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Vayechi 5762

By: Rav Ari Shames

As in all good stories we are ready for a happy ending. We have been tracking the Avot from Avraham's very first steps out of Haran. In the last few weeks we have been deeply involved in the Yosef saga and in last weeks parsha the climax was reached with Yosef revealing himself to his brothers. As we settle down with this weeks parsha we get a glimpse of the final moments of Yaakov and his wishes for his children and that's it Chazak Chazak Venitchazek.

Unfortunately that is not the way the sefer ends. We are treated to a final twist in the story that we were not ready for. After the death of Yaakov he is taken to Eretz Canaan to be buried alongside his parents and wife Leah in Mearat Hamachpelah. Upon their return the brothers approach Yosef and tell him that Yaakov had commanded prior to his death that yosef should not harm them in any way. In fact Yaakov had never made any such statement, and this is one of the examples of a case in which one may lie for the purpose of keeping the peace (see Rashi 50:16).

These few pesukim shed a new light on the events that we have been reading about in the last few weeks. After the revelation of Yosef to his brothers we would have expected "one big happy family" again with all the members living in peace and harmony. Instead we see that until the very end the rivalry and suspicion between the brothers remained. The brothers once again lie to Yosef to save themselves and exploit the special relationship that Yaakov had with Yosef.

It is interesting to note the debate amongst the commentators as to why it took Yosef so long to reveal himself to his brothers. Some say that he waited until the brothers were put in an identical position as when he was sold to see how they would react. Thus, Binyamin was to be taken away from them and when Yehuda stands up for him it becomes clear that they have learned their lesson and will now stand one for all and all for one.

I find this explanation hard to believe because if we closely examine last weeks parsha we find that the reason that Yehuda was so adamant about the release of Binyamin was simply because he was concerned about his father and the commitment that he had made to him. Yehuda does not express any real concern for Binyamin, rather a clear desire to be absolved of the deal that he cut with Yaakov. Even at this crucial stage the brothers have not internalized the message of brotherhood.

The final pesukim in our parsha force us to reread many of the previous events and determine which of any of the lessons have been digested.

There is an additional element portrayed in these final pesukim- the leadership of Yaakov. In a previous shiur ( we noted that the Avot seem to fade from the public stage as soon as their particular roles are completed. In Avraham's case decades went by and a whole new family was created after the death of Sarah yet these years are ignored by the Torah. It seems that as far as the Torah is concerned the Avraham story is over and the Yitzchak story begins. In a similar manner after Yitzchak gives the Brachot to Yaakov he "disappears" despite that he went on to live for many more years. In sharp contrast we find Yaakov who, despite the fact that his sons have taken on major roles in every sense, retains his position as the active patriarch. Yaakov remains the driving force behind the sons actions even after he has already passed away. The brothers report his supposed decree in order to convince Yosef as to the proper set of behavior.

It is interesting to note that the "sefer haavot" closes with a character who lives beyond his years and whose influence has the ability to touch those that respect him even while not being physically present. The succession after the Avot becomes quite a complicated issue. A real leader is not obvious. Yosef retains a lofty status by virtue of his position in Egypt, but this does not readily transform him into the leader of the Jewish people at the time. To a certain extent it could be argued that the final verse of the Berashit, describing the interment of Yosef is symbolic of the interment of the actual leadership of Bnei Yisrael. This leaderless group of people are much easier to enslave than if they had a clear and charismatic leader.

This may be the intended meaning of the pasuk in the beginning of Shmot that the Pharaoh did not recognize Yosef. Egypt reached a stage where they found a band of foreigners living in their country without any leader or center of guidance.

The focus of next weeks parsha will be not only the trials and tribulations of the Am but as well we will witness a new leader- Moshe Rabenu- enter the scene and we can only be intrigued to find out how he becomes the leader and how his leadership ranks in regard to that of the Avot.

Shabbat Shalom


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