The Torah Portion of Vayechi
Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l
"Vayechi Yaakov..." (In English "And Yaakov lived...") (Bereisheet 47:28)
The Hebrew word "Vayechi" has the Gematria (numerical value of the letters) of 34, for the main point of Yaakov's life was when he was together with Yosef, 17 years before the sale of Yosef, and in Mitzayim (Egypt) another 17 years. Together this adds up to 34 which is the Gematria of the word "Vayechi".
"Vayechi..." (In English: "And he lived...") (Bereisheet 47:28)
This Torah Portion speaks of the deaths of Yaakov and Yosef, and in spite of that the Torah Portion is called "Vayechi" ("And he lived"). Similarly, the Torah Portion of "Chayei Sarah" (in English: "The life of Sarah") speaks about the death of righteous people and the Torah Portion is called "Chayei..." ("The life.."). The reason for this is that Tzaddikim (Righteous People), even when they are deceased, are still considered to be alive.
"And he told Yaakov and said: 'BEHOLD - your son Yosef has come to you'; and Yisrael strengthened himself and sat up on THE BED." (Bereisheet 48:2)
The Sages say that Yosef was the "same age", that is to say, he had the same "Mazel" (astrological star signs) as Yaakov, and the Sages explain that when someone visits a sick person and he has the same "Mazel", he takes away one part of 60 (that is, 1/60th) of the illness. And that is hinted at in this verse. The word for "BEHOLD" in Hebrew is "Hinay" with a Gematria (numerical value) of 60 ["Hinay" is spelled with the letters Hey, Nun and Hey. The Gematria of Hey = 5, Nun = 50, and Hey = 5, for a total of 60.] The word for "THE BED" in Hebrew is Hamitah", with a Gemtraia of 59. ["Hamitah" is spelled with the letters Hey, Mem, Tet, and Hey. The Gematria of Hey = 5, Mem = 40, Tet = 9, and Hey = 5, for a total of 59.] This is a hint to the words of the Sages that Yosef decreased Yaakov's illness by one part out of 60.
"...And Yisrael strengthened himself and sat up on the bed." (Bereisheet 48:2)
The Baal HaTurim says that it is written about Haman that he "fell on the bed" (Megillat Esther 7:8) and regarding Yaakov it is written "And Yisrael strengthened himself and sat up on the bed". The reason for this is that Tzaddikim (Righteous people), even when they are weak, strengthen themselves as it is written "And Yisrael strengthened himself", and Wicked people, even when they are in their full power fall, as it is stated, "and Haman fell on the bed".
"...May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Menashe..." (Bereisheet 48:20)
Why does every father bless his sons "May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Menashe"? The B'nai Yisachar says that Ephraim didn't hold himself proudly as being superior and act arrogantly toward Menashe, even though he was more important than his brother who was the firstborn. Also, Menashe was not envious of his brother who was younger than him yet had been given more privileges and Yaakov had put his right hand on him. Therefore every father blesses his sons that one of them should not act arrogantly toward the other, nor should one of them be envious of the other.
"...May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Menashe..." (Bereisheet 48:20)
Another reason why the father blesses his sons that they should be like Ephraim and like Menashe, is that they were raised in Mitzrayim (Egypt) which was a place of impurity, and in spite of that they held onto their righteousness. And thus the father blesses his sons that even if G-d forbid his sons will have difficult times, they will strengthen themselves and hold onto their righteousness like Ephraim and Menashe did.
"...By you shall Israel bless saying, 'May G-d make you like...' " (Bereisheet 48:20)
The Baer Yosef asks, what is the meaning of saying "By you"? He explains that this is referring to Yosef, for from Yosef we can learn that even though he was in the lowest of circumstances he was still able to ascend to the highest of heights. Thus every father is able to bless his son that in any situation whatesoever, his son will still be able to ascend to the highest of heights.
"...Which I took from the hand of the Emori with my sword and with my bow..." (Bereisheet 48:22)
Rashi explains that this refers to wisdom and prayer. Why doesn't Rashi explain this according to the simple meaning of the text, with a sword and with a bow? The reason is that the way of war is to first shoot with an arrow from a distance, and afterwards when one gets closer to the enemy, to fight with a sword. But in this verse it is written in the opposite order, first the sword and then the bow. There are those who explain why prayer is likened to a bow. Just as in the case of a bow, the more that a person draws it closer to himself, the further the arrow goes when it is shot; also in the case of prayer, the more a person has Kavana (intention or concentration) and makes an effort in prayer, the higher the prayer rises in the Upper Realms. Another explanation of "with my sword and with my bow" is that it refers to the war against the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination). First it is necessary to do battle with it from close up because it is is present in your heart, and afterwards to battle it from a distance so that it doesn't get close to you at all.
"...with my sword and with my bow..." (Bereisheet 48:22)
An explanation of this is, with prayer and with requesting. A sword hits immediately and a bow only hits afterwards (because it takes time for the arrow to reach the target). So too it is with prayer. Sometimes a prayer is answered immediately, and sometimes it is answered only after a period of time. In the writings of the Gri'z (the Rav Yitzchak Ze'ev HaLevi Soloveitchek) on the Torah, he clarified that there are two kinds of prayer. The first is the fixed Nusach (version) such as the Shemoneh Esrei which was established by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly), which has the strength to act and the Segulah (effectiveness) to be accepted like a sword because in and of itself it is sharp like a sword which can kill. The second, is the private request of every single individual. The Segulah (effectiveness) of this type of request being received depends on the strength of the prayer and the righteousness of the individual who is praying, and this is simllar to a bow and arrow, which in and of itself doesn't kill except by means of the man who is drawing the bow.
"...'Gather yourselves and I will tell you what will befall you in the End of Days.' " (Bereisheet 49:1)
The expositors of the Torah say that this comes to teach us that before the end, we need to gather ourselves and be unified and that will bring closer the coming of Mashiach, and that is the explanation of the words "End of Days".
"...for in their anger [in Hebrew "Apam"] they killed a man" (Bereisheet 49:6)
[Translator's note: The Hebrew word "Apam" can be translated as "their anger", and can also be translated as "their noses".] The Chafetz Chaim says that occasionally it's possible to kill someone with only a nose. For example, when a poor person wants to be hired for some kind of work in order to earn a living, and the owner of the business goes to ask people about him, if they turn up their noses (a body language expressing a negative attitude) they can destroy all his possibilities for supporting himself.
"Yehudah, you, your brothers shall thank..." (Bereisheet 49:8)
The Tirgum Yonatan be Uziel says that he blessed him that the children of Israel would be called by his name, the children of Yehuda (i.e., Yehudim or Jews, based on Yehudah's name). And there are those that add that the sign of a son of Israel is that he always gives thanks to Hashem, and this is the name of Yehuda which is from the word Hebrew word "Hodia" (in English: "thankfulness"), and also he has within his name the letters of the name of Hashem.
"...from the prey, my son, you ascended..." (Bereisheet 49:9)
[On this verse, Rashi says, "from that of which I suspected you, 'Joseph is without doubt torn in pieces, an evil beast hath devoured him'...you withdrew yourself..."] The Chafetz Chaim says that Yaakov didn't know about the sale of Yosef until the day of his death, and only then was it made known to him by means of Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration), as it says in this verse "...from the prey, my son, you ascended...".
"...He stooped down, lied down like a lion...' (Bereisheet 49:9)
There are those that explain that even if a man has all kinds of times and occasionally he is in a situation of stooping down and lying down, a period of decline, G-d forbid, he needs to regard himself as a lion and a strong person, and to strengthten himself in every kind of situation.
"Yissachar is a strong-boned donkey, lying down between the boundaries." (Bereisheet 49:14)
All the animals, such as the camel, can't stand to have a burden on their body at the time of sleeping. The only animal that even at the time of sleeping carries a burden is the donkey. And that is what is hinted about Yissachar; the intention of this verse is that it refers to the Torah which Yissachar will learn without stopping whether during the day or during the night, which is the time of sleeping.
"And he saw a pleasant resting place, that it was good...and he bent his shoulder to bear..." (Bereisheet 49:15)
Someone who wants a life of pleasantness and restfulness, should accept upon himself to bear a burden, and should not be strict but rather give in to everyone.
"For Your Salvation do I long, Hashem." (Bereisheet: 49:18)
When it says "For Your Salvation", this apparently means for Hashem to be saved. Since "I am with him in his suffering" (Tehillim 91:15) (that is to say that Hashem is together with us in our suffering), we pray, as it were, for Hashem to be saved, and then we also will be saved speedily in our days, Amen.
A Summary of Yaakov's Blessing
Reuven lost three things: the first born son's birthright, kingship, and the priesthood. Regarding Shimon and Levi, Yaakov cursed their anger. He said that the descendents of Shimon would be scribes and teachers, and they would be scattered throughout all the land of Israel to seek their livelihood and they would be poor. Levi would need to go around to the fields to request Trumot and Ma'aserot (the donations and tithes that the other tribes are required to give to the tribe of Levi.) Yehudah was blessed with kingship, success in war, the praise of his brothers, wine, and milk. Zevulun would have success in trade. Yissachar would have success in Torah, and a good land. From Dan would descend Shimshon HaGibor who would judge all of them as one man, and Yaakov prayed that at the end of Shimshon's days that Hashem would help him when the building with the Pelishtim would fall on him. Asher would have in his portion a lot of olive oil and would would produce delicacies fit for a king. Naphthali's land would produce crops quickly and from his fruits they would say the first blessings on them. Yosef was blessed with grace, the blessings of the heavens, the blessings of the depths, many children, and with unlimited blessing until the four ends of the earth. Gad was blessed that they would go to war and their wouldn't be amongst them any casualties. Binyamin was blessed that the king Shaul would descend from him who would be the first to reign, and he would eat the booty of the nations, and there would be descended from him Mordechai and Esther who would recevie the house of Haman with the booty.
"...Perhaps Yosef will hate us..." (Bereisheet 50:15)
The Baal HaTurim says that at the time that they returned from the funeral of Yaakov Avinu, in the middle of the journey Yosef saw the pit which he had been thrown into and said the blessing about Hashem doing a miracle for him at that place. Therefore the brothers were apprehensive that feelings of hatred would be aroused in Yosef about the sale and perhaps he would punish them. Because of that, they said to him afterwards that their father requested that he would forgive them.
"Although you intended me harm, G-d intended it for good..." (Bereisheet 50:20)
This is similar to a case of someone pushing his friend into a pit of mud and dirt, and the person finds a very valuable diamond inside the pit. When he comes up he says to his friend, thank you for throwing me into the pit because I've made a lot of money because of it. So Yosef said to his brothers, you thought to do to me evil, but from that came out a great goodness for all of us. (from Masters of Mussar, ethical teachings)
"...'please forgive the spiteful deed of your brothers and their sin for they have done you evil'...." (Bereisheet 50:18)
Rabeinu Bachya says that when the brothers of Yosef requested forgiveness from him, he didn't answer them explicitly that he forgave them. Rather, he only said to them that they didn't do anything, and that everything was from Heaven. And because Yosef didn't say that he forgave them the children of Israel were punished afterwards with the Eser Harugai Malchut (Ten Martyrs who were killed by the Roman Kings). And this is a lesson for the generations, that when one person asks another for forgiveness he should answer him explicitly that he is forgiven.
This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazak, when we finish reading one of the books of the Torah (Sefer Breisheet). When the congregation says "Chazak, Chazak, V'nitchazek" at the end of the Torah Portion, the one who has been called up to say the blessings on the reading of the Torah should not say it, in order not to interrupt between the reading of the Torah and the blessing that he says after the Torah reading.
The Torah Portion of Vayechi has 85 verses.Haftora: "V'yikrivu Y'mai David" (Malachim Aleph Chapter 2).
We say Borchi Nafshi.
May you all have a light-filled and happy Shabbat.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772