Chazal say that the reason Yaakov Avinu bowed towards the head of the bed (Bereshis 47:31) is because the Shechina (Divine Presence) is present above the head of a sick person. For that reason, despite the fact that he was sick and weak, Yaakov Avinu turned around and bowed towards the head of his bed.
I saw an interesting observation in a sefer called Tiv haTorah: Why is it that the Shechinah is on the top of the bed of a sick person? The Tiv haTorah suggests that when a person is lying sick in bed, he may think that perhaps the Ribono shel Olam has abandoned him—that He is angry with him and punishing him. Chazal say that this is not the attitude a person should have. A person should have the attitude that despite my illness and despite my suffering, the Ribono shel Olam does not hate me. There must be some reason why the Ribono shel Olam wants me to experience this, either as a kaparah, or for whatever reason it may be, but this is for my own good. Therefore, Chazal say: You should know that here in this debilitating state, the Ribono shel Olam is with you! Don’t give up hope, don’t feel abandoned, and don’t feel like an outcast. For this reason, the Shechina hovers over the head of the sick patient.
The Tiv haTorah cites a story of a Jew named Rav Tzvi Kowalsky. (I happen to have known him. He was a nephew of a certain long-time fund raiser for the Ner Israel Rabbinical College. Rav Tzvi used to come visit his uncle and I developed a connection with him.) He was a big Talmid Chochom. At one time, he learned b’chavrusa with the Chazon Ish. He was the Rosh Kolel of the Socatchover Kollel in Bnei Brak. He was literally a holy man. At the end of his life, he was quite sick and suffered a lot. When people would come in to him, they would give him “kvitlach” (small pieces of paper with short prayers and the person’s name), which he would take and put on the top of his bed.
He said it was like putting “kvitlach” into the cracks between the stones of the Kosel haMaaravi. Just like Chazal say that the Shechina never departed from the Kosel Hamaaravi (Western Wall), so too the Shechina is present above the bed of a sick person. This is the Kosel, right here! The Shechina is here!
The point we are trying to convey is that a person, despite his illness, should never feel abandoned by Hashem. Why is Hashem doing this? We don’t know the answer to that. But we can rest assured that it is not because He has abandoned us, and therefore the Shechina resides above the bed of a sick person.
Never Forgetting to be Appreciative
The pasuk says “The eyes of Israel were heavy because of age; he was not able to see and he brought them near to him and he kissed them and hugged them.” (Bereshis 48:10) Yosef came into his father with his two sons, Menashe and Ephraim. “Yaakov told Yosef, ‘I did not ever expect to see your face (again) and now Elokim has shown me also your children.'” (Bereshis 48:11)
However, it is striking to realize that this is occurring seventeen years after Yaakov Avinu was reunited with Yosef, upon his arrival in Mitzrayim! Yet seventeen years later, Yaakov Avinu is still commenting to Yosef that he never expected to see him. In Parshas VaYigash, Yaakov tells Pharaoh he is 130 years old (Bereshis 47:9). Yaakov is now 147. So why is Yaakov suddenly saying here “I did not even expect to see you, Hashem has been so good to me that He has shown me also your children”? That is old news! Why does he mention it now?
The answer is that for most people, something that happened seventeen years ago is old news. Despite how great an experience may have been, as time goes on, our nature is to forget favors. People forget how amazed and thrilled they were at the time when good things happened to them.
Do we remember our weddings and how grateful we were that we got married? Do we remember the birth of our first child? Do we remember how thrilled we were when we were zoche to march our children down to the chuppah? Yes, we remember, but it becomes old news. Perhaps these events come to mind on an anniversary, but the excitement of the moment certainly fades with time.
The pasuk is saying that for Yaakov Avinu, despite the fact that this happened seventeen years ago, he was in constant thanksgiving mode to the Ribono shel Olam every single day. He is still thanking Hashem for what happened when he first came to Egypt. It was constantly on his mind!
Understanding Yaakov’s Bracha to Yosef
The following is an observation I heard in the name of Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, z”l, the Rosh Yeshiva in the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn, NY.
In Parshas Vayechi, when Yaakov is on his death bed, he calls in his sons and gives each of them brachos. Some of them do not exactly sound like blessings. However, they are all brachos. As we have said many times, the biggest bracha that someone can give to another person is to point out to him his strengths and weaknesses. The person should know what he should do with his life, what abilities he has and where he needs to improve himself. That, in effect, was what Yaakov was doing here.
Even to Reuvain, Shimon, and Levi, who had their foibles pointed out to them, that in itself is a bracha. He was telling them that they have these character traits, and this is something that they need to work on in the future. Chazal say that Shimon and Levi were zealots, and that Yaakov Avinu pointed it out to them. Levi, at least, was able to perfect his attribute of zealotry. That is why Levi, at the time of the aveira (Sin) of the Egel Hazhav (Golden Calf) stood up for that which was right. That is why Moshe Rabbeinu was able to praise Levi and say about that shevet (tribe) “Who said to his father and mother ‘I did not see him’ and his brother he did not recognize and his children he did not know for they observed Your Word and kept Your Covenant” (Devarim 33:9).
There is a common denominator to all of these brachos (even though some of them sound like brachos and some almost sound like klalos), which is pointing out the natural strengths and abilities of each individual shevet and suggesting what they should do with their lives. That is the biggest bracha that a person can give someone else.
In Yehudah, Yaakov sees Royalty (Malchus). In Yissachor, he sees Torah Study. In Dan, he sees the ability to judge. All this is well and good until we get to Shevet Yosef. By Shevet Yosef, it does not seem—at first blush—like Yaakov is mentioning any of Yosef’s strengths. “Yosef is a charming child…. The daughters of Egypt used to climb up on the walls of Egypt to gaze at his beauty (Rashi).” (Bereshis 49:22) It seems that Yaakov is saying, l’Havdil, that Yosef is gorgeous. He has the looks of a celebrity, and he was treated like a celebrity!
This is how we talk about a Jewish child? Have you ever heard someone praise a choson like that? One might say he is smart, he is personable, he is clever, but would we praise a choson by saying “He is drop-dead good-looking!”? Nobody talks like that. This is not Jewish speech. Where is the description of Yosef’s personality traits? Where are the qualities of his soul mentioned?
Yaakov’s ‘bracha’ to Yosef continues: “They embittered him and became antagonists; the masters of arrows hated him.” (Bereshis 49:23). Rashi explains: He was hated by his brothers who were sharp tongued like an arrow. Put it together: What is the praise of Yosef? He is gorgeous. He is handsome. All the girls swoon for him. And you know what? His brothers hated him.
Where are his strengths mentioned? Where do we see his techunos ha’nefesh (innermost qualities)?
Rav Shmuel Berenbaum said a very interesting thing, which is very relevant and very current. People gravitate to people who love them, admire them, and consider them important. People tend to part company from people who don’t treat them nicely, are not kind to them, and don’t appreciate them. In what context did Rav Shmuel Berenbaum say this? We are painfully aware of a plague that has affected our community in recent decades—the phenomenon of the drop-out youth, the ‘off-the-derech‘ children, children who are raised in what seem to be wonderful homes, but for some reason, throw it all away. They leave a Torah lifestyle and hang out on the streets with the worst of people.
This is a very complex situation which can have numerous causes. But Rav Shmuel Berenbaum said that sometimes the reason for this situation is that—for some reason—the child does not feel loved by his family, by his own peers, and by frum society. On the other hand, he feels that the kids on the street love him. They treat him nicely. They treat him with respect. So where is he going to go? In my school, they sometimes treat me like dirt. My parents are always down my throat. Nobody loves me. ‘They’ (on the ‘street’) love me. SO where does he go? Human nature is for people to gravitate to and associate with other people who they feel love them and appreciate them.
Now we understand the bracha of Yosef, and we understand his kochos (strengths): His brothers hated him. The brothers represented frum society. They slandered him. He came to Egyptian society and the girls are swooning over him. ‘Everybody loves me here.’ What might we expect of a lesser individual? “I am going to chuck this Yiddishkeit thing! Who needs it? My brothers treat me like mud, and these Egyptian girls can’t get enough of me.”
What did Yosef do? He remained a faithful Jew. He remained steadfast to his religion, in spite of the fact that the girls swooned and the brothers hated him. That is kochos ha’nefesh (strength of character) and commitment. This is the same strength of character that allowed him to withstand the temptations of the wife of Potiphar. That is what Yaakov Avinu was telling us in his bracha. He was describing the strength of his son Yosef. In spite of the fact that the girls climbed up on the wall to see him, in spite of the fact that he was loved by them, and in spite of the fact that he was hated by his brothers, nevertheless he remained an honest and faithful Jew.
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?
- #1451 – Burial in Eretz Yisrael – Is It Always A Good Idea?
- #1495 – Are You Ever Allowed to Argue with Your Father?
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.