Yosef, his brothers, and their entire generation had passed on. A new era was beginning in Mitzrayim, and with it came a new attitude. When the Jews had first entered the land they were received as celebrated guests. After all, they were brothers of the great Yosef who had saved the nation. That sense of appreciation was now gone. No longer were the Jews respected and revered, no longer were they welcome. They had become a thorn in the side of the Mitzrim.
The Gemara in Kiddushin 71a says that when Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu (in this week’s parshah), “zeh shemi l’olam, v’zeh zichri l’dor dor – this is my name forever, and this is my name for every generation” (Shemos 3:15), he was teaching Moshe two separate names of Hashem. Rashi explains there that this is derived from the fact that the pasuk does not say “zeh shemi v’zichri.” The Gemara says that Hashem told Moshe that He has both a name that is written and a name that is pronounced. Hashem’s written name is spelled “yud, kei, vav, kei” and His pronounced name is spelled alef, daled, vav, nun. (We will refer to this name as Adnus.)
During my formative years, one of my rabbeim once told our class that he wished to tell us something very profound, something we may have a hard time believing: “I want you all to know that every student in this room has the capability to become one of the gedolei hador.” I recall that at first that comment encouraged and inspired me. But within a short time, I began to feel very dejected. In fact, I have thought of that comment many times since then and it took me a long time to understand what bothered me about it.
Parshas VaYechi describes the last days of Yaakov Avinu’s life and it is therefore appropriate that the haftorah is a description of the last days of Dovid HaMelech’s life (the beginning of Sefer Melochim). But is that the only association? The last days of someone’s life? If so, there are other examples of the last days of someone’s life in Navi that could have been chosen. There must be deeper connections between the lives of Yaakov and Dovid.
This week’s parshah opens up with the statement “Vayechi Yaakov b’eretz Mitzrayim shevah esreh shanah – “And Yaakov lived in Egypt for seventeen years.” The Bal HaTurim explains that the gematria of vayichi (lived) is seventeen. The Torah is telling us that the life of Yaakov was seventeen years. Up until that point, he had suffered so much that his years couldn’t rightfully be called a life. The sum total of the years that he spent without torment was the seventeen years that he lived in Mitzraim. That was his life.
In this week’s parshah Yosef brings his two sons to his father Yaakov to receive blessings before his death. Rashi tells us that when Yaakov was about to bless Yosef’s sons the shechinah left him as a result of some of Yosef’s sons’ evil descendants.
Yosef Hatzaddik is not only the central character at the end of Chumash Bereishis. I believe that Yosef is also the character who best serves as a role model for many in today’s world.
For 22 years Yaakov Avinu was in a state of mourning. His beloved son, the one who most closely followed in his ways, the one he envisioned as the leader of the next generation, had been taken from him while still a youth. For all those years Yaakov was inconsolable. Now the brothers came back with the news, “Yosef is still alive!” At first Yaakov could not believe it. The brothers convinced him it was true by showing him the wagons Yosef had sent.
In the beginning of this week’s parshah Yehudah tells Yosef that he must allow Binyamin to return to his father because Yehudah had guaranteed Binyamin’s return. As the pasuk says: “ki avdecha arav es hanar… – for your servant has guaranteed the boy…” (Bereishis 44:32; see also 43:9).
Pharaoh had a dream. First, seven “good” cows came out of the Nile. Then seven “bad” cows came up and consumed the first cows. When he awoke in the morning, he called for Yosef to interpret the dream. Yosef explained the seven “good cows” represented seven years of plenty that would be followed by seven years of famine.
A congregant once told me that he was spending a large amount of time trying to explain Judaism to a coworker. His colleague thought that all Jewish holidays had the same theme, and he proudly summarized this theme at his family's two-minute Seder: "They tried to kill us, Hashem saved us, we won, now let's eat!!" He proudly bragged that this sentence was the family's personal, abbreviated Haggadah.
There are two mitzvos that the rabbanan instituted for Chanukah, lighting candles and saying Hallel. The Gemara in Shabbos 23a says that women are obligated in the mitzvah of lighting candles because af ha’eim hayu b’osah haness – they too were involved in the miracle.
Most people remember where they were when they heard the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed and justice delivered. Many books have already been written about the ten-year search for him, the decision to launch the mission and the actual attack on his compound in Abbottabad. While every aspect of this story is fascinating, I would like to focus on one specific area: Why were the Navy SEALs chosen to execute the mission? When the mission was being planned it was hardly a done deal that the SEALs would be selected as opposed to the CIA’s own paramilitary unit.
At the age of seventeen, Yosef was wise in the ways of the Torah and in the ways of the world. He was called a “ben zikunim” because even at such a young age he showed the brilliance of an elder scholar. He had already absorbed all the Torah Yaakov had learned in the many years he had spent in the yeshiva of Shem.
The Jews living outside Eretz Yisrael began reciting vesein tal u’matar in the Shemoneh Esrei this week. If one does not say vesein tal u’matar (instead continuing to say “vesein berachah”) and finishes the Shemoneh Esrei, he must repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. If one accidentally does not daven at all, he must daven two Shemoneh Esreis during the following tefillah. If one did not say vesein tal u’matar and finished davening and only remembers this fact at the time of the next tefillah, he must daven two Shemoneh Esreis at the next tefillah.
The deception has taken place. Joseph has been sold into slavery. His brothers have dipped his coat in blood. They bring it back to their father, saying: “Look what we have found. Do you recognize it? Is this your son’s robe or not?” Jacob recognized it and replied, “It is my son’s robe. A wild beast has devoured him. Joseph has been torn to pieces.”
I always wonder about Jewish names. Some make it and some don’t. Some have mazel and others don’t. Some Biblical personalities’ names are very popular amongst the members of Klal Yisrael and then there are those personalities whose names never seem to be used.
Yaakov Avinu received word that his brother Eisav was coming to greet him. He understood fully well that this was not to be a warm family reunion. Eisav came accompanied by a band of four hundred armed men, bent on revenge. The Torah describes Yaakov as “very frightened,” so he prepared for war.
At the beginning of this week’s parshah Yaakov sent a message to Eisav. In the message were the words, “im Lavan garti – I lived with Lavan.” Rashi explains that Yaakov was informing Eisav that he had kept the entire Torah, as the word “garti” is the same numerical value as the amount of mitzvos in the Torah: 613. The following strong question concerning this statement has been discussed by the Rishonim and Acharonim: How could Yaakov say that he kept the entire Torah when he married two sisters, Rachel and Leah, which is biblically prohibited? Additionally, the Gemara in Yuma 28 says that Avraham Avinu kept the Torah; presumably the other avos did as well. How then did Yaakov marry two sisters?
Jacob and Esau are about to meet again after a separation of 22 years. It is a fraught encounter. Once, Esau had sworn to kill Jacob as revenge for what he saw as the theft of his blessing. Will he do so now, or has time healed the wound? Jacob sends messengers to let his brother know he is coming. They return, saying that Esau is coming to meet Jacob with a force of 400 men. We then read: “Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed” (Genesis 32:8).