temptation and did not have a promiscuous relationship with Potiphar’s wife gave Klal Yisrael the ability to withstand the temptations they would encounter in Egypt until they left over 200 years later!
Just like we all know that the ability to be moser nefer (experience martyrdom) comes from Avraham Avinu and we received so much from the Avos via the principle of Ma’aseh Avos Siman L’Banim, similarly, the ability to withstand the temptations of sexual immorality in Egypt came from Yosef – the fact that he did not commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife.
Says the Be’er Moshe: That is the meaning of “Ka’yom ha’zeh“. Yosef tells his brothers – It is all part of the Master Plan to keep the people alive – not only alive physically, but alive spiritually as well! Do you know how your descendants will have the power to do that during two hundred years of Egyptian servitude? “Ka’yom ha’zeh“. It was because ON THAT DAY I was able to overcome my Yetzer HaRah. The Ribono shel Olam placed me in that compromising position so that I should pass the test and pass on to my descendants the ability to withstand such tests. So too, He placed me in this situation, so that I could provide for your material needs at this time.
If that is the interpretation, we can now understand the answer of the Sefas Emes. The Sefas Emes says that when the Gemara says in Maseches Yoma that a person will be asked “How come you could not control your evil inclinations?” and they will cite for him the example of Yosef HaTzadik, they are not saying that they expect him to be like Yosef HaTzadik. They are saying “You have as a heritage, as a legacy from Yosef HaTzadik, the ability to do the same thing! That is part of your DNA.”
It is not like saying “Why are you not like Rav Chaim Kanievsky? It is more fundamental than that. We are not saying you should be like Yosef. We are saying Yosef did something for the spiritual DNA of Klal Yisrael – that forever after they should have the capability of withstanding such temptation.
This is what the Rambam means in Yesodei HaTorah when he gives the example of Yosef HaTzadik as the classic Sanctifier of the Name of G-d. When Yosef told his brothers “G-d put me in Egypt – Ka’yom ha’zeh – he not only meant to save Klal Yisrael from hunger, but to give them the spiritual power to withstand temptations like he himself withstood ‘On that day’.”
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Vayechi is provided below:
- # 037 – Establishing Time of Death
- # 079 – The Yissocher-Zevulun Partnership
- # 128 – The Sandik
- # 175 – Embalming, Autopsies, and Cremation
- # 221 – Exhumation: When Is it Permitted?
- # 265 – Yahrtzeit
- # 311 – Funerals in Halacha
- # 355 – Asarah B’Teves
- # 399 – Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuso L’Olam Voed
- # 443 – Aveilus Issues
- # 487 – Determining Date of Moshiach’s Arrival
- # 531 – Burial in Eretz Yisroel
- # 575 – Honoring an Older Brother
- # 619 – Fulfilling the Wishes of the Deceased
- # 663 – Belief in the Coming of Moshiach
- # 707 – Fasting on a Yahrzeit
- # 751 – The Rabbi: Master Or Slave?
- # 795 – Hatoras Nedorim – How Specific Must You Be?
- # 839 – Buying Cemetery Plot – Investing in Real Estate for Long Term
- # 883 – Evil Intentions – Do They Matter?
- # 927 – Yissocher – Zevulun Revisited
- # 970 – Being A Sandek – Does It Really Make You Wealthy?
- #1014 – Will We Make Pesach When Mashiach Comes?
- #1058 – Bentching Your Children on Friday Nights
- #1101 – Grandfather or Great Grandfather – Who Should be Sandek?
- #1144 – Supporting Someone To Sit and Learn: Must He Be Altruistic?
- #1187 – Can You Be Sandek More Than Once?
- #1231 – Day of Death or of Funeral? Customs and other Yahrtzeit Issues
- #1275 – I Don’t Want Hespedim at my Levaya – Must We Obey?
- #1319 – Honoring Your Parents Wishes After Their Death: How Far Must You Go?
- #1363 – Lesser of Two Evils: Being Buried in Non-Jewish Cemetery vs. Cremation – Which Is It?
- #1407 – Asking Mechila From An Offended Friend – Personally Or Through An Intermediary?
- (2019) – Burial in Eretz Yisrael – Is It Always A Good Idea?
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.