Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Vayechi 5775, December 2014: Achdut, Brotherhood

I have been waiting for this week's parsha since I began writing these weekly thoughts down. The reason I've been anticipating it so much is that there is an aspect of this week's sidra that the meforshim do not comment on and I feel strongly it is because they are men and largely missed seeing a point which women find fairly obvious and certainly intuitive, though the men I have discussed it with have uniformly agreed that it is correct. So I am grateful to have an opportunity to share this with another group of women.

This is the last parsha of sefer Bereishis, the first sefer of the Torah. We began back in Tishrei with parshas Bereishis, and the murder of Hevel by his brother Kayin. In the following week's reading, we read of (according to Yalkut Shmonei and other sources) Ham castrating his father Noach so as to prevent having to share the world with more siblings. Avram's brother Haran is so jealous of Avram's riches he demands to be thrown in a furnace himself (Tiferet Zion, Bereishis Rabbah) and the Angel of Death throws Haran's body at their father Terach's feet.  Yishmael shoots arrows at Yitzchak. Eisav will stop at nothing to kill Yaakov and only angels and miracles protect Israel. Yosef's brothers want to kill him. But they do not. They agree it would be inappropriate and would break halacha, and rather they sell him, though they take no precaution to ensure his safety or his life. Still, it is a bit of an improvement over actual fratricide and hatred which drives men to kill and maim themselves or their loved ones.

The brothers come to Egypt changed men, and Yosef learns they have always treated Binyamin with love; what's more, they regret having sold Yosef in his youth and truly show they wish they had the opportunity to demonstrate proper brotherly love. This is a huge new level of behavior in comparison to the previous generations evil and inability to experience teshuva.

Now we finally come to this week's parsha. Yes, all twelve shevatim receive their brochos, some for good, some bad; but not one speaks up and complains in the manner of Eisav. No one whines, "I get only two pesukim to my brocho?""I get warnings while he gets promises?""I am burdened while he is enriched?" Even more telling, however, is the moment beforehand, when the aged Yaakov gives his blessings to Yosef's two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Yosef places his sons so that Menashe, the first born, is at his father's right, to receive the first blessing and the respect due to the elder son. Yaakov however crosses his hands and places his right hand on Ephraim's head, seeing prophetically that Yehoshua would descend from Ephraim (Midrash HaGadol). Yosef attempts to correct Yaakov, but Yaakov insists that he is giving the proper blessings to the proper men. And what happens? Nothing at all. Menashe and Ephraim accept their grandfather's statements with perfect peace and equanimity. There is never mentioned anywhere in Torah or commentary (so far as I know) a single word suggesting that there was any enmity between Menashe and Ephraim over the fact that the younger grandson received the older grandson's blessing. No bloodshed, no curses, no feuds, no anger, but rather joy at receiving a brocha directly from a grandfather who knew Avraham's tent, who was receiving direct prophecy, who was showing love to all his sons and the two grandsons he took to be his own. Nor is there ever any mention that any of Yaakov's other grandchildren held it against Ephraim and Menashe that they had been raised to the status of shevatim, as if they were directly sons of Yaakov, while they themselves were simply Yisroelim, b'nai Yisroel, among the people.

This is an incredible difference in behavior and outlook. To come from fratricide to true love through acceptance of the Torah and the teachings they received from Yaakov is an almost unbelievable advancement in civilization for the Jews.  It is at this point, at the end of sefer Bereishis, that we see they have truly become a nation, a people, under Torah. They are ready to suffer as a nation under a new Pharaoh, and survive it intact, and in fact to leave Egypt and receive the physical Torah and extensive teachings from Moshe only because they have learned to truly love each other completely and without reservation.  This is the mitzvah of achdut, loving our brother, literally and figuratively. We must show boundless, endless, perfect love to our own family but also to all our brothers in b'nai Yisroel. It is not always easy at all, I realize myself, and struggle with it daily. But it is the nature of Torah and the nature of the true people of Yisroel.

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