Parshas VaYechi 5759

The institution of monarchy is a reflection of Hashem’s presence.

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 knew that it was due to the presence of the great Tzaddik, Yaacov Avinu, 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." (Bereishis 47:29)

Yosef swore that he would indeed carry out all that his father would request of him. Only then did Yaacov, who was bedridden in a sick and weakened condition, rally enough strength to sit up and bow to Yosef in honor and appreciation. (Bereishis 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 and receive his blessing. When Yosef comes in, Yaacov again, even weaker than before, manages to sit up in order to give honor to his son the sovereign. (Bereishis 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. Yet, Yaacov is his father, and the world’s leading spiritual master. Every nation, including Egypt, recognizes Yaacov's 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. (Bereishis 45:16) They finally knew the origins of their mystery King and savior. He was not some foundling slave boy, but a son of the world's most august family.)

Is it appropriate 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 evidenced 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.

Furthermore, the Talmud states, (Tractate Megillah 14a) "Greater was the removal of the ring (that King Achashveros gave to Haman [Esther 3:10]) than the rebuke of the 48 prophets and 7 prophetesses to Israel." The Maharal explains the passage in the same manner. When power shifted from the hand of the King to a dictator, it spelled only calamity for Israel.

Reb Aharon, the previous Belzer Rebbe (1880-1957), alluded to this idea when he 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).

After the Russian revolution, Nicholas II signed his abdication on March 2, 1917. His brother Mikhail, who was supposed to take his place, never was able to establish his reign. The Communists swept into power and effectively squashed Judaism in Russia.

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

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 Bereishis 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." (Devarim 7:8) We therefore learn, 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?

To be the slave of a King is an entirely different condition than being the slave of commoner. When Israel is under the dominion of a King, it is evidence 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". (Bereishis 47:31) He writes, "Yaacov was showing honor to royalty (Yosef). However, in my opinion, it is more correct to say that his praises were really directed towards Hashem. . ."

The quality of Klal Yisroel.

"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." (Bereishis 49:1-2)

What was the nature of this gathering? R' Pinchas of Koretz, a student as well as a colleague of the Ba’al Shem Tov, 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. Tractate Chullin 89a)

He explained in the name of his friend and fellow student of the Ba’al Shem Tov, R' Nachman of Horodenka, that sometimes there is a limit to what can be accomplished by Yisroel - 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 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 positive path of Divine Service.
(Imrei Pinchas of R’ Pinchas of Koretz)

The language of our blessings reveal an intimate relationship with the Creator.

“Yehuda, your brothers shall praise you . . .” (Bereishis 49:8 )

It says in Tefillas P’sach Eliyahu (found in many siddurim in Minchoh for Erev Shabbos), “No thought can grasp Him at all.” If so, how is it possible that we make our blessings, “Baruch Atoh Hashem. . . “, (Blessed are you. . .) referring to Hashem in the familiar second person?

A person must encourage himself, and resolve to know and believe with absolute faith that Hashem doesn’t minimize or turn away any tefilla (prayer) directed to Him. No matter how spiritually unadvanced a person may be, Hashem still has satisfaction and delight from his tefillah.

In addition one should understand that the goodness of Hashem is very great. Even if one feels that he has no energy or motivation and cannot pour out his heart freely, Hashem nevertheless has pleasure from his tefillah.

Therefore a person should prepare before beginning to davven to Hashem. Consider how many angels spring to attention as a Jew begins to davven. There are spinning and whirling angels, (ophanim) and burning angels; fiery wheels burning in the air, (seraphim) and enlivening angels (chayos hakodesh) who all stand before the Throne of Honor calling out, "Where is the place of His Glory that we might praise Him?" Consider what were say in Tefillah. “All of them are beloved, pure, awesome and holy. They all perform the will of their maker in perfect awe and respect.”

If the angels, who are part of the heavenly family, in constant close contact with Hashem, still feel this awe everyday, how much more so we who are not as familiar in the heavenly spheres, should feel the same when we stand in tefillah before the Holy One Blessed Be He.

Hashem fashioned the creation in order that it enjoy the maximum benefit from His goodness. When one asks for ones needs in tefillah, Hashem, by bestowing his goodness on the creation, enters into partnership with them. For Hashem this is a source of great delight.

The message is clear, don’t throw away your tefillah, for it carries significant weight! Even if you don't fully understand what you are doing, it doesn't matter. Just keep in mind the tumult that occurs in the heavens when a Jew, any Jew, approaches Hashem in tefillah.

Now we can answer our question and gain an incredible insight into our verse. How are we allowed to praise Hashem using the familiar second person?

Malchus (Kingship) is the soul food of the Jew. The Malchus of Klal Yisroel was invested in Yehuda. Yet it is a component of the soul of every Jew who is involved in Torah and mitzvos and acts of chesed accompanied by a sense of awe and wonderment. This is how one approaches a King. And for this reason the Jewish people are called Yehudim!

Therefore, “Yehuda” represents the aspect of royalty which is latent in every Jew. The moment we begin to praise and acknowledge Hashem by saying "Baruch”, the worlds come to attention and the aspect of “Yehuda" is activated. ". . .your brothers shall praise you. . .", having ascended to the level of royalty gives us the right to then say “atoh" ("you" - second person familiar).

This is the tefillah from which Hashem has such great delight. This is the partnership through which we can fulfill our spiritual potential and participate in guiding our generation to an age of universal peace, understanding and knowledge of Hashem.
(based on Kedushas Levi, Parshas Vayechi)

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