Vayechi 5778

Correcting a blemish[1]

ויקרא יעקב אל-בניו ויאמר האספו ואגידה לכם את אשר-יקרא אתכם באחרית הימים
Yaakov called out to his sons: “Gather together and I will tell you what will happen to you in the end of days”[2]

When Yaakov fell ill, he knew his end was near. He decided that as this might be his final opportunity, he would reveal to his children their ultimate fate[3]. As they gathered to hear his words, his power of prophecy suddenly left him[4]. Yaakov was disturbed how this could happen. He felt it must be because of one of his children. Just like Avraham had two sons, Yitzchak and Yishmael, one good and one bad, and Yitzchak had two sons, Yaakov and Eisav, one good and one bad, Yaakov worried maybe one of his children had turned rotten[5]. He asked if any of them had any complaints against Hashem[6]. Perhaps their faith wasn’t as strong as he thought. His children responded in unison: “Hear O Israel[7]! Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One”[8]. “Just like in your heart there is only One, so too in our hearts there is only One”. “Just like you have nothing in your heart against Hashem, neither do we”. Yaakov, delighted at this response, called out “Blessed is the name of His Glorious Kingdom forever!”. When Yaakov suspected his children of wrongdoing, why did he specifically suspect them of having a faith problem? Maybe it was something else?

The Zohar says[9] an idea that’s far beyond our understanding. However, we must try our best to learn what we can from it. It says that Adam, the first Man, was in a way guilty of the three cardinal sins: murder, idol worship, sexual immorality. What this means is unclear, but what is clear is that it left a horrible blemish on creation. Someone had to come and fix what he broke. This was the job of the Avos, the patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.

Avraham’s job was to fix the sin of sexual immorality[10]. When Avraham had his two sons, one good and one bad, they embodied the completion of this task. Yishmael was steeped in sexual immorality[11], therefore he was cast aside from the Jewish people; similar to the removal of waste from food[12]. Yitzchak on the other hand, was completely lacking in this fault. He therefore was the rightful heir to the Jewish heritage.

Yitzchak’s job was to fix the sin of murder. When he had his two sons, one good and one bad, they also embodied this process of rectification. Eisav was a murderous bandit[13], whereas Yaakov was a righteous student[14]. Eisav was therefore cast aside from the Jewish people, and the line continued through Yaakov.

Yaakov’s job was to rectify the sin of idol worship. He knew that when it became necessary, his father and grandfather had to separate the rotten children from the righteous ones. The Jewish people needed to have a perfect beginning. He was therefore terrified his whole life as to which child he would have to sacrifice. After raising his twelve sons to adulthood, they all seemed perfectly righteous. Therefore, Yaakov thought he had successfully completed his job, in a manner greater than his predecessors. None of his children had to be rejected.

However, at the end of his life, his power of prophecy was suddenly taken away from him. He feared the worst. He knew his task was to correct the blemish of idol worship, and worried that maybe one of his children were secretly idol worshippers. Maybe their faith in Hashem was faulty. Like his parents, in order to complete his mission, he would have to cast aside the guilty child. He would have to lose one of his precious sons. To this they responded: “No!”. “We have no trace of idol worship among us” [15]. “Hashem is our G-d and Hashem is One!”. Yaakov was overjoyed, and took that opportunity to bless Hashem for his portion.

With that we finish Chumash Bereishis, the book of Genesis. Chazak Chazak VeNischazek.

Good Shabbos.

[1] Based on Minchas Asher Sichos to Vayechi, as well as a shiur to Vayechi from 5773. Thanks to R’ Ari Deifik who helped with some of the sources

[2] Genesis 49:1

[3] There are various opinions as to what this refers to. Some say it refers to the end of the Egyptian exile, some say the building of the Temple, and some say the end of the four exiles and the coming of Moshiach. See Torah Sheleimah Chapter 49 § 18 for a compilation of opinions

[4] Rashi ad. loc. quoting Pesachim 56a, and Bereishis Rabbah 99:5. This is evident from the fact that he proceeds to tell them something else

[5] Pesachim loc. cit.

[6] Bereishis Rabbah 98:3

[7] Rashi to Pesachim loc. cit. clarifies they were speaking to their father. It’s curious how they were permitted to refer to their father by name, considering Kiddushin 32b and Mishneh  Torah Hilchos Mamrim 6:3 rule it’s forbidden. This is in fact noted by Ohr HaYashar ad. loc. Merafsin Igra p. 233 suggests that they added honorifics to his name, making it permitted. This is supported by Targum Yonasan’s rendering of the verse (ad. loc.)

[8] Echoing the (future) verse in Deuteronomy 6:4

[9] Parshas Behar p. 111b. Rav Asher also said it’s in Targum Yerushalmi to this week’s parsha, but I couldn’t find it. In Minchas Asher he only writes it as a source for the idea that the Avos had perfect children and rejected children. Maybe that’s what he meant in the shiur. However, there are hints to the idea of the Zohar in non-kabalistic sources: Sanhedrin 38b says that Adam was a heretic, and that he pulled on his foreskin (cf. Rabbeinu Chananel ad. loc. who says that Chazal don’t themselves belief this about Adam). Also, Midrash Tanchuma Masei § 11 adds that since he caused death to the world he is considered a murderer

[10] What’s odd is the Zohar clearly says that Avraham’s job was to fix the sin of idol worship. His public displays of faith in the One G-d was what was needed to make this rectification. I’m not sure what the Minchas Asher’s source for this idea is, but see the following note

[11] Kiddushin 49b. This makes sense as Avraham’s main quality was chesed, lovingkindness. Sexual immorality can be understood as a corruption of chesed (see Radak’s Shorashim § חסד). An example of this is seen from Leviticus 20:17, which teaches that incest with one’s sister is called chesed. Yishmael took his father’s attribute and corrupted it into sexual immorality, while Yitzchak did not (Pri Tzaddik I Kedushas Shabbos § 4 and Michtav MeEliyahu II p. 164-165)

[12] Pri Tzaddik loc. cit.

[13] See Rashi to Genesis 25:30 (quoting Bereishis Rabbah 63:12) and Bava Basra 16b

[14] Genesis 25:27

[15] Minchas Asher explains that since Yaakov corresponded to Torah, and that was how he perfected the blemish of idol worship, all of his children turned out righteous