Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 7   No. 12

Parshas Vayechi

Hasty Like Water

Reuven, as Ya'akov's firstborn son, says the Targum, was due to receive the birthright (a double portion in the inheritance), the Kehunah and the Kingship. These are all hinted in the three expressions "bechori", "se'eis" and "oz" respectively. Why did he lose them all?

The Kli Yokor explains that the three reasons are all hinted here: "(Because) you are hasty like water (in everything that you do), you will not gain". A king's major responsibility is to establish justice, and justice requires careful consideration, not haste; so he lost the kingship.

" ... because you went up on (moved) your father's beds" - the function of the Kehunah is to bring the Shechinah down to the Beis ha'Mikdosh, which is called "the bed of Your Father in Heaven" (see Rashi, Shir ha'Shirim 1:13 and 3:7). But on account of what he did with Bilhoh, he proved himself unworthy of the Kehunah.

"Then you desecrated my bed ... ". At that time, he desecrated Ya'akov's bed too, in order to prevent him from having more children. He did this, explains the Ramban, so that ultimately, he would inherit a larger chunk of his father's property - that explains why, measure for measure, Ya'akov punished Reuven by depriving him of the birthright, giving it instead to the open-handed Yosef, who generously provided for his father and his brothers in Egypt.


The implication of the posuk is that Reuven did not receive a blessing at all, only a rebuke. But how can that be, asks the Kli Yokor, seeing as the Torah concludes "He blessed each one with his own special blessing"?

In fact, he explains, Ya'akov's b'rochoh to Reuven was exactly the same as that of Moshe, as we shall soon see.

Quoting the Mahari, he explains that since Reuven would later go into battle at the head of the troops (together with Gad), Moshe blessed him with the b'rochoh "Reuven shall live and not die". Elaborating on this, the Kli Yokor goes on to explain that this b'rochoh incorporated the physical strength to play the role required of him, whereas the continuation of the b'rochoh "And his men will be (so many that they need to be) numbered" refers to the large numbers of troops with which they were blessed (the qualitative and the quantitative blessing of strength, as expressed in the two features mentioned in 'Al ha'nisim' - 'You handed the strong into the hands of the weak, and the many into the hands of the few').

And that is precisely what Ya'akov Ovinu said to Reuven "Extra numbers and extra strength you will not gain", referring (aside from the Kehunah and the Kingship, of which we spoke earlier) to the double portion of numbers and strength that he would have received as the first-born, but which he now lost. This implies however, that the single portion of numbers and strength that he should also have had to forfeit on account of his sin, he would still receive, due to Ya'akov's b'rochoh; as Rashi explains, he would at least be counted among the tribes (even if he would not exceed them). In this context, that too, is a b'rochoh.


The Or ha'Chayim, explaining why Ya'akov gave the birthright to Yosef and not to Yehudah or one of the older brothers, quotes the Zohar, who says that the birthright really belonged to Yosef anyway, because the night that Ya'akov married Leah, he thought he was marrying Rochel, and so his mind was set on Rochel that entire night. And in the higher realms, it is the thought that accompanies the action which creates the deepest impact. Indeed, he says, it was that 'confusion' on the night that Reuven was conceived, which implanted the 'spark of evil' in Reuven, causing him in turn to 'confuse' the beds of Ya'akov. And because he did not repress the urge to give vent to that spark, he lost the birthright to Yosef, the one who rightfully deserved it in the first place.


The kingship went to Yehudah, the Or ha'Chayim adds, because he was the first to confess to having sinned (when he publicly declared that Tomor was righteous and that he was the man from whom she was pregnant). And it was his confession that prompted Reuven to follow suite and do likewise. Certainly, Reuven was the first true ba'al teshuvah (to repent without external pressure), explains the Or ha'Chayim, but it was from Yehudah that he learned to add the vital ingredient of confession to his teshuvah (as the Gemoro writes in Bovo Kama 92a - see also Tosfos there). And that is why Yehudah merited the kingship in place of Reuven.


The Kehunah, he concludes, lay in abeyance unil one of the tribes would prove themselves worthy of it. And that tribe would later turn out to be Levi, who earned that right following the sin of the Golden Calf, when they were the only tribe to remain totally loyal to Hashem, as the Torah writes in ve'Zos ha'Brochoh.


Parshah Pearls


Feeling Better

" ... And Yisroel became stronger and he sat up on the bed" (48:2). Chazal have said in Nedorim (39b) that someone who visits a sick person takes away one sixtieth of his illness - provided that he is a 'ben gil' (born under the same Mazel). Yosef was indeed a ben gil of Ya'akov, points out the Gro (as Rashi brings from the Medrash in Veyeishev). Consequently, when he entered Ya'akov's room, he would have taken one sixtieth of Ya'akov's illness, explaining why Ya'akov became stronger and was able to sit up on the bed.

And this is hinted in the word "ha'mittoh" ('the bed') which has the numerical value of fifty-nine, because when Yosef entered, Ya'akov remained with only fifty-nine parts of his illness. (Gro)


Eighteen Times

" ... and let them carry my name and the name of my fathers Avrohom and Yitzchok ..." (48:16).

The Torah Temimah cites a Yerushalmi in B'rochos which connects the eighteen b'rochos in the Amidah with the eighteen times that the names of the Ovos are mentioned in the Torah. The eighteen times includes this posuk, in spite of the fact that Ya'akov's name is not mentioned specifically.

A chochom suggested that Ya'akov deliberately omitted his name, because he had two names, Ya'akov (symbolising the lower level of the Jewish people) and Yisroel (which symbolised the higher one). By omitting his name, his blessing would cover either level, so that Ephrayim and Menasheh would be blessed, irrespective of which level they were at.


It seems to me however, that he only specified Avrohom and Ya'akov, because "my fathers" would otherwise have included Terach; whereas "Sh'mi" has no such implication, in which case there is no point in mentioning his name.


Increasing Like Fish

"And they will increase in the midst of the land (like fish)" (ibid). Many people ask that this b'rochoh did not seem to have materialised, because by all the countings in the desert, Ephrayim and Menasheh were not larger than the other tribes. The posuk however, does add the words "in the midst of the land", and, sure enough, the moment they entered Eretz Yisroel, their numbers increased dramatically, explaining why the tribe of Menasheh complained bitterly about the shortage of space in their land. And so it is with all the b'rochos, which did not take effect until they entered Eretz Yisroel. (P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro quoting ha'K'sav ve'ha'Kaboloh)


In fact, if one takes into account that Ephrayim and Menasheh were really one tribe, one realises that Yosef was the largest tribe by far; because, when one adds 40,000 (one fifth - assuming that four-fifths would have died during the plague of darkness - of the two hundred thousand sons of Ephrayim who left Egypt thirty years early and who were killed by the P'lishtim), to the 72,000 combined total of the two tribes in Bamidbor, one is left with a total of 112,000 against the 74,000 of Yehudah - otherwise the largest tribe. And in Pinchos, this number increases by approximately 11,000 - 123,000 against Yehudah's 76,000. A staggering difference! This certainly bears out the b'rochoh of Ya'akov of "v'yidgu lo'rov ..." or, as others quote the source in the posuk later "ben Poros alei Ayin" ('the fruitful son who is above the eye' - 49:22).


To See or Not to See

Yosef merited the b'rochoh of being above the eye (that the ayin ho'ra can do him no harm) on two scores: the one, because he declined to look at his mistress, Potifar's wife, in spite of all her efforts to induce him to do so; the other, on the day that he was appointed viceroy of Egypt and was led in state around the country, all the girls flocked to see this striking young man. They lined the walls, and did everything they could to attract his attention - but in vain. Yosef (who is not called 'ha'tzadik' for nothing), refused to give them as much as a glance. Someone who has such perfect control over his own eyes, cannot be harmed by someone else's!


History of the World

(Part 57)

(Adapted from the Seder Ha'doros)


Ptolemy receives the seventy-two sages amid much pomp and ceremony. For seven days they are his guests, eating with him in the royal palace. During this time, he asks them many questions, puzzles and riddles, all of which they answer satisfactorily. The king is overwhelmed by their vast store of knowledge.

He then takes them to an island off the sea-shore near Alexandria, and places each one in a separate room, with orders to translate the Torah into Greek. The translation takes them seventy-two days, during which time they are treated royally. Each morning, they leave their rooms to greet the King, after which they return to their rooms, daven, eat and work on the translation until the ninth hour of the day (3 p.m.), when they are once again permitted to leave their rooms and relax.

When the translation is completed, Ptolemy gathers all the Jews and reads out to them the text of the translation, after which he sends the sages home with many gifts and much silver and gold.

The Seforim write that this was a sad day for Yisroel, listing it as one of the reasons that we fast on the tenth of Teives (though Megilas Ta'anis records it as having taken place on the eighth, adding that, following the translation, darkness descended upon the world for three days).



Ptolemy the third ascends the throne of Egypt. He is a kind king who loves the Jews. He never sacrifices to idols, only to G-d in Yerusholayim.



Ptolemy the fourth (known as Plamiter) rules over Egypt. Chonyo, the son of Shimon ha'Tzadik receives permission from him to build a house of worship in Alexandria (some say that this takes place many years later.( See year 3585)



Ptolemy the fifth (known as Pilofater), oppressor of the Jews, rules over Egypt. He kills sixty thousand Jews in one stroke, besides killing his own wife and sister. Throughout his reign the Jews know nothing but suffering. He is poisoned during the seventeenth year of his reign.

Antiochus (the great grandfather of the wicked Antiochus), the sixth King of Syria, ascends the throne. He orders that no harm should befall the Jews or their Beis ha'Mikdosh, that nobody who is not Jewish may enter the holy places and that no animals that are unfit to be brought as sacrifices may be taken into Yerusholayim. He is killed in battle in 3594.



Yehoshua ben P'rachyoh and Nitai ho'Arbeili receive the Torah from Yosef ben Yoezer and Yosef ben Yochonon (152 years after the building of the second Beis ha'Mikdosh). Yehoshua ben P'rachyoh will live until 5704. Choni ha'Me'agel is alive at this time, and so too is Eliyohu, the author of Tana de'Bei Eliyohu. Yeshu the Notzri is a disciple of Yehoshua ben P'rachyoh (though according to others, he lived close to a hundred years later).



Ptolemy the sixth (known as Plumitura) ascends the throne of Egypt. He also rules over Armenia and Eretz Yisroel. Chonyo, son of Shimon ha'Tzadik goes to Egypt to obtain permission to build a Beis ha'Mikdosh in Alexandria. The king is reluctant to grant him his wish on the grounds that G-d would not want His house built outside Eretz Yisroel, but Chonyo manages to convince him that it is in order to do so.

Also at this time, a dispute arises between the Jews and the Samaritans as to the authenticity of Har G'rizim as a holy place. They bring their dispute to Ptolemy for arbitration, and reach an agreement that whoever loses the case will be put to death. Among the proofs that the Jews bring that Har G'rizim was not sanctified, is the fact that no king ever sent gifts and sacrifices there, like they regularly sent them to Yerusholayim. (Others date this event much earlier, some as early as in the time of Alexander Mokdon.)


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