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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vay'chi (73)

In this final sedra in the book of Bereishis, Jacob blesses his sons. For some of his sons, his blessing is more of a rebuke and moral summation of the sons' lives than it is a blessing in the usual sense.

Following is the last part of his words to Simon and Levi.

Genesis 49:7

Accursed is their anger for it is strong; and their wrath for it is harsh; I will divide them in Jacob and I will disperse them in Israel.


Accursed is their wrath: RASHI: Even at the time of rebuke he cursed only their rage. This is what Bilaam [alluded to] when he said "How can I curse what G-d has not cursed'? (Numbers 23:8)


The verse tells us that Jacob rebuked them for killing the people of the city Shchem and also regarding their desire to kill Joseph. (See above 37:20) But even though he was quite angry with them for their reckless murder and attempted fratricide, nevertheless, Jacob only cursed "their anger" and not Simon and Levi themselves. Rashi cites Bilaam's wording in his curse as evidence that G-d did not curse the sons of Israel, so Jacob certainly could not curse them.


A Question: Rashi quotes Bilaam, to show that G-d did not curse the people. But how does the fact that G-d didn't curse the people of Israel, indicate that Jacob himself didn't curse his sons directly?

Several answers have been suggested.

Your Answer:


One answer given is that Jacob is called "Ail" (G-d) as Rashi had said above (33:20) that Jacob was called "Ail." But this interpretation of Rashi's words has been rejected by most commentaries.

Another explanation is that Jacob's blessing were given under the influence of Divine prophecy ("Ruach Hakodesh"). This means that if Jacob didn't curse the boys directly it was in accordance with G-d's will. Rashi then cites the case of Bilaam to show that G-d does not curse His people.


Jacob's choice of words "cursed is their anger" (and not the sons themselves) is a powerful educational message. He upbraided their anger, their behavior but not the sons themselves. When a father upbraids his child for a wrongdoing, the child learns that HE is no good. On the other hand, when his wrong behavior is singled out, he learns that his behavior is wrong and must change, but that he himself retains a measure of dignity. And more importantly, he retains a measure of acceptability in his father's eyes.

We have a similar lesson given to us in the Talmud, by Bruria, the wife of Rabbi Meir. When Rav Meir wanted his criminal neighbors to stop disturbing him, he prayed that they should die. His wife, Bruria, reprimanded him, and taught him that David prays in the Psalms (104 :35) that sins (not sinners) should cease. Once that happens, "then the wicked will be more." Her point being that we should try eradicate the behavior of sinners (not sinners ) and once their behavior ceases, then those who had enacted the sins, would be no more - meaning they would no longer be sinners but upright Jews.

Educators realize that this is an important lesson for encouraging a child (or an adult) to improve his behavior. By respecting the child while condemning the act, we have a better chance of holding on to the child while he struggles to improve his behavior with his parents' positive encouragement.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek "What's Bothering Rashi?" is a product of the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. A Hebrew translation of the Bereishis "What's Bothering Rashi?" is published. It is greatly expanded and is call "L'omko shel Rashi" look for it in bookstores.

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