Parashas Vayechi

This week’s parashah recounts the events surrounding Yaakov Avinu’s death. After recounting Yaakov’s burial, the Torah relates (Bereishis 50:15): “When Yosef’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said: ‘Perhaps Yosef will harbor hatred toward us, and then he will surely repay us for all the evil we did to him.’” The brothers then turned to Yosef with a plea for mercy. The Maggid discusses what they had in mind. He says that they surely did not suspect that Yosef would, far be it, do them active harm. But still they were concerned that he would act toward them according to the principle that “any Torah scholar who does not bear a grudge and take revenge like a snake is not a [true] Torah scholar” (Yoma 22b-23a). The notion of a Torah scholar bearing a grudge and taking revenge against someone who offended him involves the scholar’s refusal to help the offender when he is in need. The Maggid presents an analogy to a doctor and his patient. If the patient offends the doctor, the doctor will not strike back by injuring him, but he may stop treating him, and then the patient will surely suffer, for his illness will overtake him. Yosef’s brothers were afraid that Yosef would refuse to care for them, and they would then automatically fall into straits. In particular, they saw that after Yaakov’s death, the Egyptians’ attitude toward them turned negative, and they feared that if Yosef stopped looking after them, the Egyptians would ravage them.
In the course of developing the above explanation, the Maggid discusses how we plead to Hashem not to abandon us when we stray. The Torah describes the dire result that ensues when Hashem withdraws His watchful care over us (Devarim 31:16-17): “And Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Behold, you will lie with your forefathers, and this people will rise up, and stray after the gods of foreigners of the land, in whose midst they are coming, and they will forsake Me, and breach My covenant which I have sealed with them. And then My anger will be kindled against them on that day, and I will abandon them, and I will hide My face from them, and they will be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them.” If we had our own independent power, we could fight our enemies without Hashem’s help, and so we would not be distressed if Hashem turned away from us. But since we depend entirely on Hashem for our security, if He withdraws His protection – even without actively operating against us – our enemies will devour us. We thus declare (Tehillim 44:10-12, homiletically): “If You but neglect us and refrain from going forth with our legions, You cast us into disgrace. You cause us to retreat before the oppressor, and our antagonists plunder for themselves. You give us over like sheep to be devoured; You scatter us among the nations.” And so we pray (Tehillim 28:1): “To You, Hashem I call – my Rock, be not deaf to me, for should You be silent toward me, I would be likened to those who descend to the grave.” We plead with Hashem not to turn aside from us and ignore us, for if He does so, we will automatically be doomed to misfortune.
I add a final note: The idea the Maggid brings out above is reflected in the selichos of Asarah B’Teves, which we observed this past Sunday. In the second selichah, we say: “Compassionate One, my God, do not neglect me unto eternity. The days of my mourning have grown long, and still my heart groans. Return, O God, to my Tent – do not forsake Your place. Through this my days of mourning will come to an end, as You come to pay the reward You promised me.” May we soon merit seeing ourselves openly under Hashem’s constant care and protection.
Note: This coming Sunday, the 17th of Teves, is the Maggid’s Yahrzeit.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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