parsha Vayeichi

January 3rd 2015

tevet 12th 5775


Sanctifying G-d’s Name in this World

by Rabbi David Pinto Shlita

It is written, “And 40 days were fulfilled for him, for so are fulfilled the days of those who are embalmed; and Egypt bewailed him for 70 days. … So Joseph went to bury his father, and with him went all of Pharaoh’s servants, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt…. When the Canaanite inhabitants of the land saw the mourning in Goren HaAtad, they said: ‘This is a grievous mourning of Egypt.’ Therefore it was named Avel Mizraim, which is across the Jordan” (Bereshith 50:3-11).

The Children of Israel and the Egyptians mourned Jacob’s passing for 40 days, followed by an additional 70 days. Joseph and his brothers left Egypt to accompany their father to his final resting place, and all the elders and dignitaries of Egypt joined them. When the Canaanites witnessed this great mourning, they said: “This is a grievous mourning for Egypt.” In fact they described Jacob’s passing as an avel mizraim (“mourning of Egypt”).

This is very surprising, since it was a mourning of the Jewish people. Why, then, did the Canaanites describe it as a mourning of Egypt? What sense does that make?

Furthermore, Joseph went up to Canaan accompanied by Pharaoh’s entire army, as well as by his princes and servants. Hence they could have easily conquered all the nations living in Canaan. We know that they were not afraid of falling into the hands of these nations, so why did the Jewish people decide to return to Egypt rather than conquer the land of Canaan at that very moment?

I believe that the Canaanites were extremely surprised to see the Children of Israel burying Jacob in Canaan and then returning to Egypt. In fact they knew that the land had been promised to them, meaning that they could have remained and conquered all the nations that dwelled there. Furthermore, Jacob’s sons were known as powerful warriors who had crushed all the neighboring peoples when Shechem the son of Hamor defiled their sister Dinah. Nevertheless, all the Children of Israel immediately returned to Egypt after mourning Jacob, rather than to fight the nations of the land, as it is written: “Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brothers, and all who had gone up with him to bury his father, after he buried his father” (Bereshith 50:14).

In my view, the Jewish people knew the terms of the covenant that G-d had made with the Patriarchs: They would first be subjugated and enslaved in Egypt for 400 years prior to leaving with great wealth, receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, and entering the land of Israel. As such, the Children of Israel did not want to hasten their deliverance, and they acted according to Hashem’s orders. This is why they quickly returned to Egypt once their mourning ended.

Confronted by the Children of Israel’s behavior, the Canaanites described this great mourning as the “mourning of Egypt.” In fact the Jewish people travelled to Canaan “as Egyptian citizens,” so to speak, for they still felt connected to Egypt. They did not consider themselves a full-fledged people because they had not yet been delivered or received the Torah. Hence they quickly returned to their work until G-d Himself would deliver them. The actions of the Children of Israel inspired respect for G-d among the nations of the world, who were forced to see that the Jewish people had completely summited themselves to His commandments. In fact despite being powerful and accompanied by the entire Egyptian army, the Children of Israel yielded to Hashem’s decree and returned to Egypt.

The Torah recounts that Avimelech and Phicol, the head of his army, went to see Abraham and Isaac in order to enter into a covenant with them, a covenant that obligated the Children of Israel not to wrong their descendants or harm them in any way. Avimelech’s great desire to seal this covenant with Abraham and Isaac demonstrated his faith in G-d’s promise. That is, Avimelech was convinced that Hashem would take the Children of Israel out of Egypt and give them the land of Canaan, where he was currently living. Furthermore the Girgashites, one of the seven nations living in Canaan, left the land even before war broke out. In fact they were fully aware that this land was the property of the Jewish people.

As we mentioned earlier, when Jacob died all the princes of Egypt left their homes to accompany the deceased to his final resting place. Though aware that the land of Canaan belonged to the Jewish people, the nations living in the land at the time were not afraid that the Children of Israel would chase them out during their mourning for Jacob. In fact the moment had not yet come for them to inherit the land, for the first part of the covenant had not yet occurred. It was only after their enslavement in Egypt for 400 years that the Jewish people would merit to be delivered and enter the land of Israel.

The Canaanites therefore described the mourning of the Jewish people for Jacob as the “mourning of Egypt,” for they saw that this nation was still under the trusteeship of Egypt and did not consider itself a full-fledged nation. Hence there was no chance that they would fight the Canaanites and chase them from the land. The Children of Israel’s conduct brought admiration and the glorification of G-d’s Name in the world; all the other nations were forced to see that the Jewish people yielded before G-d and followed His ways. In fact fulfilling His will is the main thing; only afterwards should we weigh material considerations, in this case the land of Israel.

Concerning the Parsha

The Power of Visiting the Sick

It is written, “Someone said to Joseph, ‘Behold, your father is ill.’ So he took his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, with him” (Bereshith 48:1).

The mitzvah of visiting the sick is one way that we have to cleave to the holy Shechinah and emulate G-d, as it is written: “As He clothes the naked…so should you clothe the naked. The Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick…so should you visit the sick” (Sotah 14a).

In one of his classes, the gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein described an interesting and surprising halachic ruling made by the gaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (described by his student Rav Greenwald in Responsa Revavot Ephraim). This ruling demonstrates just how great a mitzvah visiting the sick is, as well as revealing its extraordinary power. The story goes as follows:

A scholar living in the United States had to undergo heart surgery. A good surgeon from his own city was prepared to operate on him, but his surgical experience was limited. Six hundred miles away, however, was an acclaimed heart institute that specialised in cardiac surgery, a medical center where renowned doctors with vast experience worked. All the scholar’s family and friends advised him to seek treatment from the expert surgeons, not from the local doctor with little surgical experience.

This wise scholar consulted Reb Moshe Feinstein, who asked him to find out how many cardiac surgeries the local doctor had actually performed. It turned out that he had performed 92 of them. Despite this relatively poor number, Reb Moshe advised him to get treated by the local doctor rather than travel to the renowned heart institute. Reb Moshe justified his advice as follows:

“You will be isolated in that distant place, with nobody visiting you on account of the distance. In your own city, however, many of your friends will perform the mitzvah of bikur cholim [visiting the sick], which contains the power to bring healing. In fact people will come, bestow their blessings, and fulfill the mitzvah that the Mishnah describes as ‘the fruits of which man enjoys in this world, while the principle remains in the World to Come.’ That will greatly help in your recovery.

“Furthermore, you will be allowing others to fulfill the mitzvah of coming to visit you, and this merit will help you! It’s therefore preferable to get operated here, even if the surgeon is a relative novice, rather than far away with experienced surgeons. In fact there, the mitzvah of bikur cholim and the benefit of bestowing merit upon the community will be lacking.”

The scholar diligently carried out Reb Moshe’s advice and underwent a successful operation. He was hospitalized for 31 weeks, and many of his friends and acquaintances came to visit and encourage him, the result being that he made a complete recovery.

Don’t Forget Those Who Suffer

It is said that during a certain period of time, Reb Moshe Feinstein would make a detour upon returning home from synagogue on Shabbat. What was he doing? He was visiting a person who was suffering from a chronic illness.

Reb Moshe once pointed out the importance of this mitzvah to someone accompanying him: “Nature is such that people who suffer for a long time are eventually forgotten over time.”

One day, a patient hospitalized in New York City was surprised to have Reb Moshe Feinstein visit him, despite the fact that he didn’t personally know him! As it turned out, on that day Reb Moshe had learned that a Jew had been hospitalised and had no visitors. After coming to see him, Reb Moshe then decided to visit other patients as well.

Traveling to Visit the Sick

It is said that the gaon Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky once traveled to Jerusalem to sit by the bedside of his father-in-law, the gaon Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv. With his typical modesty, the latter asked his son-in-law: “Is there a requirement to travel to another city in order to perform the mitzvah of bikur cholim?”

Rabbi Chaim replied, “The Gemara states: ‘Whoever visits the sick brings him life’ [Nedarim 40a].”

The Doctor Isn’t Afraid!

A student of the gaon Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibowitz from the Kamenitz yeshiva contracted a contagious disease. The mashgiach, Rabbi Naftali Leibowitz, decided that despite the danger of becoming infected, he should visit his suffering student. As recounted in the book HaRav Domeh LeMalach, he justified has actions as follows:

“If a doctor doesn’t hesitate to see a patient for the three florins that he will receive, how much more should we not hesitate to fulfill the beautiful and unique mitzvah of visiting the sick!”

Men of Faith

Stories of the Tzaddikim from the Pinto Family

Finding Lost Items by Way of the Tzaddik

The book of Samuel recounts the episode in which Kish, the father of King Saul, lost his donkeys. When that happened, Kish said to Saul: “Take one of the attendants with you, arise and go – search for the donkeys” (I Samuel 9:3). Saul’s servant later said to him, “I have a quarter of a silver shekel with me. I will give it to the man of G-d, and he will tell us about our way” (v.8).

Thus in previous times, people did not go to the police when they lost something. Instead, they preferred giving charity to a tzaddik. This is how things work with the tzaddikim: We make a vow to help them, at which point Hashem provides us with His help. The following story (taken from the book Shnot Chaim) testifies to the power of this practice:

On the day of his son’s wedding, Rabbi Yaakov Odis presented a gold bracelet to the groom, a bracelet on which his name was engraved. The groom rejoiced immensely, but lost the bracelet on the very same day. He returned home saddened and upset about what had happened on his wedding day, just a few hours after he had received the bracelet as a gift. The groom did not tell his father what had happened, but instead went to the police to report the loss.

At the same time, he promised to give a large sum of money to the charity of the tzaddik Rabbi Haim Pinto if he were to find his precious bracelet. A miracle then happened, for on the following day the young man returned to the place where he had lost his bracelet, and found it in the very spot where he had left it the day before!

Upon seeing this, the owner of the place said to him: “I don’t understand. This place has already been cleaned four times between yesterday and today. We threw everything out, but ‘our eyes never saw’ that bracelet.”

In the Footsteps of our Fathers

A Welcoming Smile

Our Sages have given us two well-known explanations on the need to address others with a warm and welcoming smile. They base themselves on a verse from this week’s parsha: “his teeth white with milk” (Bereshith 49:12).

The Gemara states, “The man who shows his teeth to his friend is greater than one who gives him vats of milk to drink, for Scripture states: ‘his teeth white with milk.’ Do not read ‘teeth white’ [leven shinayim], but rather ‘showing teeth’ [libun shinayim]” (Ketubot 111b). Our Sages add, “his teeth white with milk – when he laughs, his teeth appear” (Tanchuma Yashan, Bereshith). In other words, guests appreciate a warm welcome from their host more than any amount of milk that he could offer them. In fact guests feel uncomfortable and ill-at-ease eating next to someone with a frown on his face. The Chazon Ish led a life of poverty and great suffering, and yet he always bore a welcoming countenance, as we read in the Gemara: “The man who shows his teeth to his friend is greater than one who gives him vats of milk to drink.” In his writings, the Chazon Ish himself points out that “sometimes a single positive word can make the whole day pleasant.”

A Warm Welcome

Whoever went to see the gaon of Tshebin, Rabbi Dov Baruch Weidenfeld, was given a warm welcome. The Rav greeted them in a friendly and kind manner, lending an open ear to all their requests, even the most unusual. One man often visited the Rav, a man who greatly enjoyed the Rav’s generosity and willingness to help. In order to “thank” the Rav, he would recount long Torah commentaries, to which the Rav calmly listened without interruption. When the Rav was asked why he listened to this man for so long, thereby wasting precious time, he replied: “Is welcoming others with warmth and listening to them with kindness and patience not included in the mitzvah of chesed, which we are obligated to fulfill?”

With Such Kindness

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir ben Menachem (the son-in-law of the gaon Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer) was walking in the street one day with his student Rabbi Shalom Schwadron. On the way, they encountered the widow of an eminent Torah scholar who was walking with a relative who was an avrech.

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir asked the widow how she was, as well as how each of her children were. Then, always smiling, he kindly asked the avrech how he and his family were.

After they left, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir asked Rabbi Shalom Schwadron, “Tell me, please, who was that young man?”

Stunned by the behavior of his teacher, Rav Schwadron exclaimed: “You spoke to him with joy and affection, as if you’ve always known him, and yet you’ve never seen him before?”

As the book Bederech Etz HaChaim recounts, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir replied: “I learned this from my father-in-law, the great Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, who trained me to fulfill the teaching in the Mishnah: ‘Welcome every person with a cheerful countenance’ [Pirkei Avoth 1:15].”

Along the same lines, the book Tiferet Raphael recounts an incredible story, as told by the grandson of Rabbi Raphael Levine:

“I went to visit my grandfather late one night during Chol HaMoed, when his home was constantly filled with visitors.

“The crowds were exhausting him, but he warmly welcomed everyone and demonstrated unbounded patience in continuing to meet with people. He seemed exhausted by the time I sat next to him.

“Later, as I was about to depart, one of his students suddenly appeared at the door. For one reason or another, this student thought it was a good idea to visit him at this time of night. I stayed by his side, unable to believe my eyes. Rabbi Raphael transformed himself, welcoming his student and demonstrating such incredible kindness and warmth. In fact he gave him the impression that he had been waiting for him, and him alone. He acted so spontaneously that only myself, who had seen him just before, could tell just how much effort was behind it all, something that has greatly affected me ever since.”

In the Light of the Parsha

Deliverance Depends on Unity

It is written, “Joseph adjured the Children of Israel, saying: ‘When G-d will indeed remember you, then you must bring my bones up out of here’ ” (Bereshith 50:24).

We need to understand why Joseph made his brothers swear to bring up his bones, rather than making his own sons swear to it.

We also need to understand why Joseph mentioned that G-d would visit them and bring them into Eretz Israel when he made them swear to bring his bones from Egypt to Eretz Israel. They certainly knew that G-d would deliver them, as He had said to Abraham, and that they would leave with great possessions. We must therefore say that there is a connection between deliverance and the oath that he made them take, and we need to understand this connection, as well as the reason behind the double expression pakod yifkod (“will indeed remember”).

It would seem that Joseph was afraid that his brothers still harbored hatred for him in their hearts, to the point that they would not want to bring his bones with them into Eretz Israel. Since they did not want to do this, there was good reason to fear that they would prevent his sons from doing so, which is why he mentioned deliverance. In fact it is a fundamental principle that deliverance depends on the Children of Israel’s unity, and Joseph wanted to arouse this sentiment in them so they would remain united by bringing his bones with them into Eretz Israel.

This also allows us to understand why he made his brothers take an oath. The possibility that they would not want to bring his bones applied only to them; there was no reason to make his sons swear to it, for they would have certainly brought his bones with them into Eretz Israel.

According to this explanation, we can also understand why Joseph used the double expression pakod yifkod, just as he had previously used it with Pharaoh: “As for the repetition of the dream to Pharaoh – two times – it is because the matter stands ready before G-d, and G-d is hastening to accomplish it” (Bereshith 41:32). Likewise, Joseph told them that G-d would quickly deliver them if they remained united.

At the Source

A Blessing Strengthened

It is written, “Israel saw Joseph’s sons and said, ‘Who are these?’ ” (Bereshith 48:8).

The Ohr HaChaim raises a question here, noting that Joseph lived with Jacob and learned Torah directly from him for 17 years. That said, how could Jacob have asked, “Who are these?” The Sages explain that Jacob had a vision in which he saw evildoers descending from Joseph’s sons. However the Ohr HaChaim writes that by asking this question, Jacob may have been trying to awaken a father’s love for his son before blessing them, so that his blessing would be strengthened through love and tenderness. Hence he asked, “Who are these?” Jacob would then hear his beloved son responding, “They are my sons,” and he would be overcome with love for them, as in the verse: “Whenever I speak of him, I remember him more and more. Therefore my inner parts yean for him; I will surely take pity on him” (Jeremiah 31:19).

Hand in Hand

It is written, “Do kindness and truth with me” (Bereshith 47:29).

What does “kindness and truth” signify? By nature, these attributes are opposites. If there is “kindness,” it means that we have gone beyond the measure of strict justice. Yet if there is “truth,” it indicates that something is essentially in agreement with justice. In Sefer Apirion, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried writes that Jacob initially asked Joseph to swear to him that he would not be buried in Egypt, and asking for this oath was classified as “kindness.” Yet afterwards, once Joseph toke this oath for his father, he would be obligated to keep it out of “truth.” In such a case, “kindness and truth” went hand in hand.

Heavy Eyes

It is written, “Israel’s eyes were heavy with age” (Bereshith 48:10).

The fact that Israel’s eyes were heavy and he could no longer see in his old age – is this mentioned as praise, or on the contrary as a deficiency?

In his commentary on tractate Yoma, the Ritba clarifies this issue by stating: “We certainly must not think that because of his great age, his eyes were heavy and he could no longer see, for it is written: ‘Those whose hope is in Hashem will have renewed strength’ [Isaiah 40:31]. On the contrary, he studied enormously, which causes tremendous fatigue, to the point that his eyes became heavy and he could no longer see. Thus Scripture points this out as praise, not as a deficiency.”

More Than Any Other Tribe

It is written, “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well [ayin]” (Bereshith 49:22).

The Ba'alei HaTosafot raise an objection: In the Gemara (Bava Metzia 106a), the Sages say that the evil eye (ayin) has no power over Joseph’s descendants. In that case, they should have been more numerous than any other tribe, for the Gemara states that 99 out of 100 people die because of the evil eye, with only 1 dying from natural causes. Hence Joseph’s descendants, who were not subject to the evil eye, should have been more numerous than any other tribe.

We should be surprised by this, however, for how do the Ba'alei HaTosafot know that they weren’t more numerous than any other tribe?

The book Peninei Kedem explains that the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim combined numbered 72,700, whereas the tribe of Judah, for example, numbered 74,600, more than the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim combined. If we say that Joseph’s descendants lived longer than those of the other tribes, they should have been more numerous. This is from where we deduce that they weren’t more numerous. Hence the Ba'alei HaTosafot explain that they died from natural causes more than any other tribe.

The Light of the Zohar

In An Instant

It is written, “The days approached for Israel to die” (Bereshith 47:29).

Rabbi Yossi said in reply: Note here the word “days,” which is somewhat peculiar, for a man dies on one day only; in fact, in an instant. Yet the reason, as we have learned, is that when G-d desires to retrieve a man’s spirit, all the days that he has lived in this world pass in review before Him.

Happy is the man whose days draw near before the King without reproach, not one of them being rejected because a sin was committed thereon. Hence the term “drawing near” is used of the righteous, for their days draw near before the King without reproach.

But woe to the wicked, whose days cannot draw near in this way, for they were all passed in sin. Hence they are not recorded above, so that of them it is written: “The way of the wicked is like darkness; they know not upon which they stumble” (Mishlei 4:19).

– Zohar I:221b

Guard Your Tongue

Disputes and Affliction

We must be very careful not to listen to any talebearing, including from our own wives. Beside the fact that listening to such words is a sin, it leads to numerous misfortunes. In fact upon seeing that her husband is interested in listening to such stories, a woman will constantly recount them to her husband, thus arousing anger, discord, disputes, and affliction.

– Chafetz Chaim


Hevrat Pinto • 32, rue du Plateau 75019 Paris - FRANCE • Tél. : +331 42 08 25 40 • Fax : +331 42 06 00 33 • © 2015 • Webmaster : Hanania Soussan