Parshas Vayechi 5758


Yaacov Avinu is near the end of his life. His major concern is where his burial place will be. He is worried that if he will be buried in Egypt, they will make a deity out of him, build a pyramid, and worship him like one of their gods. After all, when Yaacov came to Egypt, the famine suddenly ended and abundance returned. The Egyptians felt that it was in no small part due to the presence of the great Tzaddik, Yaacov in their country.

Yaacov wanted to make sure that he would be returned to Eretz Yisrael to the Machpela Cave in Chevron, the ancestral burial site. But how? Pharaoh had the power to do as he wished with Yaacov. Certainly he would want to keep Yaacov's body in Egypt.

His only hope was his son Yosef. Yosef certainly had the ability to arrange safe passage for Yaacov's body to Eretz Yisrael after his death.

When Yaacov called to Yosef and told him of his concerns, some of his expressions were unusual. First he said to Yosef, "If I have found favor in your eyes, swear to me and do for me the ultimate kindness, please, don't bury me in Egypt." (Genesis 47:29)

Then, after Yosef swore to his father that he would indeed carry out all he had requested of him, Yaacov, who was bedridden in a sick and weakened condition, mustered enough strength to sit up and bow to Yosef in appreciation. (Genesis 47:31)

Yaacov's health soon deteriorates further. A messenger is dispatched to inform Yosef who rushes back to hear his father's final words. When Yosef comes in, Yaacov again, even weaker than before, manages to sit up in order to give honor to his son the sovereign. (Genesis 48:2)

Rashi, in commenting on all of the above verses, echoes the idea that because Yosef is a King, Yaacov has the obligation to honor him. Nevertheless, Yaacov is his father, and the leading Patriarch of the world. Every nation in the world, including Egypt, recognizes his exalted stature as the scion and heir of the family of Avraham Avinu.

(Incidentally, that is why Pharaoh and his household were so overjoyed when they discovered that Yosef was a part of this family. (Genesis 45:16) They finally knew that their mystery King and savior was not just some slave boy, but a member of the world's leading family.)

Is it appropriate then for Yaacov to show this kind of respect to Yosef?

Perhaps the idea can be explained in the following way.

There is a principle, "Malchusa d'ara k'aiyn malchusa d'rekia." The earthy Kingdom resembles the heavenly one. (Talmud Brachos 58a, Zohar 1,157a). The same systems which Hashem uses to operate the heavenly Kingdom are also in operation in our world.

One of those systems is the institute of monarchy. Just as Hashem rules the world as an absolute King, so is monarchy the prevailing way of human governance.

The Maharal of Prague explains that this is a positive state of affairs since the resemblance between the upper and lower Kingships points clearly to hand of Hashem at work. Hashem's providence is displayed by Klal Yisrael being under the dominion of a king.

This is the idea underlying the blessing that ones makes upon seeing an earthly king. "Blessed are You G-d, King of the world, who has conferred of His honor on a common man". The honor that comes to a flesh and blood king is only because he somewhat resembles the King of Kings.

Therefore, it is considered a good sign when Israel, in the exile, is under the rule of a King.

The Maharal explains the words of the Rabbis in the same manner. The Talmud, Tractate Megillah (14a), states, "Greater was the removal of the ring (that King Achashveros gave to Haman [Esther 3:10]) than the rebuke that 48 prophets and 7 prophetesses gave to Israel." When power shifted from the hand of the King to a dictator, it spelled only calamity for Israel. (Nevertheless, in this case it was the cause for a great arousal of Teshuva which in turn insured the salvation of Israel.)

Reb Aharon, the previous Belzer Rebbe (1880-1957), pointed out two examples of the transfer of power from monarchy to a dictatorship in our own times. The results of such transfers are all too well understood.

With the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm and the collapse of the Hohenzollern Monarchy in 1918, the German Empire came to an end. It was replaced by several attempts at democracy and ended with rise of the Nazi Party and its Chancellor Hitler (yemach shemo).

In Russia after the revolution, Nicholas II signed his abdication on March 2, 1917. His brother Mikhail, who was supposed to take his place, never got to establish his reign. The Communists came into power and effectively squashed the Jewish religion in Russia.

This idea of "Malchusa d'ara k'aiyn malchusa d'rekia", can also be used to answer another question. In Parshas Yisro, in the Ten Commandments, (Exodus 20:2), the first commandment reads, "I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of the Land of Egypt, from the house of slavery."

Rashi, citing a Midrash, asks a question. "From the house of slavery", does it mean from the house of slavery (Pharaoh's household), or does it mean from the house of slaves (the households of the Egyptian citizens who were in fact themselves slaves to Pharaoh)? (see Genesis 47:19-23)

The Midrash answers with a proof-text. "And he will redeem you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh, the King of Egypt." (Deut. 7:8) We learn therefore, that all the Israelites were in fact slaves to Pharaoh himself and only Pharaoh. He personally enslaved the entire nation for his own purposes.

Slavery is a degrading and humiliating condition. In truth, does it really matter if they were slaves to Pharaoh or to his subjects who were slaves to him?

Being slaves to the King though is an entirely different condition than being slaves to common people. When Israel is under the dominion of a King, it is a sign of Divine Providence at work.

Yaacov in fact recognized this. He knew that as long as Yosef was the prevailing ruler in Egypt, it represented a clear sign that Hashem was guiding and watching over them in their exile.

This is all hinted at in the comment of Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra. ". . . and Yaacov bowed from the head of the bed". (Genesis 47:31) He writes, "Yaacov was showing honor to royalty (Yosef). However, it is more correct in my opinion to say that that his praises were really directed towards Hashem. . ."


"And Yaacov called to his children and said to them, 'Gather together and I will reveal to you what will be your lot in the end of days.' So they gathered together and they listened to their father Yisrael." (Genesis 49:1-2)

What was the character of this gathering? R' Pinchas of Koretz, a student as well as a colleague of the Baal ShemTov, suggested that this gathering can be explained by the Talmudic expression, "Aseh oznecha k'afarkesis". (Make your ears like a funnel. Strain your ears to hear/listen well to what is being said. Chullin 89a)

He explained in the name of his friend and fellow student of the Baal ShemTov, R' Nachman of Horodenka, that sometimes there is a limit to what can be accomplished by Yisrael even through prayer. A Jew's transgressions simply make it impossible for him to bridge the distance between himself and the Creator. What can be done?

The distance can be bridged only in one way; by every Jew joining together, hand in hand until this Jewish chain reaches all the way to the Throne of Glory. Then Hashem surely will not be able to ignore our entreaties.

This is the meaning of "Aseh oznecha k'afarkesis". Jews need to learn from the Tribes, the sons of Yaacov who gathered together to hear their revered father's final words, to consolidate all their ears together until they become one enormous ear. Such an ear is surely capable of hearing everything.

Since the Talmud says, "All Jews bear ultimate responsibility one for the other", (Shavuos 39a), in this way nothing will be missed, no nuance neglected. The lessons needed to be learned will be grasped, and we will always be able to help each other to go in a proper path of Divine Service.

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