Torah: Playing Favorites

by Andrea Simantov | January 2012 | Post your comment »

By A. Simantov

Each parsha in the Torah carries with it a message or idea. If one were to look for a word by which to describe the essence of Parsha Vayechi, it might be “recognition.”

Yaakov, despite the problems he foresaw for his children, recognized the extent to which his family would expand. With this burgeoning family, Yaakov was able to live for 17 peaceful years in Egypt.

Other aspects of recognition are presented when Yaakov blesses the children of Yosef, Ephraim and Menashe. At first there is a lack of recognition of his grandchildren, as Yaakov asks, “Mi eleh?” (“Who are these?”) The Aznayim LaTorah explains this to mean that although they (his children) lived with Yaakov for 17 years and were acceptable to him, the grandchildren were recognized for no more than they really were namely, “anachim peshutim” (“plain people”) who were not on the same spiritual level as his own sons and were not as worthy of the same blessing.

When Yaakov tells his sons “He ‘asfu va’agida lachem et asher yikra etchem b’acharit hayamim” (“Gather around and I will tell you what will happen to you in the end of days”), he suddenly loses his power of prophesy. What, then, does Yaakov do? Instead of telling them what will befall them if they are passive, Yaakov gives each of his sons the tools to make their futures what they would want them to be with an understanding of themselves. He lists for each of them his personal characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. It is truthfully only with this knowledge and self-awareness that each of his 12 sons — and every one of us — is able to recognize our failures and successes. Unfortunately, not everyone is wise enough to analyze themselves. Yosef’s brothers apparently did not, for they found it necessary to reinforce their relationships with Yosef after Yaakov’s death, still thinking that Yosef harbored resentment against them.

The overriding lesson of the parsha is that we must identify our abilities and actively harness them to improve ourselves, our families, our community and people with the hope that the “blessing of Yaakov” comes true: “The angel who delivers me shall bless the children…that they increase in the land like fish.”

 

From the Torah to your table

Yaakov showered preferential treatment upon Yosef, his youngest son. This made the other brothers envious of Yosef to the point that they considered taking his life. Yaakov again shows greater affection to the younger grandson, Ephraim, over Ephraim’s brother, Manasseh. But this time there was no sign of ugly envy pitting brother against brother.

“We have no way of knowing why some people have lives that are more comfortable while others are subjected to severe distress,” Rabbi Abraham Twerski says in “Living Each Week.” “We have the option of being envious (like Yosef’s brothers) or of accepting Divine judgment as just and proper (like Yosef’s son, Manasseh) and adjusting to what we have so that we can enjoy it.

Discuss at your Shabbat table this Torah advice on how to react to preferential treatment and envy.

 

When not to make a blessing

Rabbi Zvi Elimelech of Dinov taught, “Why didn’t our sages institute the recitation of a blessing before giving tzedakah, just as they instituted blessings before so many mitzvot (commandments)? The answer is that if giving tzedakah would have required a blessing in advance, the poor would die of hunger. A poor man would come along and ask for tzedakah. The person who had been asked would first go to wash his hands before the blessing and possibly then do the mitzvah. He would then pronounce l’shem yichud — intoning that his prayer was being uttered for the sake of Divine ‘unity’ — before the blessing and finally the blessing itself. By that time, the poor man would have died (“A Touch of Wisdom”).

 

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Torah Portions, January

Jan. 7: Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

Jan. 14: Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

Jan. 21: Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35)

Jan. 28: Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16)

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