JANUARY 12-13, 2000 18 TEBET 5761
- Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"And Ya'akob was gathered unto his people" (Beresheet 49:33)
The Rabbis note that it never says that Ya'akob Abinu died. Rather, it says he was gathered unto his people, which means his mission in life was over, and he was no longer functioning. But death is never ascribed to Ya'akob. Although this can be understood on many levels, one lesson to be derived is that certain people live on many years after they leave this world. Indeed, righteous people are considered alive even after death, because their deeds and values continue to exist in their children and offspring.
We should think about our departed parents and grandparents, to see if they are still living inside of us. I know of several people who, before every major decision, ask themselves, "What would my father or mother do in this case?" Their parents are still alive for them.
However, the Talmud says that wicked people are considered dead even in their lifetime. That is, they are stagnating and are dead internally as far as their souls are concerned. We must ask ourselves, how alive are we now? Can we be doing more to be even more alive? After 120 years will our impact on our families and community be substantial enough to be called living forever, like Ya'akob? Shabbat Shalom.
- Rabbi Reuven Semah
"Red eyed from wine and white toothed from milk" (Beresheet 49:12)
Jacob, at the end of his life, wanted to reveal the end of days. Hashem did not allow him to do so. However, he blessed his sons and revealed to them glimpses of what the future will hold for each one in the Promised Land. Yehudah's portion would be productive and flow with wine like a fountain. So lush would his grapevines be that a farmer would tie his donkey to a single vine because it would produce as many grapes as a donkey can carry. The people would be red-eyed from so much wine, and their teeth would be very white from the abundance of milk.
The Talmud (Berachot 55b) states that this verse also hints to another concept. "And white teeth is greater than milk" meaning to say that it is far greater to smile and show your white teeth to your fellow man than to give him milk to drink. A smile or encouraging word can go very far, much farther than you think. Here is a true story:
Once a young Torah scholar met a big Rabbi in shul after Shaharit. This Rabbi was famous for his ability to counsel couples who were having marital problems. The Rabbi gave the young man a great thank-you for successfully helping to bring peace to the home of a couple that he had been trying to help for a long time. The scholar didn't know what the Rabbi was talking about, and said he definitely had the wrong party. The Rabbi persisted that with one word, he saved the day. The young man still insisted that he had the wrong man. The Rabbi said, "Isn't it true that a few days ago, you met a very studious and devoted young man? Isn't it true that you were so impressed that when you saw his father, you patted him on the back telling him, 'Ah, what a son you have! How fortunate you are to be the parent of such a fine young man!'" The young man was forced to acknowledge that he was the "guilty party." The Rabbi proceeded to explain that with those words, which took only a few seconds, he set that home back on track and performed one of the greatest misvot. The father knew he had a good son but that comment made him realize his son's value even more. The father's self-esteem was raised. When he came home, he saw his home in a new light and decided that there were no problems and decided to reconcile.
One word - it can do so much. We can spread compliments all over. It costs nothing. A smile costs nothing, but it can do wonders. Shabbat Shalom.
"Let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth" (Beresheet 48:16)
Ya'akob blessed them to multiply as the fish of the ocean. What was his motive in comparing them to fish?
Once the Roman government issued a decree forbidding Torah study. Papus ben Yehudah saw Rabbi Akiba conducting Torah classes and asked him, "Do you not fear punishment by the law?" Rabbi Akiba answered with a parable: A fox was strolling along the riverbank and noticed fish swimming swiftly from place to place. He asked, "Why are you running?" They replied, "We are afraid of the net that people set up to catch us." The fox slyly said, "Perhaps it would be wise to ascend to the shore and live together with me as my parents lived with your parents." The fish responded, "You speak foolishly. If we are afraid in our native habitat, our fear will be even greater on land, where death will be certain."
Similarly, Torah is our source of life and may save us. Without it we will definitely perish.
Ya'akob was instructing his children to always remember that just as a fish cannot live without water, so a Jew cannot exist without Torah; and he blessed them to "swim like a fish" in the "Yam Hatalmud" - the ocean of Torah study.
Also, the life of a fish depends in a large measure on its vitality and ability to swim upstream. If it permits itself to be swept along by the current of the rapids or the tide, it will be scuttled and squashed. It is only because the Creator has endowed the fish with the precious instinct of self-preservation, whereby it is able to swim upstream against the forces of the billowing waves that it can survive and thrive. Ya'akob blessed his children to be capable and willing to swim upstream and resist the temptation of running with the herd and swimming with the tide. (Vedibarta Bam)
"Shimon and Levi are brothers, weapons of violence are their tools...I will divide them up in Ya'akob and I will scatter them in Yisrael" (Beresheet 49:5-7)
Rashi explains that they were destined to become wanderers amongst the Jews, serving as scribes, who write and check sacred scrolls such as Tefillin, mezuzot and sifrei Torah, as teachers of children, wandering from community to community, and as Kohanim and Leviim, whose sustenance comes from gifts of harvest across the countryside.
All this was in response to their actions at Shechem, when they killed the population of an entire city for being party to the violation of their sister, Dinah. This punishment, which resulted in the diffusion of their strength, was a just response to their actions. However, we must ask why they should then have served as the teachers and guardians of our heritage? Were they suitable to be trusted with the education of our children and the maintenance of our sacred scrolls? Would it not have been more appropriate to bestow these lofty positions on those brothers who were glorified with praise?
Ya'akob sensed in Shimon and Levi a zealousness and enthusiasm for Torah, with a sense of responsibility that even exceeded the obligations demanded us by the Torah. This became apparent in their response to the tragic violation of their sister. They acted zealously and passionately to avenge the terrible desecration of Hashem's Name. Their response was in contrast to that of the rest of the brothers. Ya'akob perceived that the transmission of our heritage could be entrusted only to those whose concern for our people was all encompassing. The destiny of the Jewish people would be fulfilled through the leadership and guidance of such zealous individuals. However, this passion and zeal, could become undisciplined and uncontrolled, if not tempered properly and guided by Torah study. This was Ya'akob's message and blessing to his sons. Take your awesome powers and discipline them through Torah and ultimately you will be the great source of leadership for Am Yisrael. (Peninim on the Torah)
This week's Haftarah: Melachim I 2:1-12
This haftarah tells about the end of Kind David's life, when he gave instructions to his son, Shelomo, to be carried out after his death. This is similar to our perashah in which Ya'akob blesses his children before his passing.
Answer to Pop Quiz: Yosef's sons, Efrayim and Menasheh.
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