Vayechi: A Source Of Blessing
The late Sir Isaiah Berlin pointed out that not all values coexist in a kind of platonic harmony. His favorite example was freedom and equality. You can have a free economy but the result will be inequality. You can have economic equality, communism, but the result will be a loss of freedom. In the world as currently configured, moral conflict is unavoidable.This is the last Parasha in the book of Bereishit. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks says “The existence of conflicting values means that the kind of morality we adopt and society we create depend not only on the values we embrace but also on the way we prioritize them. Prioritizing equality over freedom creates one kind of society – Soviet Communism for example. Prioritizing freedom over equality leads to market economics. People in both societies may value the same things but they rank them differently in the scale of values, and thus how they choose when the two conflict.” This is one of the challenges of our day, there needs to be a balanced approach.
Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz gave a shiur a couple days ago for the Fast of the 10th of Tevet. You can find it on Youtube. He spoke about why we observe the various fast days and what we’re supposed to do on these days. On fast days, The Rambam says that we think about the sins that caused the destruction in the first place, then focus on ways that we can improve our behaviors so that we don’t repeat those same mistakes. We pray for the restoration of the Divine Presence in our lives and in Israel.
There is a saying in Proverbs “As face answers to face in water, so does one man’s heart to another” (Mishlei 27:19) כַּ֭מַּיִם הַפָּנִ֣ים לַפָּנִ֑ים כֵּ֤ן לֵֽב־הָ֝אָדָ֗ם לָאָדָֽם. This means that the way we respond to others will be how they respond to us. When we feel contempt for another that will reflect back to us, when we smile, when we’re positive and uplifting with others, that will also reflect back to us.
Parashat Vayechi is the last Parasha in Bereishit. Yaakov is nearing the end of his life. Yaakov summoned Yosef and asked him to take his remains from Egypt and bury him in Ma’arat Hamachpelah (Bereishit 47:29-30).
וַיִּקְרְב֣וּ יְמֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֘ לָמוּת֒ וַיִּקְרָ֣א | לִבְנ֣וֹ לְיוֹסֵ֗ף וַיֹּ֤אמֶר לוֹ֙ אִם־נָ֨א מָצָ֤אתִי חֵן֙ בְּעֵינֶ֔יךָ שִֽׂים־נָ֥א יָֽדְךָ֖ תַּ֣חַת יְרֵכִ֑י וְעָשִׂ֤יתָ עִמָּדִי֙ חֶ֣סֶד וֶֽאֱמֶ֔ת אַל־נָ֥א תִקְבְּרֵ֖נִי בְּמִצְרָֽיִם
וְשָֽׁכַבְתִּי֙ עִם־אֲבֹתַ֔י וּנְשָׂאתַ֨נִי֙ מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם וּקְבַרְתַּ֖נִי בִּקְבֻֽרָתָ֑ם וַיֹּאמַ֕ר אָֽנֹכִ֖י אֶעֱשֶׂ֥ה כִדְבָרֶֽךָ
It is interesting to note that The Torah uses the words חֶ֣סֶד וֶֽאֱמֶ֔ת (kindness and truth). Rashi explains that a kindness performed for the deceased is “kindness of truth” because it cannot be driven by ulterior motive; the dead can never repay their benefactors for what they have done (Bereishit Rabbah 96:5).
Yaakov’s parting words to his children begin with reprimands for his three oldest sons: Reuven, Shimon, and Levi. Why such a harsh rebuke? Rabbi Yochanan Zweig mentions the bigger mission in his book The Infinity of Torah. The goal of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, the patriarchs of B’nai Yisrael, was to transition themselves and their progeny from the status of non-Jews to a life as Jews. The purpose of the three Avot (fathers) was to found a new nation, the Jewish nation.
Later, Yaakov blesses Yosef’s sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Yosef places Menashe, his older son, by Yaakov’s right hand, and Ephraim by his left hand. However, when Yaakov blessed them, he put his right hand on Ephraim’s head and his left hand on Menashe’s head, saying, the younger brother will be greater than the older (Bereishit 48:19-20).
וַיְמָאֵ֣ן אָבִ֗יו וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ יָדַ֤עְתִּֽי בְנִי֙ יָדַ֔עְתִּי גַּם־ה֥וּא יִֽהְיֶה־לְּעָ֖ם וְגַם־ה֣וּא יִגְדָּ֑ל וְאוּלָ֗ם אָחִ֤יו הַקָּטֹן֙ יִגְדַּ֣ל מִמֶּ֔נּוּ וְזַרְע֖וֹ יִהְיֶ֥ה מְלֹֽא־הַגּוֹיִֽם
וַיְבָ֨רְכֵ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הַהוּא֮ לֵאמוֹר֒ בְּךָ֗ יְבָרֵ֤ךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר יְשִֽׂמְךָ֣ אֱלֹהִ֔ים כְּאֶפְרַ֖יִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁ֑ה וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת־אֶפְרַ֖יִם לִפְנֵ֥י מְנַשֶּֽׁה
The Torah begins with the letter bet (בּ), and there is a midrash that states that the world was created with this letter because it expresses בְּרָכָה (bracha), blessing. A bracha is the strengthening of an object’s connection to its source; everything in the world comes from G-d and when an object is blessed, its connection to its source is enhanced. Everything in the world is a vehicle for connection to G-d. Our purpose is to recognize that G-d is the source for everything, and it is forbidden to consume anything without first acknowledging that reality, which is why we say a bracha.
We have the ability to be a source of blessing through our actions. When we treat others with respect, when we’re honest in business, when we help others, we bring holiness and goodness to the world. When we approach everyone we meet כַּ֭מַּיִם הַפָּנִ֣ים לַפָּנִ֑ים כֵּ֤ן לֵֽב־הָ֝אָדָ֗ם לָאָדָֽם, we are also bringing goodness and blessings to the world. May we merit to bless others and live as a free people in our land in the right time.