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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And do kindness and truth with me. (47:29)

Rashi teaches that the kindness one performs for the deceased is chesed shel emes, kindness of truth. Under such conditions, one executes his duties for the express purpose of performing an act of chesed. There are no thanks, no accolades, no payment whatsoever. It is all l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. When it comes to acting on behalf of one who is deceased, the reward is unusual. I think the reason is simple. When we act kindly to a fellow Jew, the individual, for the most part, is acutely aware that he is the recipient of a favor from the benefactor; therefore, if he is a mentch, decent human being, he acknowledges the favor and is grateful. If however, no one is around to acknowledge the favor, because it is a chesed shel emes, Hashem "steps in" to repay the kindness. This is especially true in the case of a meis mitzvah, one who has no one to bury him, who has died alone with neither family nor friends. It is a special mitzvah to address whatever burial needs are involved. Indeed, the Kohen Gadol, High Priest, who is not permitted to contaminate himself for anyone, may be involved in the burial of a meis mitzvah.

The following story, which has made the rounds, is a verified incident which supports the notion that chesed shel emes is a chesed which is Divinely rewarded. It was winter in upstate New York. The weather was frigid, and the forecast was calling for a snowstorm, especially in the higher elevations. A Jewish fellow, who earned his living as a salesman, saw the ominous clouds and realized that if he was going to make it home before the storm, he had better leave early from his last appointment. Under normal circumstances, it was a five-hour drive home via the N.Y. State Thruway. Regrettably, today was not going to be "normal circumstances."

It started snowing earlier than expected and with an uncommon vengeance. Soon, the roads were snow covered and slippery. The salt trucks were hardly making a dent in the snow accumulation. The howling wind was freezing the ground, making driving treacherous. The salesman trudged on in the almost invisibility. He had to make it home. Suddenly, his chances of making it home that night were diminished, when the highway was closed and all cars rerouted. Now he had to find a motel where he could weather out the storm. Apparently, he was not the only one looking for a room, because every hotel in the area was booked solid. People were even bedding down in the lobbies. After inquiring from one of the hotel managers if there was any place in the neighborhood where he could obtain sleeping arrangements, he was told to try a nearby nursing home. They might have an extra bed.

It was not going to be pleasant, but the other choice was sleeping in his car. He followed directions to the "village," where he found the nursing home. Yes, they had extra beds but, no, they were not available to anyone who was a non-resident. The Jewish fellow would not give up. He needed a place to sleep. He would pay. The manager said, "Keep your money. We do not accept transients." Finally, the salesman wore him down, and he was allowed to sleep on the couch in the manager's office.

The next morning, the salesman thanked the manager for his kindness; he took out his wallet and was about to pay. The manager refused payment, saying that they were not in the business of renting rooms - or couches. "But I insist. I must pay. I am Jewish, and that is the Jewish way. When someone is kind to us, we demonstrate our gratitude," the salesman declared. "You say that you are Jewish. Great! Perhaps you can help us with a problem. One of the residents, a Mr. Goldberg, died six days ago, leaving no family and no contacts. As I was going to have the body interred in the local cemetery, I checked his records, which stated that he had stipulated in his contract upon entering the nursing home, that should he die, his remains must be interred in a Jewish cemetery. We are allowed to keep a body up to six days prior to burial. It is a G-d-send that you are here. Can you take his body with you and bury him in a Jewish cemetery?"

By now, the salesman understood that the snowstorm and his ending up in this nursing home were no coincidence. Hashem had guided events, to enable him to be the shliach, agent, to carry out the last wish of the deceased. The body was placed into a coffin and fit into the salesman's minivan, and he was off in search of a Jewish cemetery. The first two cemeteries were very apologetic, but their plots were all designated and paid for. They did not have a "potters field" section in their cemeteries. He kept on going. Meanwhile, he called a friend who was an askan, lay person, involved in many communal endeavors. The friend informed him that the German immigrant community had a section in their cemetery set aside specifically for such cases. He plugged the address into his GPS, and he was on his way. About an hour later, he stood before the director of the Chevrah Kaddisha, Jewish Sacred Buriel Society, who confirmed that they, indeed, had an area of their cemetery designated for meisei mitzvah. The salesman presented the paperwork that he had obtained from the nursing home. The director gave one look, and he almost passed out. After a few moments, he calmed down and was able to speak.

"Thirty years ago, a man came to the Chevra Kaddisha and presented us with a check for thirty thousand dollars. He had a simple request: We should set aside a section of our cemetery for anyone who needs burial and has neither family nor funds. That was the only time we met this person. During the last thirty years, we have helped many Jews who died alone. Do you know who this elusive benefactor was? He was none other than the deceased who is lying in your van!"

Shlach lachmecha al pnei ha'mayim u'brove hayamim timzaenah, "Cast your bread on the face of the water, because in the abundance of days you will find it" (Koheles 11:1).

Yisrael saw the sons of Yosef, and he said, "Who are these?" Yosef said to his father, "They are my sons, who Hashem gave me with this" (48:8,9)

Most of Parashas Vayechi is occupied with Yaakov Avinu's final moments on earth, his last will and testament to his children, and the various messages implied by his choice of words. The parsha opens with Yaakov's becoming ill and calling for Yosef to come to his bedside. Yosef did not come alone. He brought with him his two sons, Menasheh and Efraim. When Yaakov saw them, he asked, "Who are these?" Yosef replied, "They are my sons, whom G-d gave me with this…" Rashi presents an in-depth explanation of their conversation. Yaakov was about to bless Yosef's sons when, suddenly, the Shechinah left him, due to the evil descendants that would emerge from Yosef's sons. Yeravam and Achav would descend from Efraim, and Yeihu and his sons would descend from Menasheh. Sensing this emergence of evil, Yaakov wondered from where these people would emanate: They were certainly not fit for blessing. Perhaps there was something amiss about Yosef's marriage. This could be the source of his tainted lineage. Yosef immediately showed his father his kesubah, document, attesting to the integrity of his marriage. Yosef begged for mercy, and Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, returned to Yaakov.

The dialogue presents us with two questions. First, Yaakov's question concerning the source of his descendants' evil remains unanswered. Menasheh and Efraim remain the progenitors of their evil grandchildren, but Yaakov's Ruach HaKodesh returns, regardless. How does Yosef's response mitigate the problem raised by Yaakov?

The Shem MiShmuel addresses this question, but first explains another lineage-related anomaly. Later in the parsha, when Yaakov blesses Shimon and Levi, he declares, B'kehalam al teichad kevodi,"And in their congregation, do not join, O' my honor, (do not write my name)" (Ibid. 49:6). Rashi explains that this is a reference to Korach's congregation, his assembly of 250 mutineers against Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen. Korach was a descendant of Levi. Yaakov implored that when the Torah delineates Korach's ancestry, it should not include the Patriarch. Let the yichus, genealogy, end with Levi. Later on, in Divrei HaYamim (6:22,23), it does trace Korach's pedigree to Yisrael.

What significance is there to whether or not Yaakov's name is mentioned? Everyone knows that Yaakov is Levi's father. By ceasing the genealogy with Levi, nothing is accomplished. The Shem MiShmuel explains that Yaakov was concerned, lest the character defect present in Korach be attributed to him. The flaw that produced a Korach could not be traced to Yaakov. While Levi's descendants must have been carriers of this spiritual defect, neither Yaakov nor any of the tribes were "infected" with it. Had the flaw reached back to Yaakov, it would have meant that the entire Klal Yisrael was contaminated. Therefore, when the Torah records Korach's ancestry, Yaakov's name is omitted. When the chronicles in Divrei HaYamim traces the Priestly descent, then Yaakov/Yisrael is mentioned, since the Kohanim's holy and pure elements were clearly derived from Yaakov.

With this idea in mind, we return to Yaakov and the berachos he gave to Menasheh and Efraim. The Shem MiShmuel suggests that Yaakov's concern was regarding the "mistaken identity," which may present itself when his descendants - emerging from Menasheh and Efraim - would be thought to have defective character traits stemming back to them. This would then disenfranchise their entire tribes. When Yosef begged for mercy, he was effectively praying that this not be the case. Rather, the sins perpetuated by Yaravam, Achav and Yeihu, would be considered to be isolated incidents indicative of their own personal failings, but not related to their tribes. When Yosef showed his father his kesubah, he intimated, "We are good. What you see prophetically has nothing to do with us. It is a weakness in the descendants - not in their origins." Then, the Ruach HaKodesh that had left Yaakov returned. He was vindicated of any blemish.

So he blessed them that day, saying, "By you shall Yisrael bless." (48:20)

And so it has become the case throughout the generations. Parents bless their children; Menasheh and Efraim serve as the paradigms of blessing. Does bayom ha'hu, "that day," refer to a specific time? That day means that any day on which parents bless their children, Menasheh and Efraim will be their example. Horav Asher, zl, m'Karlin, interprets bayom ha'hu homiletically. Yaakov Avinu blessed his grandchildren that they should focus their endeavors on "that day." Never push off until tomorrow what can be done today. The idea of pushing things off l'machar, tomorrow, is Amalek's way of acting. By tomorrow, one no longer has the same enthusiasm that he has today. This is why Moshe Rabbeinu instructed Yehoshua to "Go out and fight with Amalek tomorrow" (Shemos 17:9). There are two ways to understand this pasuk: Either the battle would take place tomorrow; or tomorrow Moshe would stand of top of the hill and pray on behalf of Klal Yisrael. If we apply the first interpretation, the war was about "tomorrow." The yetzer hora, evil-inclination, senses a person's enthusiasm, his excitement, his inspiration, and he attempts to cool it off by employing the time-honored ruse of "tomorrow." The next day, the endeavor has already lost some of its inspiring allure. This is what Amalek/yetzer hora wants. He wants our service to Hashem to be insipid, cold, detached, almost as if we are compelled to do the mitzvah.

Yaakov Avinu intimated to his grandsons that success in avodas Ha'Kodesh, service to Hashem, is incumbent on ha'yom, today. When the inspiration comes, one must immediately act. Deferring it to a later - more convenient - time, distorts and downgrades the entire service. The emotion and enthusiasm are just not present. That is exactly what the yetzer hora seeks.

And as for me, I have given you Shechem - one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Emori with my sword and with my bow. (48:22)

Rashi offers two interpretations of Yaakov Avinu's conquest of Shechem. The first interpretation is that Shechem is a reference to the city of Shechem, which Yaakov conquered through the agency of Shimon and Levi. After the two brothers slew the inhabitants of Shechem, the surrounding nations rose up against Yaakov, who returned their warfare and miraculously emerged victorious. Therefore, charbi u'b'kashti, sword and bow, are realistic weapons which enabled the Patriarch to best his enemies.

The second interpretation maintains that Yaakov refers to the birthright, the double portion, he wrested away from Eisav, who is here referred to as the Emori. Accordingly, "my sword and bow" are metaphoric names for the spiritual weapons employed by Yaakov to triumph over Eisav. Rashi defines charbi, my sword, as sharp wisdom, and the bow as prayer, which catapults the supplicant's entreaty to Hashem. Gur Aryeh explains sword and bow as references to prayer, which, like a sharp sword, pierces spiritual barriers Above and Below. It is like a bow in that an arrow's swiftness, distance and power of penetration are based on the pressure exerted on the bow. Likewise, the efficacy of prayer is determined by the degree of the supplicant's intensity in concentration and sincerity of feeling.

Targum Onkeles interprets b'charbi u'b'kashti as b'tzalusi, with my prayer and my entreaty. Midrash Rabbah interprets it as "with my mitzvos and maasim tovim, good deeds." We wonder why Rashi chose to translate charbi as "sharp wisdom" and kashti as "prayer." The other interpretations all use spiritual metaphors to define these two words. Why does he seem to reject the other interpretations and apply a physical/mundane metaphor instead?

The Even Ha'Azel derives a powerful lesson from Rashi - one which we should all put to good use. Prayer is critical. Prayer is important. One cannot make it through life without prayer, but one must know for what to pray. This is when chochmah, wisdom, common sense, practical thinking, comes into play. We often turn to Hashem with our laundry list of supplications and needs, which we have convinced ourselves are of utmost importance. We simply cannot live without them. Not only do we not need everything for which we ask, some of the requests might even be to our detriment. Therefore, wisdom is an inherent part of a preamble to prayer. We must set aside those things that we want and pray for those which we really need.

At times, the most practical prayer is simply: "Hashem lead me on the correct and appropriate course. You guide me, because I know I cannot possibly do it alone." Asking for guidance is not a simple prayer. Common sense is an all-too-precious commodity, which regrettably is not available in excess. Let me add that nothing is worse than one who thinks he is wise when, in fact, his wisdom is a figment of his imagination.

The Even Ha'Azel concludes by observing what the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah, Men of the Great Assembly, took into consideration when they were mesader, organized, the formal daily tefillah service. The first three brachos, blessings, of the Shemonah Esrai are primarily praise to Hashem. Then we begin with our needs. Interestingly, the first blessing - which should set the tone for all of the rest - is, Atah chonein l'adam daas, "You graciously endow man with wisdom, insight, and discernment, Blessed are You, Hashem, gracious giver of wisdom." Likewise, on the Shabbos prior to Rosh Chodesh, in the prayer, Bircas HaChodesh, Blessing of the New Moon, we entreat Hashem, Sheyimalu mishaloseinu l'tovah, "that our heartfelt requests will be fulfilled for the good." Only Hashem knows what is truly good - and what is good for us. We ask that the blessing we receive from Him will be what He sees fit for us. We may have some difficulty accepting some of the "good," but we trust in Hashem's Divine wisdom and knowledge of "us."

Yaakov called for his sons and said, "Assemble yourselves, and I will tell you what will befall you in the End of Days. (49:1)

Rashi teaches that Yaakov Avinu was about to reveal the keitz, end of galus, exile, to his sons, but, at that moment, the Shechinah, Divine Presence, departed from him. The Shlah HaKadosh explains that Yaakov intimated to his sons the key to ending the exile. He told them Heiasfu! "Gather together; assemble yourselves as one!" v'agidah lachem, "and group yourselves together in one congregation; one assembly, all focused on Hashem. As long as there is pirud, separation, divisiveness, among the brothers, the Shechinah will remove itself from you, and the Geulah, Final Redemption, for which you are all yearning, will not take place."

The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, explains this similarly, but offers a different homiletic twist. Heiasfu v'agidah lachem. When each and every one of you is b'bechinas, conceptually, as efes, nothing; when you rid yourselves of arrogance, and instead take a dim view of yourselves; when you are efes in your own eyes; then v'agidah lachem, you will merit to become one agudah, group. This will bring about Acharis HaYamim, the End of Days. When one Jew thinks he is better, more dignified, a greater scholar, more observant, than the other, there simply cannot be a cohesive framework. The exile will sadly continue as long as Jews feel a sense of dominance over one another. We need to feel a sense of afsius, insignificance, about ourselves.

Arrogance is offensive. It is the product of a powerful imagination. The baal gaavah, egotist, conjures in his mind that he is "it" and that everyone reveres him for his unique qualities, when, in reality, it is far from true. Sefer HaMeshalim offers a powerful analogy which reveals the egotist's true source of arrogance.

A donkey was loaded with strong perfumes, whose odor could be sensed from a distance. Wherever the donkey went, people would make an effort to come in its close proximity. This, of course, went to the donkey's head. When the donkey returned to its stable, he shared with his "colleagues" his greatness and appeal to the populace.

The next day, the donkey's load was changed to fertilizer. The pungent odor stretched far and wide. Everyone turned up their nose and distanced themselves from the fetid odor. The foul-smelling burden was a real turn-off - quite unlike the load of the day before. Being a donkey, this also went to his head, as he once again shared with his stable mates, this time the intimidation and fear that he invoked in people. Everyone was running from him out of fright.

The wise fox, who overheard the donkey's bragging of the last two days, interjected and said, "You are a fool. It is not you whom the people either adore or fear. It is your load. When you carry perfume, they gravitate to the smell; when you carry fertilizer, they cringe and disperse as quickly as possible from the odor. You are nothing. It is what you carry that determines the people's reaction."

I think the above analogy says it all. My byline is unnecessary.

All these are the twelve tribes of Yisrael… and he (Yaakov) blessed them. Everyone according to his blessing did he bless them. (49:28)

Changing one's direction in life is difficult. Once one has either chosen a specific path, or has ended up living a certain lifestyle because it just evolved, he finds change difficult. Many factors are involved. Complacency often prevails; and depression, the mounting feeling that "change" is something one cannot handle or in which will not be successful, is a powerful deterrent. Therefore, we often remain in a bind, doing the same thing, sticking to the same mold - and being miserable. Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, derives a lesson from Yaakov Avinu which will invariably save the day for many of those who cannot seem to gather the strength of character with which to alter their lifestyles and opt for a more spiritually productive way of life.

The last few words of the above pasuk are enigmatic. How many blessings did each shevet, tribe, receive? First, the Torah says that Yaakov blessed them all - collectively. Then it says that each one individually received his own blessing. Rashi explains that he gave each tribe the blessing suitable and specific for it. He also gave a comprehensive, inclusive, blessing to his sons. Rav Yeruchem explains that a blessing is a stimulant, allowing and encouraging an individual's growth. It is based upon a person's innate potential, enhancing and bringing it to fruition. One who blesses is acutely aware of his subject's potential, understanding how he works and what makes him tick. By addressing his specific talents and character traits, he encourages his growth. Each one of the Shevatim had its dominant character trait. Yaakov pointed to it as if to say, "Take that specific G-d-given talent and develop it. Your unique talent is yours alone. Only you can bring it to realization. Only you can develop it to its ultimate fruition. While there was a comprehensive "family" blessing, Yaakov's primary emphasis was on the uniqueness of each tribe.

The Mashgiach employs this as a stepping stone for character development. Indeed, by focusing on his unique character trait, one catalyzes himself to achieve greater success. It is these specific character traits that should receive our greatest emphasis. Why? Because success usually begets success! In the process of succeeding in one area of our lives, we create a ripple effect for other character traits which do not lend themselves as easily to success. Once we have succeeded at something, we feel the inspiration, the courage, and motivation to continue the upward climb to total success.

Character development is a formidable undertaking, but it becomes much simpler when developing one character trait at a time - beginning with one's natural tendencies which are obviously more conducive for success. The self-confidence and reassurance one gains from perfecting that first middah, character trait, encourage and facilitate him to go the whole way.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'yacheid levaveinu l'ahavah u'l'yirah es Shemecha. And unify our hearts to love and fear Your Name.

Simply put, we ask Hashem to unify our emotions and inclinations toward one goal: to serve Him with love and fear (awe). Horav Baruch Epstein, zl, observes that the word levaveinu is written in the plural, which denotes two hearts. This is especially significant, since it had previously been stated in the singular, v'dabeik libeinu b'mitzvosecha, "and make our hearts cling to Your mitzvos." Why is there a change? He quotes the Talmud Bava Basra 12b that renders the word leivav as implying two hearts; the yetzer tov, good inclination; and the yetzer hora, evil-inclination. We, thus, ask Hashem that He unify these two inclinations, by distancing the yetzer hora from us and bringing close the yetzer tov.

Rav Epstein takes it to the next level by exchanging the yud of v'yacheid for the aleph of echad, one. Thus, instead of the translation being "and unify," it becomes "and make our hearts - one." We want to have but one heart to serve You with love and fear. Rather than unifying both hearts together, we ask that we have only good within us.

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