Parshas Vayechi 5759
Outline Vol. 3, # 10
by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
This issue is dedicated in memory of "Uncle Billy" Chelnik from his nieces
The Netziv was the last Rosh Hayeshiva of the famous Volozhin Yeshiva.
After the Yeshiva closed, he raised funds to pay for the remaining debts.
One wealthy person refused to contribute. The Netziv told him that, as a
renowned Torah scholar, he had always tried his utmost to fit his role.
Since people called him such a scholar, if he were not to live up to the
standard, he would be making people out to be liars. Similarly, a man
well-known as a charitable person, has a responsibility to live up to
charitable standards -- otherwise, he would be making his acquaintances out
to be liars.
Those who heard the Netziv speak, said that this logic was irrefutable. It
did the trick, as well.
A similar idea was stated by the Nesivos Shalom: Why is it assumed that the
Rebbe is the greatest authority? Perhaps one of the students is a greater
scholar? The Nesivos Shalom answered, "Indeed -- quite possibly it is so.
Nonetheless, the fact that the Rebbe was put in the position of leadership
and sacrifice gives him a certain measure of divine help. However, the
student who was not put into such a situation of leadership and sacrifice
-- does not receive the same assistance."
Jewish leaders exemplify modesty. At the same time, leaders cannot dodge
responsibility. The above statements show us how our leaders retain their
humility and, at the same time, accept responsibility. There is no claim
that a lofty position indicates a prior greatness. Rather -- a lofty
position indicates a grave responsibility -- one must strive to fulfill
The Blessings (Brochos)
In the Parsha, Yaakov "blessed" his sons. Yet, only some of the sons
receive "blessings." Initially, Yaakov reproves several of the sons -- to
such an extent, that the verses refer, not to blessing, but to "cursing."
("Their anger should be cursed." 49:7)
Ibn Ezra and Ohr Hachayim suggest that the Patriarch praises worthy
qualities, and, at the same time, alerts his sons about dangerous
tendencies. Blessing is contingent upon elevating the good
characteristics, and -- at the same time -- conquering negative ones.
The impetuousness of Reuven, and the violence of Shimon and Levi, were
condemned. In contrast, however, Yehudah is praised for his self-control.
When, for example, Shimon and Levi would have killed Yoseif, Yehudah asked,
"What profit is there in killing our brother and covering his blood?" (37:26)
Rashi refers to this as "removing one's self." The Patriarch rewarded
Yehudah with the promise of monarchy, for this is the quality of
leadership: removing one's personal interests and assuming responsibility.
(See Rashi, 49:9)
We find the identical characteristic in Yehudah's descendent -- Dovid
Hamelech. Powerful warrior and general, Dovid nonetheless refrained from
taking action in numerous cases involving himself. Jewish Law strictly
protects the king's honor, but Dovid, even when fully justified, declined
to prosecute many who belittled his rule. Dovid, too, refrained from
acting against Shaul, even though such action would have been considered
self-defense against the man who sought to have him killed. Dovid was able
to separate his personal interests from his responsibilities.
Yoseif's Behavior -- The Dreams
A reader asked for an explanation of Yoseif's behavior towards his
brothers. The commentaries offer several explanations, but the
controversial and fundamental words of the Ramban have often attracted our
When the brothers first found their way to Egypt, the verse stated, "Yoseif
remembered his dreams." Ramban declared that the prophet is personally
obligated to bring about a fulfillment of his prophecies. Yoseif had to
contrive ways to bring the entire family to Egypt, in order to see to it
that his dreams would be actualized.
When the dreams had occurred, years earlier, the brothers had been angry.
They saw Yoseif as condescending. Now, however, Yoseif saw that the dreams
revealed his obligation. He would have to separate his own desires from
his duty. Even though the dreams, illustrating Yoseif's rule, appeared to
be for his own benefit, Yoseif realized that Hashem had put him in a
position of service -- for the benefit of his people and mankind.
Altogether, the story of Yoseif and the brothers fulfills the prophecies of
the Forefathers, that the Jews would be enslaved in a distant land. As
Maharal states: "Don't say that the sale of Yoseif caused the exile;
rather, the descent into Egypt caused the sale." (G'vuras Hashem, chap.
10) Yoseif, however, had to do his share to bring about the realization of
Yaakov and the Brochos:
Recently, a friend asked regarding Yaakov's obtaining the brochos from his
father through deception. "If the blessings were meant for Yaakov, why did
he have to take action in order to obtain them?" The Ramban which we
quoted provides the answer. The prophecies of the Torah are not merely
forecasts. They are messages for our daily lives. They suggest, they
command, but they do not coerce. We must make the hard choices; we must
take the initiative.
Rivka mothered her twins. She knew through prophecy that only Yaakov would
be entitled to the brochos, and that it was incumbent upon her to act -- in
order to avert disaster. Indeed, we find explicitly in the Zohar that
Hashem told Rivka Imainu to tell Yaakov, and that, if she had not done so,
all would have been lost. (Zohar, Toldos, 142)
The Talmud relates that the men mourned for Moshe Rabbenu thirty days, but
for Aharon both the men and women mourned exceedingly. The reason was that
Aharon, who pursued peace, was beloved by all the people. Moshe, however,
was involved with teaching Torah and judgment, and was involved with a more
This familiar story is strange. The Torah's account of the mourning
highlights the praise of our great leaders, and shows that they were
greatly missed. Why, precisely at this point, do the Rabbis reduce the
glory of Moshe in contrast to that of Aharon?
In reality, the point is quite different. The account of the mourning was
truly in praise of both Moshe and Aharon. Their roles, however, were
different. Not everyone will be an immensely popular leader. Moshe was
the judge. It is impossible that everyone will always love one who rules
with integrity. He must decide cases that cannot come out to everyone's
liking. As the well-known saying says: The Rav who is not about to be
fired is not a Rav, but the Rav who has been fired is not a person.
(Shimusha Shel Torah)
Doesn't the Torah tell us this? How often do we see complaints between
elements of the Jews and Moshe...
Leadership is primarily service for the public good, but not necessarily
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156
Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi
Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.