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Posted on December 28, 2023 (5784) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly portion: ##1319 – Honoring Your Parents Wishes After Their Death: How Far Must You Go? Good Shabbos!

On his deathbed, Yaakov gives brachos to his children. He begins with his firstborn son and tells him: “Reuven, you are my firstborn… Yeser s’ais v’yeser az (greater by raising and greater by might).” (Bereshis 49:3).

What do the words “yeser s’ais v’yeser oz” mean? Rashi interprets, “You were potentially fit to be greater than your brothers by having the kehunah, as indicated by the word s’ais which is related to the expression “nesias kapayim” (“lifting of the palms,” which takes place during Birkas Kohanim). Rashi also interprets the expression “v’yeser oz” as implying that Reuven should have also had the leadership role in Klal Yisraelmalchus (monarchy). Rashi infers this from the similar expression “v’yiten oz l’malko” (Shmuel I 2:10).

What caused Reuven to lose this greatness, for which he had been destined? Yaakov continues his blessing to Reuven in the next pasuk: “Pachaz k’mayim al tosar olisa mishkivay ovicha” (Haste like water – do not take more, because you mounted your father’s bed…) (Bereshis 49:4). Rashi interprets “Pachaz k’mayim” – your impetuousness, which caused you to react impulsively when you felt your mother was slighted (in the incident in which Reuven shifted Yaakov’s bed from the tent of Rochel’s handmaiden to the tent of his mother, Leah, following the death of Rochel). The impulsiveness you demonstrated on that occasion disqualified you from being the king. Rashi says the expression “pachaz k’mayim” connotes fast flowing water that is in an apparent hurry to get to its destination. “You are like a quick flowing stream – too quick, too trigger-happy. Therefore, you are ineligible to receive all these extra benefits (kehuna and malchus), which you were destined to receive.”

On the other hand, by the bracha of Yehuda – who does receive the monarchy – the pasuk says: “A lion cub is Yehudah; from prey my son, you ascended (m’teref b’nee alisa)” What does that mean? Rashi interprets: You, Yehuda, were part of the conspiracy to kill Yosef. You were the one who came up with the supposed story that Yosef was killed by a wild animal. You were part of all that. But what happened, Yehuda? You changed your mind. You withdrew and you said “What gain will there be if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? (Bereshis 37:26) You argued, let’s not kill him, but rather throw him into a pit. We can sell him to the Yishmaelim.

According to Rashi, Yaakov further noted that this is not the only time Yehuda changed his mind and regretted an earlier statement. He also initially issued a decree that Tamar should be executed (when he suspected her of being unfaithful and having illicit relations outside her family). But upon seeing her evidence to the contrary, he said “She is more righteous than I.” (Bereshis 38:26)

What is Rashi teaching?

Rabbi Buxban from Florida wanted to explain these Rashis as follows: There is one quality that disqualifies a person from being a king or a leader in Klal Yisrael – the quality of impetuousness and impulsiveness. Knee-jerk reactions are unacceptable for a Jewish leader. A leader needs to be able to think things through, and rethink things if necessary. Before carrying out a decision, a king must ask himself “Is this the right way to go?”

Reuven did not rethink his steps. He was offended. He stood up for his mother’s honor – all well and good. But he didn’t say “Hey, wait a minute! Let me think this thing through. What am I doing to my father? I am insulting him.” Because of that quality, Reuven could not be the melech.

Yehudah, on the other hand, also made mistakes. His initial reaction was “Let’s kill Yosef. Let’s kill Tamar.” But then he thought about the matter and said “mah betza” (What is to be gained by this)? He changed his mind and retracted his position. He said, “Maybe I was not right.” That is an attribute needed to be a melech Yisrael.

“Shoot from the hip and ask questions later” is not the quality we want in a Jewish leader. And if a person cannot say the words “I was wrong. I made a mistake” he cannot be the melech.

Reuven ultimately did teshuva. In fact, the Medrash (Bereshis Rabbah 98) says that when Yaakov Avinu explains that Reuven did teshuva, he expresses it as follows: “You have made yourself a mikvah of water and have purified yourself within it.”

Those who know a little about the laws of tahara (ritual purification) know that there are two kinds of bodies of water that can provide tahara to a person. The first is called a “mikvah” which is an accumulation of rainwater. It must be completely still water, so still that if there is any leakage, it is not a mikvah anymore. It is called zochalim (flowing waters), which invalidate a mikvah. The other type of medium of purification is a “ma’ayan,” which is a fast-flowing stream. If a person immerses in the Mississippi River, he has achieved the highest form of tahara. A “ma’ayan” even purifies a Zav (a form of impurity which cannot achieve tahara by immersion in a standard “mikvah“).

Yaakov emphasizes that the way Reuven repented was by immersion in a mikvah. As opposed to “pachaz k’mayim…” (as impetuous as a fast-flowing stream), which was the quality of Reuven that previously caused him to offend his father. Now he immersed in a stationary mikvah. The choice of that mode of tahara is symbolic. Reuven said to himself, “No. Don’t rush. Sometimes we need still waters, like the waters of a mikvah, rather than the fast-flowing waters of a ma’ayan.”

How the Doctor from Minnesota Won His Friday Night Bet With the Yerushalmi Yid

There is a custom throughout the Jewish world to bless our children on Friday nights. (Some people do this every Friday, and some people do it specifically on Erev Yom Kippur.) We bless our sons with the famous blessing (from this week’s parsha) “May Elokim make you like Ephraim and Menashe.” (Bereshis 48:20) and we bless our daughters with the blessing “May Elokim make you like Sora, Rivka, Rochel, and Leah.”

Over the years, we have said numerous peshatim on the meaning of the bracha “May Elokim make you like Ephraim and Menashe.” Tonight, I would like to say over the following story which I heard recently:

There was a medical conference in Yerushalayim that brought together experts from all over the world on the topic of epilepsy. A doctor from Minnesota, who was a world-renowned expert in this field, came to the conference. He met there a Yerushalmi looking Jew who was participating in these meetings.

This was not the type of person who looked like a doctor (although today it is not always easy to tell). The doctor asked him, “Nu, is your medical expertise in the field of epilepsy?” The Yerushalmi said, “No. I am not a doctor at all, but I have a child who has epilepsy. Many times, I have travelled all over the world to conferences on this condition to hear what is new in the field. I want to know if there are any new medications or new treatments. Now there is an epilepsy conference in Yerushalayim, so certainly I came.”

The Yerushalmi then invited the doctor, the epilepsy expert, to his home for Shabbos dinner the Friday night after the conference concluded. The doctor accepted the invitation.

As the guest entered the house, the host told him (in private), “I have five daughters. One of them has epilepsy. I bet you won’t be able to tell which of the five has epilepsy. Her epilepsy is for the most part under control, and my daughter is perfectly normal. She is not self-conscious about her condition. I bet you won’t be able to tell which daughter has epilepsy.”

The doctor responded, “Listen, I am a world class expert in epilepsy. I will be able to tell which daughter it is.” The host asked, “Would you like to bet on that?” The doctor said he did! (I don’t know what exactly they bet, but that is not important to the story.)

Throughout the entire meal, everything was fine. There were no outward manifestations of her illness at all. After the meal, the host (privately) asked the doctor, “So tell me: Which is the one that has epilepsy?”

The doctor said (not in front of the daughters) “It is that one!” The host was astonished. He said “You are right! How did you possibly figure that out? She behaves exactly the same as all of her sisters! How did you know?”

The doctor explained: “Do you know how I knew? It was because when you benched your daughters before the meal, I saw that your heart rate increased when you benched her.”

When we sit at our Shabbos tables Friday night and we bench our children, in our minds we think “What do I want from this child? What do I want this child to be? What do I want this child to become?” As much as this father knew his daughter’s illness was under control, still, her condition affected his heart strings. It affected his heart rate. That is how the doctor knew.

The moment when we bless our children Friday night is really special. We have a unique ability to connect with each child, and then give each a bracha asking that they become like Ephraim and Menashe or like Sora, Rivka, Rochel and Leah. This is a most emotional moment. Perhaps the outer manifestations of these emotions are not visible to the average person. Perhaps this is not even something we are ourselves aware of — but these subconscious expressions of bracha come from the deepest place in our heart.

Transcribed by David Twersky; Yerushalayim [email protected]

Edited 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?
  • #1539 – Should an Avail Move His Seat in Shul – Even On Shabbos?
  • (2022) – Figuring Out When Mashiach Will Come – A Good Idea?

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