Parsha Pearls: Parshas Vayechi

The Zionists Are Nourished From the Yeshivos
Jews Have No Authority During Exile
Let Us Gather Together
The Comfortable Exile

And Yaakov called to his sons, and said, "Gather and I will tell you what will happen (yikra) to you in the end of days."

The Satmar Rav asked: The word "yikra" is usually understood to mean "happen," but then it should have been spelled differently, with a "hei" at the end. Why is it spelled with an "alef"? "Yikra" with an alef means "he will call." The answer is that Yaakov Avinu was warning his children: In the end of days, when the time of the redemption arrives, you are not permitted to bring the redemption on your own. He, Hashem, will call you in the end of days. You must wait until He calls you! (Toros Veuvdos Mibeis Raboseinu, p. 109)

Zevulun will dwell on the shore of the seas, and will have ships on his shore…Yissachar is a bony donkey, crouching between the borders. (49:13-14)

Hashem knew that it was impossible for the entire nation to occupy themselves only with Torah learning, and that some must work, so when He divided up the Land among the tribes, He hinted that Yissachar and Zevulun would each fulfill complimentary roles: Yissachar would learn Torah, and from that tribe would emerge 200 heads of Sanhedrins, from which halachic rulings would issue forth to the Jewish people, while Zevulun would dwell by the sea, buying and selling merchandise. He would not have time for a fixed schedule of Torah learning, so he would support his brother Yissachar's Torah. Since the world was created for Torah learning, Yissachar and Zevulun are both considered pillars of the world.

The Chofetz Chaim would say, "More than the supporter does for the learner, the learner does for the supporter. For the supporter, for a few pennies, gains a portion of eternity from the learner's Torah. The biggest punishment for the supporter would be if the yeshivos would stop accepting his donations."

Once a new yeshiva was founded with a new style of learning which, the Chofetz Chaim held, would bring destruction on Torah Jewry. The Chofetz Chaim asked his talmidim to write a letter to a certain wealthy Mr. G., asking him to stop supporting this new yeshiva. If not, he threatened, he would tell the heads of all the yeshivos to stop accepting donations from him. (Chofetz Chaim Al Hatorah, p. 85)

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At the Keren Hatzalah gathering in Tamuz 5754 (1994) during the Beirach Moshe’s visit to Eretz Yisroel, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch told the following story: In the months preceding the establishment of the Zionist State, the Brisker Rav was very worried and he asked many rabbanim to work hard to prevent the new state from coming into being. After the State was established, the Chazon Ish heard that the Brisker Rav was feeling ill. He sent him a message, “You need not fear the State, for we have a rule that ‘a decree usually becomes annulled’ (Kesubos 3b). So the State will not last long.” The Brisker Rav told the messenger, “Go back and tell the Chazon Ish that it is true that a decree is usually annulled, but that would only apply here if the community considered the State an evil decree. However, I fear that the community does not think of it as a decree at all, and religious Jews will join the Zionists in running their state. Not only that, I fear that the wicked will be nourished from our holiness, from the yeshivos and chadarim that they support. If so, it will be a bitter decree for us. Go and tell the Chazon Ish that I fear that this evil decree will remain until the coming of moshiach!” (Uvdos Vehanhagos Leveis Brisk v. 4, p. 209)

And Yosef said to his brothers, "I am dying; but G-d will surely visit you and take you up from this land, to the land that He promised to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov." (50:24)

Yosef was warning them not to go up "as a wall" until a prophet sent by Hashem Yisborach comes and says, "I have surely visited you (pakod pakadti)." And this is also a lesson for all generations, that the Jewish people may not leave exile on their own. This was the error of the Children of Ephraim: they left Egypt before the proper time. Even if a prophet had come to the Jews in Egypt and told them to leave and go to a different land (other than Eretz Canaan), they would have denounced him as a false prophet. The prophet must tell them to go to the land Hashem promised to the Avos, as Moshe Rabbeinu did. (Meshech Chochmah)

The words of the Meshech Chochmah are an echo of the Targum Yonasan ben Uziel on the next posuk. The posuk says, "And Yosef made the children of Israel swear, saying, 'G-d will surely visit you...'" The Targum Yonasan says, "You shall not sin and leave Egypt until the two redeemers come and say to you, Hashem has surely remembered you."

And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years (47:28).

Rashi says that one reason why this parsha, unlike all others, begins with a "closed paragraph" - in the middle of a line with no break at all - is that Yaakov Avinu wanted to reveal to his children the time when the final redemption would come, but it was closed and hidden from him.

Rabbeinu Bachya adds that this metaphor of "closed" is used in reference to the final redemption in another place. The prophet Yishaya said (9:6), "When authority is increased and there is no end to peace, on the throne of David and his kingdom, to prepare it and support it." The word "increased" (lemarbei) is written with a final, closed mem in the middle of a word, in violation of the rules of Hebrew. This is to hint that the authority and elevation of Israel is closed during exile. During exile, the Jewish people will have no authority, and the time at which they will regain that authority will be closed and hidden from all.

There is one other place, says Rabbeinu Bachya, where the rules of open and closed letters are broken. That is in Nechemiah 2:13, which relates that Nechemiah saw "the wall of Jerusalem, which were open, and its gates had been consumed by fire." The word "hem" – they [were open] – is written with a regular, open mem, not the final mem that is supposed to be used at the end of a word. The open mem hints to the open walls of Jerusalem.

The Midrash (it is unknown what Midrash he is referring to) says that when one of these grammatical errors will be fixed, the other will as well. When moshiach comes and the walls of Jerusalem become closed - symbolized by the closing of the mem -then the authority of the Jewish people will no longer be closed and hidden - symbolized by the opening of the mem.

And Yaakov called to his sons, and he said, “Gather together and I will tell you what will happen to you in the end of days.” (49:1)

Our Sages teach that when the Mishkan was first completed, Moshe Rabbeinu set it up and took it down every day for seven days. On the eighth day, he set it up and left it up (Rashi on Bamidbar 7:1). Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, the Gerrer Rebbe (1866-1948), asked: Why did he have to take apart the Mishkan each day? He answered that Moshe’s actions symbolized the seven Temples that were built and destroyed: the Mishkan in the desert, the Mishkan at Gilgal, the Tabernacle at Shilo, the Tabernacle of Nov, the Tabernacle of Givon, the Temple of Solomon and the Second Temple. The eighth day symbolized the eighth Temple, which will be built by G-d Himself and will never be destroyed. Moshe wanted to teach us that anything built by human hands will ultimately not last.

It is possible that the Zionists will one day try to build a Temple, but we must not let that weaken our faith in the least. Rabbi Yaakov Teitelbaum related that his grandfather heard Rabbi Israel of Ryzhin say over 150 years ago: "Jews, you must know that before the coming of the messiah, a fire will come down from heaven like the fire that came down for Elijah the prophet on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18:38). But there will be a big difference: then the fire came down for Eliyahu Hanavi, but in the future before the coming of the messiah, it will come down for the prophets of the Baal. And Jews will have to climb up sheer walls to remain with their faith."

Rabbi Israel of Ryzhin continued: The only solution for a Jew to stay safe from heresy at that time will be to stick together with other believing Jews. This is what Yaakov Avinu told his children, “Gather together and I will tell you what will happen to you in the end of days.” The word “happen” could also be translated as “cold”, just as we find in the words “asher karcha baderech” (Devarim 25:18) which Rashi translates as “he [Amalek] made it cold for you on the way.” In the end of days, when Amalek tries with all his might to “cool off” the Jewish people and lead them astray from their faith, the only road to safety is to gather together and discuss the true emunah. (Kol Yaakov pp. 81-82)

And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years. (47:28)

The Baal Haturim comments that those seventeen years, together with the seventeen years from when Yosef was born until he was sold, were the 34 best years of Yaakov’s life – equaling the numerical value of the word Vayechi.

Not only were things good during the lifetime of Yaakov – Rashi tells us (on Shemos 6:16) that as long as Yaakov’s sons were alive, there was no slavery. This means that the slavery could not have lasted longer than 116 years, from the death of Levi until the Exodus.

The Chida (Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azoulay, 1724-1807) in his commentary Simchas Haregel on the Haggadah, asks: We know the exile in Egypt was supposed to last 400 years, as Hashem promised Avraham Avinu (Bereishis 15:13). The commentators all deal with the question of why the decree was shortened to 210 years. But even of these 210 years, the Jews suffered for only 116. What happened to Hashem’s decree? In what way was the first part of their stay in Egypt considered exile?

He answers this based on the words of the Haggadah: “And he descended to Egypt – by compulsion of Hashem’s word.” For tzaddikim such as Yaakov Avinu and his sons, all worldly pleasures, wealth and honor were unimportant. Their only desire was to live in the Holy Land and be close to Hashem. After they came to Egypt, were reunited with Yosef and the famine ended, they would have returned to the Holy Land, but they were forbidden to do so by the decree of Hashem. Now we understand why those years counted as part of the exile – they longed to return to the Holy Land, yet they stayed in Egypt in obedience to Hashem.

Rabbi Yitzchok Lebovits of Khal Yereim, Woodridge, applied this lesson to our situation in American exile today. We must arouse within ourselves nostalgic emotions for the Holy Land, intense cravings for the land of our forefathers. By doing so, we will sense that our existence here is exile, and only Hashem’s decree compels us to abide by it. We control our longing for Eretz Yisroel and do not attempt to force the end of the exile through any means whatsoever, G-d forbid; we accept the decree of the Creator with love and we dwell in these lands of the exile because that is what Hashem decreed.

Historically, maintaining this attitude ensured that when exile was not so comfortable, during the many centuries when Jews were subjected to humiliation, intimidation and persecution, they entertained no thoughts of self-emancipation. They surrendered their personal desires to the will of Hashem, lovingly accepting His decree and the hardships accompanying it. Even following the Holocaust, when the Jewish people were tempted with the opportunity to establish a Jewish sovereign state - which would supposedly fulfill the natural desire prevalent amongst Jews then, to have their dignity reinstated – the strongest among us resisted and declared their willingness to continue living in exile, despite all that they had been through.

But not everyone was so strong. Then Hashem had mercy on His nation and the United States of America too opened its doors. In America, where there exists a constitution ensuring justice for all, as well as a multicultural society where one particular nation does not have sole dominion or permanence, the feeling of being alien has been somewhat been lessened for us Jews who reside here. This decreased the difficulty of the challenge of desiring Jewish independence and statehood prior to the arrival of moshiach. If not for the existence of this comfortable exile, who knows if there would even be a minyan of Jews left who could withstand that challenge?

But the test remained difficult for those who had traveled to the Holy Land. Upon the unfortunate recognition by the nations of the Jewish "right" to an independent state, even many of those Jews who had up until that time chosen to remain uninvolved in Zionist activity became gripped with confusion. They began to be inclined to regard the heretical enterprise as a benefit to Jews and an advancement for Judaism. These circumstances prompted our rabbis of blessed memory to once again "wage the war of Hashem" and protest with all their might against the legitimacy of a "Jewish" state prior to the arrival of Moshiach.

Presently however, we Jewish residents of America must conduct a session of genuine soul-searching to ensure that America's liberty from which we benefit so much has not adversely affected us. Perhaps the fact that we have not succumbed to the Zionist temptation – a fact on which many of us pride ourselves - is the result of a phenomenon deserving of much shame. Perhaps it is not because of our loyalty to Hashem and His Holy Torah that we find ourselves able to remain uninfluenced by Zionism, but rather due to our feeling comfortable and satisfied here with an abundance of mundane pleasures. Because of the freedom that we feel here, we have ceased to long for the announcement of the Eliyahu Hanavi, the redemption of moshiach and the return to Zion. We remain apathetic to the plight of the Holy Shechinah in exile.

Under such circumstances, bathing in earthly pleasures, it is certainly simple to exercise restraint and not attempt self-emancipation. Heaven forefend, who knows if Hashem will be impressed with us?

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 33:6) expounds on the verse, "She sat amongst the nations but did not find sanctuary" (Eicha 1:3), as follows: "R. Yudan bar Nechemia said in the name of R. Shimon bar Levi: If she found sanctuary she would not return." If the Nation of Israel found rest amongst the nations of the world, they would not desire to be redeemed. The Chasam Sofer writes, "If we were affluent in the lands of the nations and the governments displayed affection to us, we would not desire redemption at all. We would expend all efforts in order to assimilate with the gentiles, to charm them and emulate them, Heaven forbid (Drashos Chasam Sofer, p.335, column 3; see also Drashos Ksav Sofer, Tisha B’av p. 86).

It is Hashem who has presented this challenge and it is very difficult to withstand. It is our duty to constantly bear in mind, and not to forget even for a brief moment, that our existence here in this foreign land is by the decree of Hashem. He moved us from one country to the next, until He brought us here. We do not live here because life here is pleasant, but because we are compelled to by Hashem. (Drasha by Rabbi Yitzchok Lebovits, 5 Iyar 5758)