A Life Unto the Nations
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
And Ya'akov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years ... (Bereishis
We can be exact in the wording of the verse and say that Ya'akov, for the
first time in a long time, "lived" the last seventeen years of his life
that he was re-united with his son Yosef, who, incidentally, was taken away
from him at the age of seventeen. This is, perhaps, why the next posuk then
goes on to say:
The day of Yisroel's death approached ...
Yisroel, that is, opposed to Ya'akov -- the name that denotes overcoming
all struggles, be they with angels or men.
Perhaps, the turning point was in Parashas Mikeitz, as Ya'akov prepared to
send his sons back before the viceroy of Egypt again, this time with his
beloved Binyamin included:
Yisroel their father said to them ... (Bereishis 43:11)
One can feel Ya'akov take back the reigns of leadership from his sons in
this posuk, who, anyhow, had usurped them from him. Divine Providence was
returning the power back to Ya'akov, and as he emerged from his twenty-two
years of mourning, he was coming out on top. He had struggled with angels
in the past, and now his struggle with men was about to come to an end as
well, and "Yisroel" would be the final name of his life.
Seventeen is also the numerical value of the word "tov," which means "good"
in Hebrew (9+6+2), and which is associated with the "Ohr HaGanuz," the
"Hidden Light" of creation. This light, in turn, is related to the
thirty-six righteous people in every generation, the thirty-six tractates
of the Babylonian Talmud, the thirty-six hours of Shabbos (including twelve
hours erev Shabbos), and the thirty-six candles of Chanukah.
(As well, in a Sefer Torah, the first letter of the word "tov" is a "tes,"
and it has four "tagin" (crowns) on it. According to the B'nei Yissachar,
the value of the "tes," when multiplied by the number of tagin on it yields
the number thirty-six!)
What does this mean? This means that the result of Ya'akov's struggles and
his victory over life in This World allowed him permanent access to this
wonderfully supernal and sublime light. This is why the Talmud states after
Ya'akov finally died:
In the beginning, before the Egyptians saw the way the entire world honored
Yisroel, they did not conduct themselves honorably toward the brothers of
Yosef. However, after they saw how they were honored by the entire world,
they too paid their due respects. The following posuk indicates this, "And
they came to the threshing-floor surrounded by thorns" (Bereishis 50:10).
Is a threshing-floor made of thorns? Rav Avahu said: This is to teach you
that they [the kings of the entire world] surrounded the coffin of Ya'akov
with crowns like a threshing-floor surrounded by thorns ... They went to do
war, but when they saw the crown of Yosef on the coffin of Ya'akov, all of
them took off their crowns and placed them on Ya'akov's coffin: thirty-six
crowns they placed on the coffin. (Sotah 13a)
This is the goal of ANY life: to access the Hidden Light of creation,
which, essentially, means to see life as G-d sees it; this is called TRUE
living. We learn how to do this from Chanukah itself, which stresses the
need to become a "pach shemen" filled with oil, with the seal of the Kohen
Gadol intact upon it.
The unbroken seal of the Kohen Gadol on the jar the Chashmonaim found
proved the purity of the oil inside it. The Hebrew word for "the oil" is
"hashemen" (heh-shin-mem-nun), the same letters as the word for "soul":
Neshamah (nun-shin-mem-heh). The soul inside the body is compared to the
oil inside the earthenware jar.
Hence, just like the container holding the oil must remain pure to keep the
oil pure, so, too, must we maintain a high level of spiritual purity to
keep our souls intact, and merit to receive light from Above. This means
"cleaning house" or all outside non-spiritual influences, to the best of
one's ability. To the extent that one achieves this is the extent to which
he or she becomes a fitting "container" for the light of G-d.
This was Ya'akov Avinu, or rather, our father Yisroel. They say of Ya'akov
that he never spoke a wasted word, and he never had an impure thought. For
this reason, Ya'akov has a special connection to Shabbos, as the prophet
"If you restrain your feet because of Shabbos, and refrain from taking care
of your own needs on My holy day ... Then you shall be granted pleasure
with G-d ... and the heritage of your forefather, Ya'akov ..." (Yeshayahu
We may not be able to struggle with angels as Ya'akov Avinu once did, and
even if we could, who says we would prevail. However, everyday we struggle
with man, and with men's influences, and we HAVE to prevail. It is the only
way to become a true "pach shemen" fitting to contain a holy soul -- and to
be the worthy recipient of so holy a light.
As for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan
along the way when there was only two-thousand cubits left to go until
Efrat, and I buried her there on the way to Efrat, which is Beit Lechem.
As Rashi explains, Ya'akov here tried to explain to Yosef why his mother,
Rachel, was not given the honor of being buried in a formal city:
" 'I know that in your heart you feel some resentment against me [for
this]. Know, however, that I buried her there by the commandment of G-d, so
that she might help her children when Nebuzaradan would take them into
captivity [later after the first Temple was destroyed] ...' For, when they
passed along the road, Rachel came forth onto her tomb and cried and begged
for mercy for them ..." (Rashi)
"Kever Rachel," as it is called today, remains to be a place to seek mercy
from G-d. Everyday, bus loads of Jews pull up and cry by her tomb,
beseeching her to beseech G-d, asking Him to end both our personal and
Perhaps, this year more than any other year since that first exile into
Babylonia, Rachel's role will have tremendous significance. For, starting a
few weeks, hordes of non-Jews have been ascending to Eretz Yisroel, because
for so many, Year 2,000 is the year of their "messiah," so they believe.
Therefore, a major focal point of their millennium festivities will be
centered in Beit Lechem, the place they believe their "messiah" was
originally born. Millions of non-Jews are expected to arrive -- in a
pilgrimage not witnessed in recent times.
Ironically enough, the place is under the ownership of the Palestinian
Authority, whose chairman is none other than you-know-who. True, there is a
stone wall that hides Kever Rachel from that side of Beit Lechem, leaving
it in Jewish hands and hopefully making it secure from foreign intrusions.
However, that does not remove the irony of the situation.
Originally, Rachel had to pray for the Jews who went into exile into
Babylonia. But, over the last two thousand years, it has been a
Christian-Arab exile that has plagued our nation, and that has drawn
millions away from Judaism either through death, forced conversion, or
Ironically, as religious Jews sit down on January 1 to a (a)typical Shabbos
meal, Christians and Arabs alike will be sitting down to celebrate their
new year in typical non-Jewish New Year's fashion. Unfortunately, just as
many Jews have joined their ranks in the past, many plan to join their
festivities this year as well -- perhaps right next door in Beit Lechem
Perhaps, never before has it been clearer why G-d commanded Ya'akov to bury
his beloved Rachel THERE, where the prophecy of Edom and Yishmael teaming
up against the Jewish people at the end of days, is clearly being
fulfilled. Perhaps, just like her son Yosef, who will play a major role in
paving the way for Moshiach and the Jewish redemption, so, too, does Rachel
Imeinu act as an important adversary against the forces of non-Jewish
belief and their effects on the Jewish mind.
Shimon and Levi are brothers -- instruments of violence are their weapons.
My soul should not come into their secret meetings; my glory should not be
united into their assembly, for in their anger they killed a man ...
"In their anger they killed a man ... This refers to Chamor and the people
of Shechem ..." (Rashi)
There's nothing like a little anger to ruin a perfectly good act of
zealousness, Ya'akov indicated to Shimon and Levi on his deathbed. Ya'akov
does not curse Shimon and Levi, G-d forbid; he curses their anger, for it
is that which caused them to lose perspective, and do what Ya'akov had
clearly decided not to do: take physical revenge for the violation of
Anger is one of the most negative traits a person can have, and it is a
very big blessing when someone is good-natured and patient. However, it is
very hard even for such people not to lose their temper, at least a little
bit, once in a while. There is even a special prayer that EVERYONE one can
say at the end of the Shemonah Esrai:
"It should be Your will, G-d, G-d of our Forefathers, that no person should
be jealous of me, and that I should not be jealous of others; that I should
not be angry today, nor anger You ..."
How many relationships have been destroyed because of anger? How many wars
have been waged and fought in anger -- small and large? Anger, everyone
must agree, is, perhaps, the most destructive human trait known to man. And
it only gets worse from here:
Someone who tears his clothing in anger, or breaks something in anger, or
throws his money in anger, will be in Your eyes like one who worshipped
idols, because that is the trade of the yetzer hara ... (Shabbos 105b)
Idol worship? What does that have to do with anger?
The answer is basic: anger is a rejection of one's personal Divine
Providence, of the fact that G-d is sending a message through the
anger-causing incident; the person is acting as if G-d isn't really behind
the act at all. That is a form of idol worship thinking.
The Talmud does make a distinction between DISPLAYING anger for the effect
of teaching children and others about the seriousness of a situation, and
LOSING one's temper as described above. Most people can detect when
criticism has been hurled in a fit of anger, and, when it has been
expressed for educational purposes, and they appreciate the difference as
well -- including little children.
I remember hearing a story some time ago about a father who, upon
appreciating the damaging effects of punishing his child while FEELING
angry, decided to punish his son only when he, the father, wore a specific
suit -- which he kept at the back of his closet. If his son misbehaved and
warranted a punishment, the father would then schlepp upstairs to change
into that special suit.
However, by the time the father changed his clothing and came back down to
the child, his temper would have cooled down, making him more able to
decide RATIONALLY what was best for the child -- not just what allowed him
to vent his own anger. It was the difference between FEELING anger and
merely EXPRESSING anger.
Elsewhere, the Talmud warns that anger leads to sin (Brochos 29b), and most
people will vouch for the fact that loshon hara, one of the most serious
sins a person can commit, is often spoken only out of anger. According to
the Talmud, anger can even lead to a loss of wisdom (Pesachim 66b) -- which
I believe is scientifically documented now (at least forgetfulness is). And
finally, in the Talmud's opinion, one who constantly gets angry and doesn't
control his temper is like one who is not alive (Pesachim 113b)!
No wonder, then, that Ya'akov chose to recall the anger of Shimon and Levi
so many years later after the incident of Shechem. It turns out that
Ya'akov's words weren't just a warning to Shimon and Levi for the future,
but for ALL future descendants of Jews.
A psalm of David. Give to G-d, sons of the powerful; give to G-d, honor and
might ... (Tehillim 29:1)
This last tehillah of Kabbalos Shabbos (in advance of "Lechah Dodi") is not
the next one in line in Tehillim like the previous ones were; for this one,
we jump back to number twenty-nine. Why the switch? Because, we are about
to enter the special realm of Shabbos -- an other-worldly and supernatural
realm. According to the Arizal, the Kabbalistic allusions found within this
tehillah, when said with special intention, can cause tremendous spiritual
effects in the Heavenly realm, as if to announce our arrival into Shabbos.
The "sons of the powerful" are none other than Avraham, Yitzchak, and
Ya'akov, people, who, all of their lives, gave glory to G-d and His holy
Name. At this time in the week, when all of creation is about "bow" to its
Creator at the twilight of Shabbos, it is the Avos who are the prime
example of how to properly give honor to G-d.
Rashi and the Radak disagree as to exactly which period of time this
tehillah refers to: past or future? Rashi is of the former opinion, while
the Radak holds that Dovid HaMelech is alluding to Yemos HaMoshiach -- the
Days of Moshiach. Certainly the last verses support both Rashi and the
Radak's points of view:
G-d sits enthroned as king forever (past); G-d will give might to His
people; G-d will bless His people with peace!
When? In the days of Moshiach.
Some want to say that, since the opening words resemble those David sung
when he brought the Holy Ark back to Yerushalayim (I Divrei HaYamim
16:28-29), this tehillah too must have been sung when the Ark returned to
Yerushalayim, in preparation for the inauguration of the Temple.
The Talmud asks:
How do we know that the third blessing in the Shemonah Esrai is dedicated
to G-d's holiness? Because, the third verse in Tehillah 29 says:
Give glory due to G-d's Name, bow down to G-d in sacred splendor!
They learn other principles as well from this tehillah, such as praying to
G-d only when in a serious state of mind (Brochos 30b).
The truth is, this tehillah is a fitting eulogy for Ya'akov Avinu and Yosef
HaTzaddik, both of whom die in this week's parshah. They lived to glorify
G-d, and through them, the holy Name of G-d was forever sanctified.
Furthermore, it was Ya'akov, at the beginning of the parshah, who tried to
reveal to the tribes the redemption of the "End-of-Days," and Yosef, and
the end of the parshah, he revealed to the brothers the redemption that
would come at the end of the Egyptian exile.
Why was this such a concern of theirs? Because, it pained both Ya'akov and
Yosef that the Jewish people would have to suffer throughout history, and
thereby, lessen the importance of G-d's glory in the eyes of the world.
Therefore, they dreamed of the time when G-d's might would be manifest to
all, and hoped for the redemption that would free the Jewish people from
all oppression, and reveal G-d's glory to all mankind.