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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt… and the days of Yaakov - the years of his life. (47:28)

The popular adage, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life," rings true in the ears of the committed who are acutely aware of the meaning of every moment of G-d-given life. We have no guarantees. Life is short, and it is up to each and every one of us to make the most of every minute. This is unlike the attitude of some who believe that everything belongs to them.

Parashas Vayechi deals primarily with the last mortal days of Yaakov Avinu: how he prepared for death, and the blessings he gave his children before he left this world. It is, therefore, surprising that a parsha which deals with death should be called Vayechi - "And he lived!" Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, suggests that the Torah alludes to the notion that the greatness of a tzaddik in life is his ability to focus on his own death. A great person understands that true life is not lived in this world, which is only a vestibule to Olam Habba, the World to Come. That is where life is lived - in the world of truth. Thus, Yaakov's entire life was spent in preparation for the moment of death, when he would enter into true life.

This teaches us that true life is a life in which one prepares himself for his Heavenly meeting with the Almighty. One who lives without giving a second thought to his ultimate demise is not really considered to be living. Thus, the parsha which addresses Yaakov Avinu's death is called, Vayechi Yaakov, "And Yaakov lived."

When the Torah mentions Yaakov's age, it says, Vayehi yemei Yaakov - shnei chayav, "And the days of Yaakov, the years of his life." If the Torah is interested in relating Yaakov's age, why does it mention the "days" of his life? Would not his age in "years" be more appropriate? Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz explains that the Torah is teaching us an important principle. Despite the Patriarch's advanced age, every day of his life had great significance to him. Contrary to popular opinion, one should not question the value of "another day" once someone has attained longevity, since every day that one is granted by G-d is a precious treasure of incalculable value. It must be appreciated, valued and utilized appropriately.

Veritably, when a person reaches a point in life during which he begins to realize that his days are numbered, he becomes less focused on the affairs of this world, as he transitions to thinking primarily about his "future" in Olam Habba. Rav Gamliel quotes Horav Gershon Shtamer, zl, who says that a person thinks when he approaches old age and eventually takes leave of his mortal self, that this is his moment of death. The truth is, that from the very moment of birth, with every day that passes - another day of his life has died. Man dies daily! It is just that when the final moment arrives, his mortal remains are interred in the ground. This is his final moment, but, actually, we die a little every day. Yesterday is gone. We can do nothing about it. Time is a gift that, if wasted, can never be returned.

When writing about life and death, I feel it incumbent on me not to end on a somewhat morbid note. Thus, I take the liberty of quoting a story which, although it ends in death, is the kind of story that makes one proud to be mizera ha'Yehudim, a Jew. It was common knowledge that those who were sent on the transports to Auschwitz were forbidden to take any seforim, Hebrew books, with them. There was a certain Jew who obstinately refused to part with a small Sefer Torah that he kept with him, even as he was being taken to the transport train. When the Nazi fiend saw that this man was not giving up his scroll, and that he obviously was not smuggling in anything, he let him go. After all, he knew exactly where this Jew was going to end up.

Upon arrival at Auschwitz, everyone was told to leave all of their possessions on the cattle cars which had served as their transport. This Jew was not waiting for them to search him, so he immediately ran off the train with his precious Torah scroll in his arms. He ran right into the furious opposition of a group of German officers. They reviled him, cursed him, beat and mocked him, but he seemed oblivious to everything. He completely ignored them, as he embraced the scroll in his arms.

At this point, another soldier came over, took out his revolver and pointed it at the man's heart, threatening to shoot him unless he gave up the Torah. The Jew continued ignoring him, absolutely refusing to be separated from his Torah. If he would be shot as a result of this - so be it. He was not frightened. Without the Torah, his life was not worth living. He was prepared to die. The soldiers looked at each other and shrugged, as if to say, "Let him keep his Torah. It will not be for much longer." Indeed, the Sefer Torah never left his embrace until he entered the gas chamber.

A Jew who had long been alienated from Torah and mitzvos viewed this scene and the impression left such an impact on him that, from that moment on, he changed his mind about the "Orthodox fanatics." He now understood why they would never forgo any point of the Torah. He joined the faith that he had reviled for most of his life, asking for his Creator's forgiveness for his errant ways and resolutely committed himself to a life of Torah and mitzvos. One Jew died - one Jew returned to life: One Jew proudly left a world of falsehood and entered a world of truth; another Jew returned to the world of falsehood, armed with the truth.

Efraim and Menashe shall be mine like Reuven and Shimon… but progeny born to you after them shall be yours; they will be included under the name of the brothers with regard to their inheritance. (48:5,6)

According to Rashi, Efraim and Menashe are considered among the total of the other sons, thus receiving an equal portion in Eretz Yisrael in the same manner as their counterparts among the actual sons of Yaakov Avinu. In the Talmud Bava Basra 121b, Chazal debate whether the new status of Shevet, Tribe, accorded to Efraim and Menashe had any bearing on the amount of land they received in Eretz Yisrael. Rashi and Ramban continue this debate. Rashi is of the opinion that, while Eretz Yisrael would be divided into twelve parts, these portions would not be equal in size. The size of a tribe's population determined the amount of land it received. Therefore, Yosef's sons, Efraim and Menashe, received the same amount of land, regardless of their individual tribal status. Accordingly, Yosef's sons received their father's portion in the land, and then it was divided.

Ramban disputes this, claiming that it impugns the integrity of Yosef, a b'chor, firstborn. As such, he should have received a double portion in the land. Therefore, he feels that all twelve tribes received equal parts. Consequently, large and small tribes each received the same amount of land. Actually, the individual member of each tribe received less if he belonged to a large tribe than the individual member who hailed from a smaller tribe. Efraim and Menashe individually received an equal portion of Eretz Yisrael, the same size as that of the other tribes. Thus, Yosef did receive a double portion.

It would seem from Rashi's view that the status of Efraim and Menashe as tribes was more honorary than actual tribal status. Ramban points this out, citing it as the reason that he disagrees with Rashi. Horav Arye Leib Heyman, zl, suggests that Rashi is also in agreement with the idea that Yaakov's designation changed the status of Efraim and Menashe, but it was much more than honorary. It was a transformation of their essence. He notes the syntax of the pesukim in support of his thesis.

The Torah begins, "Efraim and Menashe shall be like Reuven and Shimon." This is followed in the next pasuk with a sort of interruption, relating that Rachel Imeinu had died in "Canaan on the road." In the very next pasuk, Yaakov notices Yosef's sons and asks, "Who are these?" Rashi explains that Yaakov wanted to bless them, but the Shechinah, Divine Presence of G-d, had departed from him. This was due to the wicked progeny that would descend from them: Yaravam and Achav would descend from Efraim; Yeihu and his sons would descend from Menashe. This awareness provoked Yaakov to ask: "Who are these/from where did these who are unfit for blessing emerge?" The question is obvious: Why did Yaakov suddenly become aware of Efraim and Menashe's future offspring? Did his vision change once he had granted them tribal status?

Rav Heyman explains that, indeed, it did. Blessing is to be defined as adding something, an increase, augmentation concerning the subject of the blessing. Yaakov granted Efraim and Menashe tribal status, which sparked a spiritual transformation within them. They were no longer simple people; they had become members of the Shivtei Kah, which was an entirely new designation. As Yaakov was about to bless them, thus concretizing their newly formed position, he observed that their exemplary status would catalyze the birth of such wicked people as Yaravam, Achav and Yeihu.

Yaakov was acutely aware that, with greatness, comes greater challenge. "He who is greater than his fellow, his yetzer, inclination, is likewise greater." As one's spiritual persona develops and grows, so, too, does the evil-inclination that must now work harder to bring him down. One must strive for a balance. With tribal status, Efraim and Menashe became exposed to an entirely novel series of challenges. Their wicked progeny was not necessarily a direct consequence, but rather, the result of greater challenge.

Yaakov Avinu elevated his grandsons, not only in name alone, but also in essence. He created two entirely new individuals who now had tribal status. Rav Heyman supports this idea with an anomaly in the flow of the text in Parashas Shelach, which records Moshe's selection of the meraglim, spies. In mentioning the tribe of Efraim, the Torah says L'Mateh Efraim, Hoshea bin Nun, "For the tribe of Efraim, Hoshea bin Nun (Bamidbar 13:8)." When the Torah mentions Menashe, it writes, "L'Mateh Yosef, l'mateh Menashe, Gadi ben Sussi, "For the tribe of Yosef, for the tribe of Menashe, Gadi ben Sussi" (ibid :11). Why, concerning Hoshea/Yehoshua, does it not first mention his origin from the tribe of Yosef, as it does concerning the origin of Gadi ben Sussi from the tribe of Menashe?

Rav Heyman posits that this is a clear indication that Yehoshua did not belong to the tribe of Yosef. He originated from a new creation rendered by Yaakov. Had Yaakov not elevated Efraim to tribal status, someone of Yehoshua's distinction would not have descended from him - just as there would not have been an Achav or a Yaravam. They are the products of an illustrious lineage. This does not imply that Menashe was any less notable - he simply did not have such an illustrious descendant. Veritably, Yaakov elevated Efraim over Menashe. This could have been the reason that the former was the progenitor of Yehoshua.

The Torah alludes to this idea when Yaakov told Yosef, while it is true that Menashe is the b'chor, first born, "His younger brother will be greater than him." Rashi explains that this distinction will translate itself in his descendant, Yehoshua, who will take Klal Yisrael into the Holy Land and, as successor to Moshe Rabbeinu, will serve as the next link in the chain of Torah transmission to the Jewish People. This suggests that the capacity for producing an individual of such unique spiritual persona as Yehoshua was derived from Efraim's gadlus, distinction, which took on a new perspective when Yaakov elevated him to tribal status.

We may add that, with greatness, comes greater responsibility and accountability. The individual who has it within him to produce Yehoshua must guard himself against also producing a Yaravam or an Achav.

Issachar is a strong-boned donkey; he rests between the boundaries. He saw tranquility that it was good… yet, he bent his shoulder to bear and he became and indentured laborer. (49:14,15)

The Torah's characterization of the talmid chacham, Torah scholar, using the simile of a strong-boned donkey, implies Yissachar/the Torah scholar's spiritual role as the bearer of the yoke of Torah and the cultivator of the nation's spiritual treasures. As the donkey toils day and night without resting its weary body, so, too, does the Torah scholar incessantly apply himself to his books. The Chafetz Chaim explains that the donkey never tires to the point that it lay down in such a manner that it must have its load removed. It sleeps standing, with its bags still on it. Likewise, the Torah scholar devotes himself constantly to the Torah, never allowing for a well-deserved rest.

Bein ha'mishpesaim, resting between the boundaries, is a reference to the talmid chacham, Torah scholar, who, upon concluding a Meseches, Tractate, celebrates the milestone with other scholars - and then moves on to the next Meseches.

The next passage, Va'yaar menuchah ki tov… va'yet shichmo lisbol, "He saw tranquility that it was good… yet, he bent his shoulder to bear," presents us with an anomaly. Why would we think that Yissachar views his Torah obligation as some kind of load which he must bear? The Torah's wisdom is as sweet as the sweetest honey. No true Torah scholar views the time he spends studying Torah as toil, as a load he must tolerate. Torah study is the sweetest thing in life to him.

Furthermore, as the Chafetz Chaim notes earlier, the Torah characterizes Yissachar as a strong-boned donkey who rests under the most difficult circumstances. Now, Yaakov implies that the Torah is a heavy load which Yissachar is committed to carrying. If he seeks tranquility, why is he carrying a heavy load?

The Chafetz Chaim elucidates this by employing an analogy. There was a wealthy man who made his fortune through the sale of precious stones. He took a business trip to a far-off country, taking with him 3000 rubles with which to purchase jewels. He took another 400 rubles for traveling expenses. He concluded his business and was prepared to return home when he met another broker who had an excellent purchase for him. He explained to the broker that despite the wonderful opportunity, he had used up all of his money; all he had left was his traveling money, an amount with which he could not really part if he wanted to return home.

The broker explained that the government was after him on some trumped-up charges. If he did not get rid of the stones now, he would lose them along with everything else. He was prepared to take a monetary loss on the stones, but he needed to do so immediately.

The wealthy jeweler replied that, while it was true that he could not pass up a good deal, he had only 200 rubles left from his original expense money. He was willing to invest 180 rubles in the broker's stones, leaving him only twenty rubles with which to return home. He would be relegated to sitting in the cattle car with the other poor folk, but it was worth it, if he would realize a handsome profit. The broker agreed, and they closed the deal.

The return trip was rough. He was used to sitting in a lounge car, sleeping on a bed, and eating the finest foods on exquisite dishes. Now, he sat on the floor of the cattle car, ate whatever scraps he could scrounge, but, in his mind, it was worth it. Once he returned home, he would sell the jewels, and he would have his heart's desire. At one of the stops, he met one of his associates, also a wealthy man, who was shocked to see his friend descending from the cattle car. "What are you doing here with the poor people?" he asked. The jeweler replied, "It is true that now I am having it quite rough, and I am relegated to sitting with the poor, but just wait a few weeks. I will be richer than ever."

"This may be true," the other man countered, "but for a man who is used to the finer things in life, how do you tolerate the poverty and hunger to which you are being subjected?"

"You are absolutely correct," the jeweler said. "I do have pain and I miss being in the lap of luxury, but every time I open up that box of precious stones which I purchased for almost nothing and realize the great profit I will make when I return home, I am able to live with the poverty and hunger." The Chafetz Chaim continues, "True, the Torah is of greater value than the most enviable riches. It is more precious than the most precious stones. There is one catch, however. In order to succeed in Torah study, one must relinquish a life of luxury in this world. He must toil day and night, plumb its profundities and delve into its intricacies. Yes, he must be like the donkey who rests only between the boundaries. Veritably, such self-abnegation, such renouncement of this world's material/physical pleasures, provides nothing for one's neshamah, spiritual soul. What about his guf, body? Man has a physical dimension that seeks enjoyment, that craves pampering. How is man to remain satisfied? How is he to deal with the inner conflict raging within him? The answer is that he sits back and realizes that it is only for a short while; it is only during his present sojourn of life in this world that he must relinquish his luxuries. In the next world, he will be duly rewarded manifold for his patience.

"Thus, Yaakov told Yissachar, 'Be patient. Think about the eternal rest you will enjoy. Think about Gan Eden, that little box of precious stones which will bring you great reward. This will keep you focused even in this world.'"

We might add that it requires someone like Yissachar, who understands the value of Torah, to maintain his spiritual focus in this world. Imagine a person who has no idea concerning the value of jewelry. He will look at this box of stones and say, "I would rather have a nice bologna sandwich." Only someone who is astute and knows value when he sees it relinquishes temporal physical pleasure for a first class seat in Gan Eden.

Yehudah - you, your brothers shall acknowledge. (49:8) A charming son is Yosef. (49:22)

In Yaakov Avinu's blessings to his sons, we see the Patriarch delineate the specific area of avodas Hashem, service to Hashem, of each individual tribe. Together, their service coalesces and the purpose of Creation is realized. Each tribe's personality was different. This variation reflected a different approach to avodas Hashem. Yaakov's blessing ensured that the shefa, spiritual flow from Above, would be endemic to the requirements of each individual shevet, tribe.

The blessings of the Patriarch singled out two tribes for monarchy: Yehudah and Yosef. Each was uniquely suited for his role of leadership, based upon his individual character traits. Horav Chaim Friedlander, zl, explains that the character of their individual monarchies was founded in their unique character traits - as observed by their father, Yaakov.

Yehudah, atah yoducha achecha, "Yehudah - you, your brothers shall acknowledge" (49:8). Chazal explain that Yehudah received the monarchy as a result of his ability to confess his role in the episode of Tamar. He conceded that it was none other than he with whom she had her liaison. This took exemplary character. To be able to admit his role publicly and risk public censure takes incredible strength of character. An individual who executes such amazing control over himself, who takes responsibility for his actions - despite what the opinion of others might be - such a person is capable of leading the nation. One who rules over himself can rule over others. Yehudah's distinction was derived from his self-effacement, his ability to lower himself when necessary. One who arrogates himself over others does not function as an effective leader.

From where did Yehudah derive such character? His mother, Leah Imeinu, named him Yehudah, using the words, ha'paam odeh es Hashem, "This time let me gracefully praise Hashem" (Bereishis 29:34). Odeh connotes the root that means thankful and praise - the basis of Yehudah's name. Hodaah al ha'emes, the ability to concede to the truth, and hakoras ha'tov, acknowledgement of and offering gratitude, have the same source: the ability to deflate oneself. Hachnaah, the ability to lower oneself - to act inobstrusively, not to call attention to himself, to self-abnegate for the sake of others - is a prerequisite for concession. One who is unable to concede is likewise unable to acknowledge that he is the recipient of another fellow's favor. Before one can say, "Thank you," he must first concede that someone has done something to benefit him.

This character trait was later exhibited by Yehudah's grandson, David Hamelech, with his immortal words in Sefer Tehillim (136:1), Hodu l'Hashem ki tov, "Give thanks to Hashem, for He is good." Indeed, the entire book of Tehillim is a book of praise to the Almighty. The Davidic dynasty, heralding back to Yehudah, is founded in the middah, character trait, of hachanaah. This was inherited from Leah, who Chazal describe as, Tafsah pelach hodaah, "She grabbed the domain of concession." Leah understood the meaning of acknowledging others, of paying gratitude when and where it is due.

Yosef also achieved monarchy, but from an entirely different source. Ben pores Yosef, "A charming son is Yosef" (ibid 49:22). Targum Unkeles translates those words as, Bri d'yisgei Yosef, "A son who has achieved, who has exemplified himself, is Yosef." Yosef became a monarch due to his perfection, his greatness, his exemplary character and righteousness. He became the king because of his unique qualities. Yehudah achieved monarchy as a result of his acquiescence.

Malchus Yosef, the monarchy of Yosef, is founded on sheleimus, perfection; the malchus of Yehudah is based upon hachnaah, submissiveness. Every honor that Yosef received from Pharaoh was reward for his perfection in areas of morality. He elevated every organ of his body to serve Hashem by rejecting sin with Potifar's wife. Hashem rewarded him with incredible powers granted by the Egyptian king. Perfection, however, is a difficult plateau to achieve. Not everyone can scale the heights that lead to such lofty wholesomeness. Indeed, the level of Yosef is on a higher plane than that of Yehudah. Only a select few are able to achieve sheleimus.

As with all high achievements, they are difficult to attain and even more difficult to maintain. Shaul Hamelech is a prime example of an individual who achieved monarchy because of his high level of sheleimus, but could not hold on to it for long. Shaul sinned once concerning Agag, King of Amalek. This one sin was held against him, causing him to lose his place as monarch over Klal Yisrael. David Hamelech achieved his position due to his submissive character, his ability to back out of the limelight. Thus, despite the fact that Chazal recorded two indiscretions on his part, he was still able to maintain the meluchah. What is the difference? Shaul became melech, king, as a result of his perfection. The flip side is that it does not take much to taint something, thereby rendering it imperfect. David Hamelech was a scion of Yehudah, inheriting his distinguished forebear's ability to subdue himself, to act with simple modesty, to concede his error, to accept the blame and assume responsibility. More leeway exists to work with someone who has achieved his position as a penitent, as a meek, subdued person who is not filled with "himself."

The Jewish People are called Yehudim after Yehudah. The kiyum, survival of our people, is based upon the characteristics endemic to Yehudah. The ability to lay low, not to call attention to ourselves, to accept our destiny with acquiescence and hope, to continue to serve Hashem under all circumstances - regardless of their toll on our physical, material and emotional dimension - is what Yehudah represents. This is what we are - and why Hashem will be with us until the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

Va'ani Tefillah

The Talmud Berachos 14b states, "Whoever recites Krias Shema without (wearing) Tefillin is considered as if he is testifying falsely about himself." Simply, this is because he is saying that one should "bind (these words) on your hand, and they should be for totafos (crown) between your eyes;" while he is presently reciting the Shema, he has neither Tefillin on his arm or head. In an alternative statement, Chazal compare one who recites Shema without Tefillin to one who offers up a Korban Olah, Burnt- offering, or Minchah, Meal-offering, without the accompaniment of the necessary Nesachim, Libations.

At first glance, both analogies posit that Shema without Tefillin is incomplete and, thus, not acceptable, similar to false testimony or incomplete sacrificial offerings. In his Baruch She'amar, Horav Baruch Epstein, zl, suggests that a fundamental difference exists between these two comparisons. If we compare Krias Shema without Tefillin to one who testifies falsely, the individual no longer has a way to repair his wrong. Reciting Krias Shema again with Tefillin is of no consequence, since we say Kivan she'higid, shuv eino chozeir u'magid, "Once one has testified, he cannot reiterate his testimony." It is over and done with. On the other hand, one who did not pour the Nesachim at the time the Korban was sacrificed may do so later; similarly, he could don Tefillin later and repeat Krias Shema.

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