By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This week’s parsha, Vayechi, tells of the passing of Yaakov Avinu. The posuk states, “Vayikrivu yemei Yisroel lomus vayikra levno leYosef” (Bereishis 47:29). As Yaakov’s final moments of life approached, he called for his son, Yosef. He urged Yosef not to bury him in Mitzrayim, but in Eretz Yisroel: “Al na sikbereini beMitzrayim. Veshochavti im avosai…” He asks Yosef to swear that he will bury him amongst the avos, repeating the request by stating, “Veshochavti im avosai.”
The Torah generally refers to our forefather as Yaakov when denoting something that is in the present, while the name Yisroel connotes eternity. We must understand why in this instance the Torah refers to him as Yisroel, when he was discussing matters relating to the present. Additionally, why did Yaakov feel it was necessary to repeat the request? Why did he call Yosef to his side to make these requests? Why didn’t he speak to the rest of his children and notify them of his wishes?
Regarding this final question, Rashi explains that Yaakov made the request of Yosef because “hayah beyado la’asos,” he was the one who was able to carry it out. However, since the Torah refers to him as Yisroel, this meeting, the conversations, and the request are apparently matters of eternal value. Thus, these favors Yaakov asked of Yosef should be understood as matters of longstanding impact.
Perhaps we can understand the request being made of Yosef on a deeper level, bearing in mind the explanation of the Baal Haturim in Parshas Vayishlach. On the posuk which recounts that Yaakov said to Eisov, “Vayehi li shor vachamor” (Bereishis 32:6), the Baal Haturim writes that Yaakov wasn’t only referring to his ownership of cows and donkeys, but, more significantly, to his two sons who had the ability to confront Eisov. Yosef, who the posuk refers to as shor, is the alternate power to Eisov. Yissochor, who is referred to as chamor, has the power of Torah, because of his diligence in its study.
The Ramban at the beginning of the parsha (47:28) states, “Yaakov’s descent to Mitzrayim is similar to our present exile in the hands of the chaya harevi’is, Romi harasha… The golus is extending for a long time, and unlike previous exiles, we do not know when it will end.”
From the words of the Ramban, we see that golus Mitzrayim contains lessons for us in golus Edom. Yaakov’s discussions with Yosef pertaining to golus Mitzrayim have relevance to us in our day.
These pesukim tell of cosmic events. Yaakov was laying the groundwork for survival for his children, and their children, in golus, as well as their eventual redemption. He was joining with Yosef to craft a code of endurance and triumph, igniting that lehavah, the flame that will ultimately consume Eisov.
Thus, we can understand the seemingly repetitious request: “Vayikra levno leYosef vayomer… al na sikbereini beMitzrayim. Veshochavti im avosai…” Yaakov said, “Do not bury me in Mitzrayim. I wish to lay with my fathers.” Then he said, “Unesosani miMitzrayim ukevartani bekevurosom – Carry me from Mitzrayim and bury me in their burial place.”
Yaakov was making two distinct requests. Yisroel, the sheim hanetzach, the name that denotes eternity, was requesting, “Although I am now in Mitzrayim, the most tomei of all the lands, with wicked people and a wicked king, please do not bury me, Yisroel, here. Do not bury the netzach Yisroel, the traditions and beliefs that I received from my fathers, in this impure place. Remain separate from these profane people. Don’t permit yourself and your children to be influenced by them. Veshochavti im avosai. I wish to be like my fathers, Avrohom and Yitzchok, and be a link in a holy chain, with offspring who follow in my path.”
How will that be accomplished? Yaakov makes it clear: Not only by asking to be buried in holy soil, but by emphasizing, “Veshochavti im avosai. I want to rest with my fathers. I want to be connected to them and attached to their sacred mesorah.”
Yaakov tells Yosef, “You will be able to do that if unesosani miMitzrayim.” While the simple translation of unesosani is to carry, the word also means to uplift and raise (like the meforshim explain on the posuk, “Naso es rosh Bnei Yisroel”).
Thus, Yaakov was telling Yosef, “In order to accomplish my wish to be an av, with sons and grandsons following in my path, you must raise me and what I stand for over the Mitzri culture. Raise me higher than Mitzrayim. You, Yosef, my son, have to remain elevated. Remain above your surroundings. Raise your children to live on a different plane. That’s how we will remain connected to the avos.”
When Yaakov said, “Unesosani miMitzrayim,” he was referring to the need to remain above the prevailing tumah of Mitzrayim and the other future exiles. Hence the use of the name Yisroel. Then, after he expressed his wish for the future, he made his request for the present: “Ukevartani bekevurosom.”
Yaakov pleaded with his son, “Al na sikbereini beMitzrayim. Don’t bury me, my middah and my hard work, in Mitzrayim.”
Yaakov appealed to Yosef and not to the other brothers, because the matter he was attending to was not simply with respect to where to bury him, but how to stand up to Eisov and Edom throughout the ages. Yosef was the antithesis of Eisov. He was the son with the ability to carry out Yaakov’s request of transmitting to future generations the secret to surviving and thriving in the hostile setting of golus.
Additionally, Yaakov perceived that Yosef, the kadosh, who perfected the middah of yesod through personal purity and strength, had mastered the ability to transcend the lures of Mitzrayim, the ervas ha’aretz, the capital of permissiveness and hedonism. That, combined with his inherent ability to battle the forces of Eisov, is why Yaakov requested this of Yosef and not his brothers.
The posuk continues: “Vayishova lo vayishtachu Yisroel al rosh hamittah – Yosef swore that he would do as his father asked. Yisroel bowed to him in appreciation towards the head of his bed.”
Once again, the posuk refers to Yaakov as Yisroel, because he wasn’t just bowing in appreciation of the fact that he would be buried near his father and grandfather in Eretz Yisroel. The eternal Yisroel of netzach was bowing to the eternal middah of Yosef. Yaakov was comfortable in the assurance that his avodah would continue.
Therefore, the parsha continues with the narrative of the brachos that Yaakov gave to the sons of Yosef.
Yosef brought his two sons, the guarantors of the derech of the avos, the fusion of Bais Yaakov and Bais Yosef that can negate the koach of Eisov. Yaakov saw nitzchiyus. He saw these children of golus, born in impure Mitzrayim, but committed to derech Yisroel saba. He responded by giving them brachos, the blessings that have echoed ever since in every Jewish home: “Hamalach hagoel osi mikol ra yevoreich es haneorim veyikorei vohem shemi vesheim avosai Avrohom v’Yitzchok veyidgu larov bekerev ha’aretz” (48:15-16).
This brocha of Yaakov is the culmination of the parsha as we have understood it. When Yaakov saw Menashe and Efraim, the sons of Yosef, he perceived that his offspring would succeed in remaining loyal to his heritage in the exile. Thus, he said, “…haElokim asher hishalchu avosai lefonov Avrohom v’Yitzchok haElokim haroeh osi mei’odi ad hayom hazeh. That same derech that Avrohom, Yitzchok and I have walked on will continue throughout golus.”
“Hamalach hagoel osi mikol ra yevoreich es haneorim.” Yaakov appreciated that Efraim and Menashe carried a strength that others did not have. The malach who protected Yaakov as he descended into exile from his father’s home, protected his grandchildren in their golus. Yaakov davened that his grandchildren would have the tenacity and determination in golus Mitzrayim and golus Romi to remain loyal to the precepts of Avrohom and Yitzchok: “veyikorei vohem shemi vesheim avosai Avrohom v’Yitzchok.”
The posuk in Chagai (2:9) relates the prophecy that the second Bais Hamikdosh would be more glorious than the first: “Gadol yihiyeh kevod habayis hazeh ha’acharon min harishon.” Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin asks that this prophecy is apparently refuted by the fact that many of the revealed nissim of the first Bais Hamikdosh, such as ruach hakodesh and the Heavenly fire, were absent in the second Bayis. How, then, can the novi say that the splendor of the second Bais Hamikdosh would exceed that of the first?
Rav Tzadok quotes the Sefer Heichalos, which explains that in the absence of those open miracles and being removed from the tangible presence of the Shechinah, more glory was present, because the people had to expend their own effort to create the kedusha. The glory that is achieved by hard work and struggle is superior to that which arrives as a gift from Heaven. People who work hard for their income appreciate what they have much more than those who live lives of dependency.
Yaakov perceived that a new era was beginning. He derived satisfaction in seeing that Efraim and Menashe, despite being children of golus, were living as their avos. He perceived that they would serve as a paradigm for future generations, portraying that it is possible to achieve exalted levels even when trapped in a foreign place.
After learning that his beloved son, whom he had not seen in twenty-two years, was alive, Yaakov Avinu hurried to Mitzrayim. On the way, he stopped in Be’er Sheva (46:1). The Medrash states that he stopped there to cut cedar trees for use in the construction of the Mishkon when his grandchildren would eventually be redeemed from golus Mitzrayim.
In the midst of the commotion and excitement, Yaakov Avinu was focused on his mission of leading his family into golus. He maintained his equanimity, ensuring that his children would have what they would need to exist in golus and when they would be redeemed.
The posuk (Bereishis 49:1 and Rashi inter loc) relates that after he blessed his grandchildren, Yaakov gathered the family together and said that he would tell them what would happen at the End of Days. Yaakov was inspired to reveal deep secrets about the future. He saw that although they were born in the exile, Efraim and Menashe possessed the strengths of Yosef. He was comforted that his offspring would be able to withstand the golus and would merit redemption at the End of Days.
Yaakov wanted to speak about the period of Acharis Hayomim, in which we are now living. He was unable to, as Hashem removed that ability from him. We don’t know what he was going to say. We don’t know when Moshiach will come. We don’t know how much more we will have to endure until that time. What we do know is that if we would dedicate ourselves to teshuvah and tefillah to bring about his arrival, we could hasten his arrival.
The Zohar writes that if only “bei knishta chada,” one group of ten good people, would fervently daven for Moshiach, their efforts would definitely have a positive impact.
As we suffer now from corona and wonder about the incoming White House administration and the political instability in Eretz Yisroel, we are reminded that plagues and political uncertainty are not natural phenomena. They are brought by Hashem to cause us to reflect upon our situation and improve our ways, seeking to become closer to Hashem, who awaits our tefillos and mitzvos.
Nothing takes place in this world unless it is preordained. Our actions affect outcomes. If we want to be rid of the virus, we must demonstrate that we understand that it was brought to this world to cause us to do teshuvah. We cannot continue leading our lives as previously and expect to be rid of the plague. We have to show Hashem that we are better for it.
We have to increase our devotion to performing mitzvos and averting anything that weakens our devotion to Hashem and Torah. Hashem sends us prompts to remind us that our lives require spirituality, focus and purpose. We are reminded that we are in golus and have become shallow, seeking superficiality and being satisfied with trivial pursuits.
The Torah recounts that Yaakov Avinu told his children in this week’s parsha about what he accomplished “becharbi uvekashti,” through tefillah, to convey to us that any time in our lives when we are faced with difficulties, the ticket out is through davening.
Although we don’t have the Bais Hamikdosh, and Hashem is hidden from us, we are able to help and save ourselves through reaching out to Him. With dedicated faith, emunah and bitachon, we can reach Him and merit salvation when we are worthy.
Yosef’s brothers couldn’t face him after he revealed himself to them and told them who he was. They were astounded and embarrassed. They had spent much time with him during their trips to Mitzrayim to procure food for themselves and their families, yet they viewed him as a gentile potentate and had no inkling that perhaps he was one of the greatest tzaddikim of the generation. Had they been seeking gadlus, had they been fulfilling the dictum of Chazal of “Eizehu chochom, halomeid mikol adam,” perhaps they would have perceived greatness in the man they were negotiating with. It wasn’t on their mind. Moshiach must be on our mind.
The Brisker Rov writes in his sefer (Parshas Bo) that unlike Golus Mitzrayim, the final golus in which we presently are in, has no given time period. We were to be exiled in Mitzrayim 400 years, and there was a set time when the Jews would be redeemed from there. The present golus can end at any time, and therefore the geulah can take place as soon as we are worthy.
Chazal and sifrei Rishonim and Achronim are replete with the concept, which is at the basis of our belief, that if we would improve our ways and return fully to Hashem, He would redeem us and thus we proclaim, “Achakeh lo bechol yom sheyavo.”
This is real. When we accept it as reality and act upon it, rectifying our actions, davening with concentration and kavanah, with dedication to Torah learning and observance, we can and will be zoche to the geulah sheleimah immediately. May it happen speedily.