• Dvar for Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

    In Parshat Vayechi, part of the blessing that Yaakov gives to his son Yehuda is that “His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk” (49:12), scion of the royal lineage of the Jewish people. While wine has always been associated with royalty, what does the color white and milk have to do with the future kings of the Jewish people?

    The Gemara (Kesuvos 111a) has a fascinating interpretation of this verse: “Better is the one who shows the white of his teeth (i.e. in a smile) to his friend, than the one who gives him milk to drink.” Rabbi Zweig explains that this is because one who provides milk to the poor provides a physical gift that sustains the person for a little while. However, the one who comforts others with a smile and encouraging words gives that person an everlasting feeling of self-worth. Perhaps this is the inspiration for all the great smile quotes, and could help inspire us to “give” more smiles.

  • Dvar for Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

    Parshat Vayechi, the last Parsha in the first Sefer (book) of Bereishit, is where Yaakov (Jacob) gives all of his sons their blessings. Ironically, though, Yaakov starts with the blessings for Ephraim and Menashe, who were Yosef’s sons that were born to him in Egypt. It all started when Yosef found out that Yaakov was sick (48:1), Yosef “took his two sons with him.” (presumably to bring them to Yaakov, although it doesn’t say that anywhere). When Yosef and his sons got there, Yaakov “strengthened himself” (48:5) (which also seems strange), sat up on the bed, and told Yosef that his two sons would now be considered like Yaakov’s children, and will get a portion in the land just like the rest of the brothers. Yaakov then called over the 2 children, placed his hands on their heads, and started blessing Yosef, giving him the famous “Hamalach” blessing (48:16), that the angel that protected Yaakov from evil should also protect Yosef’s sons, and that Yaakov’s name should be associated with them, along with Avraham and Yitzchak, and they should multiply in the land. All these events seem inconsistent, unless we put them in to perspective.

    When Yaakov got sick, the Torah doesn’t say that Yosef brought his sons to Yaakov, but that Yosef took his sons with him. What it could mean is not that Yosef brought his sons physically to Yaakov (which they would benefit from, by seeing and visiting a righteous person), but that Yosef kept them close to himself, so that they wouldn’t be spiritually influenced by their non-Jewish surroundings. Yaakov recognized this, which is why he felt strengthened when Yosef came to him with his sons. That’s also why when Yaakov claimed the sons as his own, he made sure to stress that it was those two sons that were born in Egypt (48:5), because their greatness and Yosef’s greatness was that they were Jews despite living in Egypt. And finally, although his hands were on the two sons, Yaakov’s blessing was that Yosef’s children, and anyone who has to live in a non-Jewish world, should be protected throughout history so that we can all be proudly called the children of Avraham and Yitzchak. But it won’t happen unless we learn to put our hands on their heads and guide the next generation. The adults have a duty to take along and guide the kids, and the children have an equal responsibility to let themselves be guided.

    Shlomo Ressler
    _______________________________________________

  • Dvar for Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

    In Parshat Vayechi, part of the blessing that Yaakov gives to his son Yehuda is that “His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk” (49:12), scion of the royal lineage of the Jewish people. While wine has always been associated with royalty, what does the color white and milk have to do with the future kings of the Jewish people?

    The Gemara (Kesuvos 111a) has a fascinating interpretation of this verse; “Better is the one who shows the white of his teeth (i.e. in a smile) to his friend, than the one who gives him milk to drink.” In other words, giving someone a smile is better than giving them milk. Rabbi Zweig explains that this is because one who provides milk to the poor provides a physical gift that sustains the person for a little while. However, the one who comforts others with a smile and encouraging words gives that person an everlasting feeling of self-worth. Perhaps this is the inspiration for all the great smile quotes, and could help inspire us to “give” more smiles.

  • Dvar for Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

    Parshat Vayechi, the last in the first Sefer (book) of Bereishit, is where Yaakov (Jacob) gives all of his sons their blessings. Ironically, though, Yaakov starts with the blessings for Ephraim and Menashe, who were Yosef’s sons that were born to him in Egypt. It all started when Yosef found out that Yaakov was sick (48:1), Yosef “took his two sons with him.” (presumably to bring them to Yaakov, although it doesn’t say that anywhere). When Yosef and his sons got there, Yaakov “strengthened himself” (48:5) (which also seems strange), sat up on the bed, and told Yosef that his two sons would now be considered like Yaakov’s children, and will get a portion in the land just like the rest of the brothers. Yaakov then called over the 2 children, placed his hands on their heads, and started blessing Yosef, giving him the famous “Hamalach” blessing (48:16), that the angel that protected Yaakov from evil should also protect Yosef’s sons, and that Yaakov’s name should be associated with them, along with Avraham and Yitzchak, and they should multiply in the land. All these events seem inconsistent, unless we put it in perspective.

    When Yaakov got sick, the Torah doesn’t say that Yosef brought his sons to Yaakov, but that Yosef took his sons with him. What it could mean is not that Yosef brought his sons physically to Yaakov, but that Yosef kept them close to himself, so that they wouldn’t be spiritually influenced by their non-Jewish surroundings. Yaakov recognized this, which is why he felt strengthened when Yosef came to him with his sons. That’s also why when Yaakov claimed the sons as his own, he made sure to stress that it was those two sons that were born in Egypt (48:5), because their greatness and Yosef’s greatness was that they were Jews despite living in Egypt. And finally, although his hands were on the two sons, Yaakov’s blessing was that Yosef’s children, and anyone who has to live in a non-Jewish world, should be protected throughout history so that we can all be proudly called the children of Avraham and Yitzchak. But it won’t happen unless we learn to put our hands on their heads and guide the next generation. The adults have a duty to take along and guide the kids, and the children have an equal responsibility to let themselves be guided.

  • Daily Aliya for Vayechi, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Gad was blessed with bravery in battle. Asher’s blessing: an abundance of olive oil. Naphtali was blessed with the speed of a deer. Joseph was recognized for his charm, suffering, and righteousness, and was showered with a variety of blessings.

    When blessing Yosef, Yaakov says that his blessings surpassed his father’s blessings, and so should Yosef’s blessings surpass his (Yaakov’s) blessings. Blessings are a curious thing, especially from father to son. If the son grows and accomplishes things, it reflects on his parents and they and their memory is blessed as a result. That means that father/son blessings build on themselves, becoming exponentially better. The same can be said of Jews in general. If a Jew does something good, it not only reflects on themselves, but also on Judaism, which increases the blessings for all Jews. As an example, when someone like Matisyahu represents himself as a thoughtful and proper Jewish singer, people might feel better about Jews, and that helps everyone be more tolerant, which might embolden others to display their Judaism, which might be observed by others who might do the same, etc. We don’t know what snowball we might be starting, but hopefully they’re of a positive variety.

  • Daily Aliya for Vayechi, Revii (4th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Jacob summoned all his sons, and delivered to each a poetic, and sometimes cryptic, parting personal message. Reuven was chastised for his impetuousness and for “ascending upon his father’s bed.” Shimon and Levi were rebuked for their anger, which expressed itself in the killing of the Shechemites and the attempted execution of Joseph. Judah was blessed with monarchy, success in waging battle, and an abundance of wine and milk in his portion. Zevulon was blessed with success in his sea-trade endeavors. Jacob likened Issachar to a thick-boned donkey who finds both rest and ample work. Dan was blessed with the tenacity of a serpent and the ability to judge.

    While the first three messages to Reuven, Shimon and Levi were harsh, the fourth (to Yehuda) was positive. Yaakov called Yehuda a “cub and a lion”. Yehuda was both because he was a fierce leader when he needed to be (which translates to his future descendants), and had a soft side when that was required (Rashi: like reasoning with his brothers about the merits of killing vs not killing Yosef, and admitting his mistakes with Tamar). While all the tribes displayed distinct and special characteristics, Yehuda was the first to display an ability to modify his characteristic cased on the situation, a quality worth learning to emulate.

  • Daily Aliya for Vayechi, Shlishi (3rd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Joseph was disturbed that Jacob placed his right hand on Ephraim, and he attempted to adjust his father’s hands. “I know, my son, I know,” Jacob responded, explaining that the “younger brother will be greater, and his children[‘s fame] will fill the nations.” Jacob blessed the two boys further, saying that all of Israel will bless each other by saying: “May G‑d make you like Ephraim and Menashe.”

    Yosef panics when he sees Yaakov switch hands/blessings, but this was borne of the same theme discussed earlier. Yosef had to test his brothers to make sure they didn’t become jealous when Binyamin got more presents than they did, and the brothers passed. Yaakov blessing Yosef’s younger son more than the older might have created the same sort of jealousy, and Yosef had never tested his sons for their reaction. Yaakov’s response was that he knew they would handle it well, and indeed they did. How did Yaakov know? Probably because Ephraim and Menashe had Yosef as a father, who instilled the proper values in his children. While Yosef tested his brothers, Yaakov didn’t even see a need to test – Yosef’s children’s character was a given!

  • Daily Aliya for Vayechi, Sheni (2nd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Joseph presents his two sons, placing Menashe, the firstborn, to Jacob’s right, and Ephraim to Jacob’s left. Jacob, who was nearly blind at this point, crossed his hands, placing his right – more prestigious – hand on Ephraim’s head. He blessed them: “May the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths, and may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land.”

    Yaakov’s reference to fish in his blessings for Ephraim and Menashe (and for all Jewish children in perpetuity) is explained on at least two levels. Since fish are prolific, Yaakov was blessing his descendants that they should become a large nation. It is also known that the Ayin Hara (evil eye) has no hold over fish, and this too was part of his blessing. The connection between these two aspects is the phrase included in the blessing: “in the midst of the Land”. If you are among others that are prolific and share your views and goals, there is less change of someone with an evil eye casting a curse on you. Hence the importance of living in a Jewish community, not just for the support, but for the shared goals.

  • Daily Aliya for Vayechi, Rishon (1st Aliya)

    General Overview: This week’s Torah reading, Vayechi, discusses Jacob’s final years. Shortly before his passing, Jacob blesses Joseph’s children as well as his own. A massive funeral procession escorts Jacob’s body to Canaan. The reading, and the Book of Genesis, concludes with Joseph’s death.

    Aliya Summary: Jacob lived his last seventeen years in Egypt. When Jacob sensed that his days were numbered he summoned Joseph and asked him to promise that he would bury him in Israel. Joseph acceded to the request. When Jacob then fell ill, Joseph visited him, accompanied by his two sons, Menashe and Ephraim. Jacob conferred upon Ephraim and Menashe the status of tribal progenitors, a status hitherto enjoyed only by Jacob’s sons. Joseph asked his father to bless Ephraim and Menashe.

  • Daily Aliya for Vayechi, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Joseph lived until the age of 110. Before passing away he told his brothers that G‑d would eventually take them out of Egypt and return them to the Promised Land. Joseph asked his brothers to promise that when that time arrived they would carry his remains with them, and inter him in Israel.

    Yosef tells his brothers that G-d will remember them and lead them out of Egypt, and then makes them swear that G-d will remember them and lead them out of Egypt (50:24-25), and that they’ll take his remains with them when they leave. It seems that Yosef wanted to make sure that they heard and BELIEVED that they would be saved, and only swearing could convey that belief to him.

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