Vayakhel 5765 – Gilayon #384

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Parshat Vayechi







 (Bereishit 47:29-30)


And when the time approached – The great weakness brought on

by many toils and troubles made him feel his own death's approach. Fearing

sudden death, he instructed his son Joseph to have him taken out of Egypt and

buried in the tomb of his fathers.

 (ReDaK on Bereishit 47:29)


And when the time approached for Jacob to die – It says approached

every time someone wants to instruct his children. For instance: When Isaac

was old… he called Esau… I do not know how soon I may die (27:1,2), and when

the time approached for David to die, he instructed his son Solomon… (I Kings 2:1). This parasha

really begins with And Israel settled in the

land of Egypt… (Bereishit

47:27), since Jacob lived (27:28)

is connected to it. But the communities did not want to have parashat Vayigash end with [the

section beginning] and the land passed over to Pharaoh (47:20), so they ended it with And Israel settled.

(RaShBaM ad loc)


When Jacob started to

die, he began humbling himself before Joseph, and said to him, Please, if I have found favor in your eyes… (47:29). When [does he speak in this fashion]? When

he approaches death, for it is said, And

when the time approached for Jacob to die.

 (Bereishit Rabbah 96:3)



From Shimon

and Levi to Pinhas and Zimri

Elimelekh Horowitz


our parasha Shimon and Levi are both castigated for the harm they caused to

Jacob as a result of the massacre they perpetrated in Shechem,

while in the parasha Zot

ha-Berakha, Levi wins Moses' blessing, but Shimon

does not appear in the list of those blessed.


can we explain this? The Sages already addressed this problem in Sifri Devarim (349), answering it, as is there custom, with a



is like the story of two people who borrowed from the king. One paid back his

debt to the king, and even lent him money. The other not only failed to pay

back his debt – he borrowed even more from the king. So it was with Shimon and

Levi who borrowed at Shechem, as it says, two of

Jacob's sons, Shimon and Levi, took each his sword and went stealthily to the

city and killed all the males (Bereishit 34:25). In the desert [during the sin of

the golden calf), Levi paid back his debt, for it is said, and Moses stood

at the gate of the camp and said, "Thus says the Lord: Let each man place

his sword on his thigh,' and the Levites did what God had said (Shemot 32:27-8), and

he [Levi] went on and lent it to God at Shittim, for

it is said, Pinhas son of Elazar

son of Aaron the Priest took back my anger against the Israelites, by being

zealous for my jealousy among them, and so I did not destroy the Israelites in

my jealousy. (Bamidbar



seems the Sages noticed that the expression ish

harbo (each man his

sword) – appears only twice in the Torah: in connection with the Shechem massacre, and in connection with the sin of the

golden calf. In both cases, Levi was holding the sword in question. However, in

the first instance, Shimon and Levi killed every male in Shechem, and in the second instance, the Levites killed

three thousand of their own brothers and neighbors from among the Israelites. There

is another difference: in Shechem, Shimon and Levi

acted of their own volition, while in the case of the golden calf the Levites

answered Moses' (a fellow tribe-member's) call: Whoever is for the Lord,

come to me! (Shemot

32:26), and they executed his command: Go back and forth from gate to

gate throughout the camp, and slay brother, neighbor, and kin (32:27). One might say that the slaughter

perpetrated by Shimon and Levi by their own decision and in the name of

brotherly concern was later atoned for when the Levites killed their Israelite

brothers on Moses' command. However, they only atoned for Levi's part in the Shechem massacre.


bit later, when the Israelites were camped in Shittim

and attached themselves to Baal-Peor (Bamidbar 25:3),

another Levite zealot rose up – Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aaron the Priest, and another sinner from the

tribe of Shimon appears – Zimri son of Salu. After Moses commands the people's judges to each kill

those of his men who attached themselves to Baal-Peor

(25:5), Zimri,

chieftain of a Simeonite ancestral house (25:14), arrives and attaches himself not only

to Baal Peor, but also to Kozbi

daughter of Tzur, the Midianite.

In this emergency situation, Pinchas rises up from

the community, spear-in-hand, and stabs them both. In a way, Pinchas' action is similar to that of Shimon and Levi; he

decided to act on his own. In contrast

to the general massacre that took place in Shechem, Pinchas only killed the sinners themselves. And in contrast

to Shimon and Levi, who earned their father's reprimand, Pinchas

was rewarded with both a pact of priesthood for all time (25:13) as well as a pact of peace (25:12) with God.


and Levi committed a double sin: they acted without their father's knowledge,

and they killed all of the males in Shechem. In their

response to the golden calf, Levi's descendants managed to atone for one part

of the sin, and in Shittim, Pinchas

atoned for the other.


and Levi acted as partners, and here we see that a descendant of Levi publicly

kills a chieftain of the tribe of Shimon, who was sinning in public. As a

result, the Levites receive Moses' blessing, and the Simeonites

end up doubly disadvantaged.


concern has given rise to needless killings in our day as well. May we find the

courage to atone for them – not through additional killings – and not leave the

matter for our descendants.

Prof. Elimelekh Horowitz, a member of the

board of Oz Ve'Shalom, teaches in the Jewish History

department of Bar-Ilan University.



Love Truth and Peace – Justification of Lying and the Motivation of


When Joseph's

brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph still

bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did to

him!" So they sent this message to Joseph, "Before his death your father left this instruction:

So shall you say to Joseph, ‘Forgive, I urge you, the offense and guilt of your

brothers who treated you so harshly.' Therefore, please forgive the offense of

the servants of the God of your father." And Joseph wept as they spoke to him.

(Bereishit 50:15-16)


Rabbi Eliezer said in the name of Rabbi Shimon: One is allowed to

lie for the sake of peace, for it is said: your father left this instruction:

So shall you say to Joseph, etc.

Rabbi Natan said: It is a commandment [to lie for the sake of peace],

for it is said: Samuel replied, "How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he

will kill me."[The Lord answered, "Take a heifer with you, and say,

‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord."] (I

Samuel 16:2).

The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught: Great is peace, for even the Holy One

blessed be He lied for it; first it says: [And Sarah laughed to herself,

saying, "Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment] with my husband

so old?" (Bereishit

18: 12), but later it says, [Then the Lord said to Abraham, "Why

did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I in truth bear a child,] old as I am?'"


(Yevamot 65b)


And Joseph wept:

He understood that his brothers had sent the messengers, telling them what to

say, and that Jacob had not commanded any of it. Had he wanted to, he [Jacob] would

have told him while he was still alive. He cried because he saw how troubled

his brothers were, fearing for their lives, forced to invent ploys to save

themselves from his wrath.

 (ShaDaL on the Torah, as quoted in Prof. Nehama

Leibowitz's Iyyunim

le-Sefer Bereishit)


Vindictiveness and Suspicion vs. Forgiveness and Peace

When Joseph's

brothers saw that their father was dead. What did they see then that made

them fearful? They saw that on the way back from burying their father, Joseph visited the pit into which they had sent him

in order to say a blessing, as one is required to say a blessing at a place

where a miracle happened for one's sake: "Blessed is the omnipresent who

performed a miracle for my sake at this place." When they saw this, they

said, now that our father is dead, "What if Joseph still bears a grudge

against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him!" So they

sent this message to Joseph, "Before his death your father left this

instruction… So shall you say to Joseph, Forgive " (50:15-17). We have searched and not found that

Jacob commanded this thing. But come and see how great is the power of peace,

for the Holy One blessed be He wrote these things in

His Torah regarding the power of peace.

(Tanhuma Vayehi



The midrash tells us that Joseph the Righteous had acted

for the sake of Heaven, he went to fulfill the commandment taught him by his

father, to recite the customary blessing for a miracle which had occurred. Nevertheless,

the brothers are unable to shake off their suspicions. They were entrapped by

their old prejudice that had caused them to err even after the reunion; they

were incapable of understanding the reality that someone might be guided by

forgiveness, even for a terrible deed such as that which they had done to their

brother Joseph.

(Y. Leibowitz: Sheva Shanim shel Sihot al Parashat

Ha-Shavua, pg. 186)


Between Regime and Morality

When David's life

was drawing to a close, he instructed his son Solomon as follows: "I am

going the way of all the earth; be strong and show yourself a man. Keep the

charge of the Lord your God, walking in His ways and following His laws, His

commandments, His rules, and His admonitions as recorded in the Torah of Moses,

in order that you may succeed in whatever you undertake and wherever you turn. Then

the Lord will fulfill the promise that He made concerning me: "If your

descendants are scrupulous in their conduct, and walk before Me

faithfully, with all their heart and soul, your line on the throne of Israel

shall never end."

Further, you know

what Yoav son of Zuriah did

to me, what he did to the two commanders of Israel's forces, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Yeter: he killed

them, shedding blood of war in peacetime, staining the girdle of his loins and

the sandals on his feet with the blood of war. So act in accordance with your

wisdom, and see that his white hair does not go down to Sheol

in peace.

(I Kings 2:1-6, from the Haftorah

for parashat Vayehi)


Every king or sovereign

or ruler among human beings, in as much as they are human beings, even amongst

Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, even if he is called "Messiah

of the God of Jacob", will become evil as a result of his ruling over his

brothers. There cannot be a monarchy that is not wicked. This is something that

the greatest believers and Torah scholars would occasionally mention even in

connection with King David, who was in their eyes the great example of a just

and pious king, as they said: "Any one made a leader below becomes evil in

[the eyes of God] above."

(Y. Leibowitz, op. cit. pg.



Forces from without compelled us

to forsake the political arena of the world, but our withdrawal was also

motivated by an inward assent, as if to say that we were awaiting the advent of

a happier time, when government could be conducted without ruthlessness and

barbarism. That is the day for which we hope. Of course, in order to bring it

about, we must awaken all our potentialities and use all the means that the age

may make available to us: Everything evolves by the will of the Creator of all

worlds. But the delay is a necessary one, for our soul was disgusted by the

dreadful sins that go with political rule in evil times. The day has come – it

is very near – when the world will grow gentler; we can begin to prepare

ourselves, for it will soon be possible for us to conduct a state of our own

founded on goodness, wisdom, justice, and the clear Light of God.

"Jacob sent the royal robe

to Esau": Let my lord go on ahead of his servant (Bereishit 33:14). It is not meant for Jacob to engage in political

life at a time when statehood requires bloody ruthlessness and demands a talent

for evil. At the beginning of our history we were granted only the foundation,

the minimum that was necessary to establish a nation. After our race was

weaned, our political sovereignty was destroyed, and we were dispersed among

the peoples and sown in the depths of the soil, till the time of singing is

come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land (Shir Ha-Shirim


 (Rabbi A. I. Kook, ztz"l,

Orot, pg. 14. Translation based on Arthut Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, pg. 422)


Jacob – the Galut aspect of the

Jewish People, oppressed and persecuted.

Israel – the "God won" victorious aspect of the

Jewish People.

Accordingly: the danger

to the general weal by Shimon and Levi's excessive impetuosity and choleric

disposition is only present at a time when the nation is flourishing, when it

forms a powerful body of a people who could easily be influenced by two compact

tribes filled with glowing feelings of strength and power and of the unity and

brotherhood of the whole nation. Therefore in Israel: I will scatter

them. In a flourishing state of Israel they are to be scattered. As actually happened. Levi received no province at all when

the land was divided up, and his existence was, through tithes, made entirely

dependent on the good-will of each individual. For the Jewish tithe, in

contrast to the later and present-day tithe of the Church and landlord, was

absolutely "property that no one could claim," a tax which it was

certainly the duty of the occupier of the land to pay, but to which no

particular Levite had any direct claim. The one who had to pay it could give

the tithe to any one of the tribe of Levi that he pleased and none had the

right to demand it from him…

But in Galut, where the pressure of our fate bows everything down

and the nation itself torn asunder, there the danger lies, that all feelings of

one's own importance becomes lost, and the sense of oppression kills all

spiritual force and energy. That even the wandering Jew, peddling through

Europe, still looked down on the street boys of the various countries with

proud feeling of his own value, and he, downtrodden and driven all over the

world still keeps the feelings of the importance of his own person and the

sense of belonging to his people, for that I shall divide them among Jacob,

it was of the greatest benefit that the tribes of Shimon and Levi were

scattered amongst the other tribes, which had the natural result that, when the

state collapsed and the nation scattered in all directions, in this dispersion,

Shimonites and Levites would be found everywhere,

who, with their fiery and proud dispositions would keep alive the energy and

the courage, the fire and the noble Jewish pride of the Jewish spirit,

outliving the loss of the state.

(R. S.R. Hirsch on Bereishit

49:7, Levi translation)



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