This issue is sponsored by the Chaitowitz Family
Vol. 22 No. 12
in loving memory of
Avraham Shalom ben Shneur Zalman z"l
Meir Dovid ben Shlomo Eliezer z"l
Rivka bas Yona z"l
Shimon & Levi
(Adapted from the Ramban)
"Shimon and Levi are brothers/comrades, their weapons are weapons of violence" (49:5).
Initially, the Ramban explains that the Pasuk is speaking in defense of Shimon and Levi, whose murder of the inhabitants of Sh'chem Ya'akov considered an unforgivable crime. And he is coming here to explain that they acted out of zealousy, based on the genuine brotherly love that they felt towards Dinah.
He prefers however, the explanation that Ya'akov is referring to Shimon and Levi as comrades in arms. Referring to his commentary in Parshas Vayishlach - that Ya'kov was furious with them, he explains that the people of Sh'chem, who had entered into a covenant with Ya'akov's family, had done them no harm. Indeed, he claims, they would no doubt have done Teshuvah on their past sins, and joined forces with their newfound friends and mentors, in the same way as the Ba'alei-Teshuvah whom Avraham and Sarah had 'converted' in Charan.
Consequently, he was angry for the treacherous act that they had performed against their innocent victims. And he was also angry at the prospect of the blame being laid at his door, on the assumption that his sons had acted on his instructions, or at least with his consent. And this in turn, would have caused a major Chilul Hashem. That is why he cursed their anger and fury, and why, in the very next Pasuk, Ya'akov completely disassociates himself from their trickery and on their slaughter of an entire town of innocent people.
And it was because their inherent way of life was one of violence (this is how the Ramban translates the latter half of the current Pasuk), Ya'akov continues "I will split them up in Ya'akov and disperse them in Yisrael". He split them up to ensure that they would never join forces and scattered them throughout the land to prevent them from gathering together.
That is why Shimon's territory was dotted throughout that of Yehudah, one town here and one town there, whereas Levi received their inheritance in the form of the cities of refuge, which were scattered all over the land, thus ensuring that they would be unable to create trouble.
Finally, Ya'akov concludes, he did this because in their anger, Shimon and Levi killed all the men and they willfully destroyed all their oxen (i.e. animals and possessions). He refused to justify not only the murder of the citizens of Sh'chem, but also the destruction of their animals and property.
Interestingly, according to the Or ha'Chayim, the current Pesukim refer, not to the incident with Sh'chem, but to the treatment of Yosef. He ascribes the "weapons of violence", to the sale of Yosef, who, he explains, was not guilty of doing them any harm. And, even though all the brothers were involved in the sale, Shimon and Levi were the ones to set the ball rolling, as the Pasuk states "And one man said to his brother 'Here comes the master dreamer! Come let us kill him!' ". And, as the Medrash says, this refers to Shimon and Levi, who hated Yosef the most and who were the chief instigators of the initial plot to assassinate him.
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(Adapted from the Ramban)
The Galus of Egypt,
the Galus of Rome
"Ya'akov lived seventeen years in the land of Egypt …" (47:28).
The Ramban explains that Galus Mitzrayim was the forerunner of the Galus of Edom ('Ma'aseh ovos siman le'bonim'), and he lists the similarities between the two.
To begin with, he points out, the brothers caused their own exile by selling Yosef, though they actually went down to Egypt on account of the famine. When Ya'akov went to Egypt, he believed that he would be safe in the care of his son who was loved by the king of Egypt, and he thought that they would sojourn there temporarily until the famine came to an end. Indeed, he specifically told Par'oh that they had come "to sojourn in the land … because the famine is heavy in the land of Cana'an" (Vayigash, 47:4). But things did not turn out that way. Relations between them and their hosts soured, and they remained in exile for the entire duration of their lives and a number of generations beyond.
Note how all of these issues were repeated in connection with the Roman exile. The people caused their own exile by calling in the Romans to settle a dispute between two warring factions. The ensuing peace-treaty lasted only a few years, when the Romans abrogated it and turned against them. The ultimate fall of Yerushalayim came about through starvation and the ultimate Galus drags on with no end in sight (the Ramban wrote this some eight hundred years ago).
One might add that Galus Edom, like Galus Mitzrayim, was brought by sin'as chinam (unjustified hatred).
The Inheritance of Efrayim & Menasheh
"And the children that you will father after them, will be called on the name of their brothers in their inheritance" (48:6).
Commenting on this Pasuk, Rashi explains that, in the event that Yosef will have more children, they will not be counted as Ya'akov's children (to add to the number of tribes), but they will be included in the tribes of Menasheh and Efrayim.
Even though, he continues, Eretz Yisrael was divided up, not according to the size of the tribe, but according to the heads (i.e. every person received the same amount of land - with the exception of the firstborn, who received double), nevertheless, it was only Ya'akov's twelve sons (not counting Levi) who were considered tribes.
In other words, Rashi is saying, it would have made no practical difference whether any additional sons of Yosef would have been counted as individual tribes or not.
The Ramban disagrees with Rashi. According to Rashi, he asks, why does the Torah write "in their inheritance", and to prove his point, he cites the Gemara in Horiyos (Daf 7b) which states that the Torah compares Efrayim and Menasheh to Reuven and Shimon with regard to inheritance. And he therefore concludes, backing his conclusion with a Gemara in Bava Basra, that Eretz Yisrael was not divided up according to the heads, but according to the tribes.
Consequently, the tribe of Shimon, the smallest tribe (at the time that they distributed the land) received the same portion of land as Yehudah, the largest tribe.
Incidentally, the Ramban maintains that, now that Ya'akov Avinu talked about Yosef having more children, it is inconceivable that his words should have been spoken in vain and that, without shadow of doubt, he did indeed father more children, who inherited together the children of Efrayim and Menasheh.
The Fall of Shimshon
"It is for your salvation that I long" (49:18).
The current Pesukim refer to Shimshon, who is 'the snake' mentioned in the previous Pasuk, as Rashi explains (See end of article).
Shimshon, the Ramban explains, was the last of the 'judges' and the only one to fall into the hands of the enemy. Shmuel, who took over the reins of leadership from Shimshon and who did not fight the battles of Yisrael, was a Navi, and still in his time, the era of Kings took over from that of the Judges.
And when Ya'akov saw that the salvation brought about by Shimshon came to an abrupt end, he declared the above Pasuk. What he meant was that it was for the ultimate salvation of Hashem that would last forever that he was waiting for, and not for the short-term salvation of the snake (Shimshon).
Rabeinu Bachye actually ascribes the current Pasuk to Shimshon, as the Tefilah that he offered to G-d because the house collapsed, killing all those who were inside as well as those who were on the roof.
Incidentally, in the first of numerous reasons to explain why Shimshon is referred to as 'a snake', Rabeinu Bachye explains that his method of fighting resembled that of a snake. Like a snake, he would operate on his own, like a snake, he would suddenly appear among the P'lishtim - as if from nowhere; and like a snake, he would strike, kill and disappear, leaving no trace of his whereabouts.
The Troops of Gad
"The troops of Gad will go to war and they will all return safely" (49:19).
This is roughly how Rashi translates the Pasuk, following in the footsteps of Targum Unklus and Targum Yonasan. They explain the Pasuk with reference to the tribe of Gad, who were fierce soldiers, and who would keep their promise to lead Yisrael into battle, together with Reuven and half of Menasheh, during the conquest of Cana'an, and all of whom returned safely to their home in Eiver ha'Yarden.
The Ramban however, translates the first half of the Pasuk as "Gad, Troops will invade the land of Gad". And, citing the parallel b'rachah of Moshe Rabeinu in 've'Zos ha'B'rachah' (33:2), he refers to 'Gad's evil neighbours Amon and Mo'av, who would attack them time and time again, to plunder the large territory that Gad owned in Eiver ha'Yarden. And the Pasuk concludes with the prophecy that, each time, Gad would succeed in forcing them to retrace their steps and to return to their land empty-handed.
See the above-mentioned Pasuk in 've'Zos ha'B'rachah' and Rashi there for a more detailed description of the immense strength of the soldiers of Gad.
Alternatively, the Ramban suggests, Ya'akov was referring to the episode with Yiftach ha'Gil'adi, who, defending his land against the vastly superior army of Amon, soundly defeated them and went on to capture many of their cities.
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