Pop Quiz: For how long did Egypt mourn for Ya'akob?
A BLESSING IN DISGUISE
Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
Ya'akob told his sons to come around him so that he could bless them
before he left this world. He began by rebuking Reuben for getting
involved in his father's conjugal bed. Then he addressed Shimon and
Levi, and cursed their anger which was displayed when they destroyed the
city of Shechem. The Midrash tells us that Yehudah, who was next on
line, shrank back because he was afraid of what his father would say to
him, but Ya'akob blessed him instead.
We see from here that a blessing doesn't only mean being praised and
having good wishes heaped upon oneself. If someone points out our fault
and emphasizes our shortcomings so that we can better ourselves, that is
called a blessing. Ya'akob knew that for some of his children, pointing
out areas for improvement is the best berachah.
When someone gives us criticism, let's try to see how this can lead us
to self improvement. Although it may hurt our feelings somewhat, if we
look to better ourselves and are sincerely aiming to improve, we will try
to take it constructively, and this will help us change. In the long
run, this may be the best berachah!
THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER
Rabbi Reuven Semah
"And do kindness and truth with me - Please do not bury me in Egypt"
A story is told of a successful young shopkeeper before the war, who
used to pray in a Hasidic shul, and who owned two styles of clothing.
One was regular business attire that was perfect for the business world
that he was in, and the other was the Hasidic garb, which was more
suitable for the shul in his neighborhood. Every morning he would put on
his Hasidic clothing and attend an early morning class and pray Shaharit.
Afterwards, he would go home and change into his business suit and go to
work. After work, he returned home, changed again and went to pray
minhah. One afternoon he was late for minhah and almost went straight to
shul. He remembered at the last minute and went home to change, and
missed minhah. At this point he came to the realization that he had had
enough of this faking and decided to "come clean" and wear his business
suit to shul. As he expected, the moment he walked into shul with his
short jacket and beard rolled up, a number of elderly members ran up to
him to ask him what was wrong. "Nothing really," he replied." I have
always dressed this way in public, and I decided that it was high time
that I stopped fooling you all, and let you see the real me." The young
man didn't expect much praise, but hoped to get at least some credit for
being honest. But he was embarrassed when one man came forward and said
with a sigh, "We always knew that you dressed differently 'out there,'
but we thought you were fooling them. Now we know that all along you
were really fooling us!"
Every G-d-fearing Jew seems to live two lives - one in shul and the Bet
Midrash and the other in his secular dealings. Only one life is real,
and the other functions as a support for the real life. Which is it?
Rabbi M. Kimmelman used this story to explain the statement that Ya'akob
Abinu made in asking to be buried in the land of Israel. The phrase he
used was "hesed v'emet - a kindness and a truth." This seems
contradictory. Kindness means something extra, and truth implies
something that is earned. Ya'akob was asking Yosef a big favor, to make
all of the effort to take him out of Egypt and bury him in Israel. But
it would ultimately end up as an act of truth. The land of Israel was
where Ya'akob "really" lived. That is where he should be buried.
"Shimon and Levi are brothers" (Beresheet 49:5)
In the context of the pasuk, the word "achim," which is usually
translated as "brothers," is interpreted as "comrades." Shimon and Levi
are paired together as comrades in arms, who conspired together to commit
a violent act against the people of Shechem. From the fact that Ya'akob
calls them "achim," we may infer that he viewed them as equals, neither
one having any distinction over the other. Interestingly, this quality
did not last very long. In the end, they went different ways. Levi went
on to serve as the symbol of Torah. Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, the
leaders who shepherded Am Yisrael during its formative years, are
descendants of Levi. Shimon's descendants had a derogatory reputation.
Zimri, who openly defied Moshe and cohabited with a pagan princess, and
initiated the rebellion that was the cause of 24,000 Jews, was from the
tribe of Shimon. It was Pinhas, a descendant of Levi, who had the
zealous response which quelled the ensuing plague.
The tribe of Shimon was small in number, because so many of them
perished as a result of their sins. Shebet Levi's numbers were also
small, but that was due to their constant exposure to the sanctity of the
Aron Hakodesh. Neither received an official portion in Eres Yisrael.
The reason for the individual exclusion of each, however, was different.
Levi did not inherit a portion because Hashem is considered to be his
portion. He is to be totally dedicated to the sacred, not involving
himself in the mundane. Shimon, on the other hand, did not receive land
as a punishment for his transgression.
Where did they differ? How did two brothers, seemingly equal in nature
and temperament, uniform in their attitudes and observance, separate and
go in different directions? Rav Shimon Schwab suggests that while
Ya'akob apparently rebuked both brothers equally, Levi applied himself,
corrected his error and adjusted his attitude considerably. He devoted
himself whole-heartedly to the study and dissemination of Torah. The two
brothers started out the same way. One, however, listened and accepted
the mussar - reproach - that he received, to a greater degree. Levi
listened to the point that his descendant, zealous for the honor of
Hashem, killed the prince of the tribe of Shimon as he was committing a
repugnant act. It is not one's sin that destroys an individual as much
as his unwillingness to correct and mend his ways. One's character is
reflected most deeply in his sincere teshubah. (Peninim on the Torah)
Answer to Pop Quiz: 70 days.