At the end of last week’s Parashat Vayigash, Yaakov comes down to Egypt, finally meets his long-lost son Yoseph, and is introduced to Pharoah. Yaakov blesses Pharoah and Pharoah replies by asking Yaakov his age: “How many are the days of the years of your life?” (47:8). Yaakov responds by saying, "The days of the years of my sojourns have been 135 years. Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life and they have not reached the life spans of my forefathers".
According to Chazal, his thirty-three word speech to Pharoah caused him to lose thirty-three years, so Yaakov died at age 147 as opposed to the 180 years that had been allotted to him. Yaakov was responsible for Pharoh's inquiry into his age by the way he looked, especially now after he finally saw how Hashem showed him how everything had worked out for the best. At Yaakov's level his complaints to Pharoah about his difficult life was in essence a complaint against Hashem. This teaches us an important lesson: we must understand that all the trials, tribulations and stresses of life come to us from Hashem and are designed especially for us in order to help us grow and learn from.
Rabbi Twersky tells an interesting story about a time, many years ago, when he had just began his practice. A man came to him and complained that he is continually depressed. Rabbi Twersky asked the man, "Since when have you been feeling this way?" and the man responded, "Since my doctor told me that I have only six months to live!" Rabbi Twersky was at a loss for words, for surely anyone who’d been given that news would be depressed.
He reflected for a few moments and finally told the man, "Just think of all the happiest times in your life and keep those memories constant in your mind". The man followed Rabbi Twersky's advice and lived another thirty years! We learn from this story that our mental attitude has an enormous effect on our physical well-being. What we can take from this is that we all have stress in our lives, but we have to learn how to detach ourselves from our problems and hand them over to Hashem, with the Emunah that everything will work out in the end, as it always does.
Now this week’s parasha begins with the Passuk: Vayechi Yaakov be’eretz mitzrayim sheva-esreh shanah. "Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years. The Gematria of the word Vayechi is 34, which represents the first seventeen years that Yoseph lived with his father Yaakov and the last seventeen years when they were reunited again in Egypt. Our Rabbis teach us that those were the years that Yaakov considered his best years, and the years when he really lived!
Later in the Parasha it says that Yaakov became ill and Yoseph brought his two sons Ephraim and Menashe to his father to bless them. There are several questions that arise from these verses: Why are Ephraim and Menashe a vehicle for blessing our sons until today? The answer is that Yaakov saw how Yoseph's two sons exemplified a fundamental principal of the Torah. There was no competition between them and neither considered himself greater than his brother.
There was no sibling rivalry of the kind we have witnessed throughout history between brothers: first with Cain and Hevel, then Yitzchak and Yishmael, and finally with Yaakov and Eisav. We therefore bless our sons that they will emulate Ephraim and Menahse and live up to that ideal. Another reason for following their example is that they were able to survive and stay true to our Torah values in spite of growing up in Egypt's decadent society, and this is something that we are living through in this Galut today, and which we must also overcome until the arrival of the Mashiach!
In Pasuk 14, as Yaakov is blessing Ephraim and Menashe, the Torah says: Sikel ey yadav, "he maneuvered his hands".Yaakov crossed his hands so that his right hand ended up on Ephraim, who was on his left side, and his left hand ended up on Menashe, who was on his right side. Why did Yaakov switch his hands when he blessed them? Wouldn't that be another sign that Yaakov would be favoring one brother over the other, as he seemed to do when he gave the Ketonet Passim to Yoseph and not to his other sons?
Rashi comments that Ephraim needed that extra Beracha because he saw through Ruach Hakodesh that Yehoshua would descend from him and would be the one to apportion the land and teach the Torah that he learned from Moshe Rabenu to B'nei Yisrael. Yaakov knew that this was true of all of his children: they are different one from the other, just as our own children are different and must be raised in their own way. As Shlomo Hamelech writes in Mishleh, Chanech la’naar al pi darkoh – "Raise your child according to his way!"
Every parent today should know and understand this rule when raising their children. A modern dictum that derives from this principle is that "Education is not one size that fits all." To give one child more than another for no reason would create jealousy, but if one needs more than the other, then it is appropriate to act in accordance with the needs of each child. For example, if one child needs extra tutoring, you will hire a tutor, where as your other child may not need tutoring.
Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro explains further that the right side of a person represents his strengths and wonderful qualities. The left side of a person represents his weaknesses, the areas in which he needs to improve. He teaches that when we face a person and stretch our arms without switching them, we are placing our right arm (the stronger arm) on the other person’s left side. This indicates that we are accentuating their 'left' side, reminding them of their faults and deficiencies. When we point our left arm (the weak arm) at their right side, we are symbolically neglecting to acknowledge their attributes. Yaakov teaches us to "switch hands."
When we face a person, we let our right arm extend to the person’s right side, emphasizing that person’s finer traits. In this way we are giving someone a meaningful compliment, and reminding them of how much they mean to us and what an integral role they play in our life. Our left, weaker arm, will extend to their left side, indicating that although everyone has their deficiencies, we will not accentuate their shortcomings. In order to be successful in our interpersonal relationships, we must follow this form of focusing on the positive rather than on the negative. Until today, it is the practice in every Jewish home on Friday nights to bless our sons: "Yesiymcha Elokiym Keefraiym Vekemenashe" That "Hashem should bless them as Ephraim and Menashe".
In Perek 49 Passuk 1-2, just before Yaakov begins to bless his sons, he says: "Assemble yourselves and I will tell you what will befall you in the end of days. Gather yourselves and listen, Sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel your father". The explanation for this message besides its literal meaning is that only if the brothers (the Jewish Nation) would avoid dissension, if they would assemble and gather together at all times, they would then merit the final redemption.
This past week as a community we experienced two overwhelming occurrences that united us greatly as a nation, one was the terrible tragedy of the fire which saddened us all deeply and brought us all out in prayer and Tehillim gatherings for the benefit of the family that suffered this horrific loss. The entire community and the Jewish world was brought together to mourn along side them in compassionate unison in heartfelt prayer and by raising the needed funds for them.
Then a few days later, the entire Jewish world was brought together again, but this time by the unexpected release of Shalom Rubashkin from prison after serving eight years of an outrageously abusive 27 year sentence. This news sent throngs of Jews dancing in the streets throughout the Jewish world from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to B'nei Brak, Israel and everywhere in between for a Jew that most people never even knew!
May we always continue to come together in triumph’s and joyous celebration of happy occasions in unison and may we never have to witness again such tragedies as we did this past week. May we also continue to raise our children with true Torah values as a price we must pay for living in this Galut today and may we also have the insight to raise our children with good midot and good values and to guide them and teach them according to their own way while they maintain unity among their siblings and koala Yisrael! Amen!