Parashas Vayechi

This week’s parashah recounts Yaakov’s parting words of admonition and blessing to his sons before his death. Regarding Shimon and Levi, Yaakov said (Bereishis 49:5-7):
Shimon and Levi are brothers – their weapons (מכרותיהם) are pilfered tools. Into their council may my soul not enter; with their assembly, O my honor, do not associate. For in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was harsh; I will separate them with Yaakov, and scatter them in Yisrael.
We present two of the Maggid’s commentaries on this passage, the first from his commentary on Rus 1:8-9 and the second from his commentary on the parashah.
1. Commenting on our passage, the Midrash elaborates (Bereishis Rabbah 98:5): “These tools (מכרות) that you have taken hold of are stolen property in your hands. Who are they suited for? For Eisav, who sold (מכר) the birthright.” The Maggid notes a difficulty with this remark. Seemingly, for Yaakov to deliver an effective rebuke, it would have been enough simply to say that the weapons were stolen. Why did he need to say who the weapons were suited for? What need was there to say who the lord of murder was? And how did Yaakov conclude that it was Eisav? 
The Maggid explains as follows. Eisav was the firstborn. As such, he was in a position to assume the duty of performing the sacrificial service: This duty was originally the calling of the firstborn, before it was given over to the Kohanim and Levites. Eisav was therefore born ruddy (Bereishis 25:25), with a tendency for bloodshed (Bereishis Rabbah 63:8). He was supposed to use this tendency for performing sacrifices. But Eisav despised the sacrificial service. He was, as Rashi tells us in a comment on Bereishis 25:32, repelled by its many laws, and by the severe penalties – including death in some cases – for failing to observe these laws. So Eisav sold his birthright to Yaakov, casting aside the sacrificial service. This left him to exercise his inborn tendency for bloodshed through murder.
When Yaakov declared that Shimon and Levi’s weapons were pilfered tools, stolen from Eisav, he was saying: “Although I took the birthright from Eisav, I am not driven to murder. On the contrary, he is left with the path of murder. When Eisav sold the birthright, he gave up the noble outlet he had for his tendency for bloodshed. Hence he was led to turn to murder. And so the tools of murder suit him. But you, Shimon and Levi, still have available the noble outlet – circumcision and slaughtering sacrifices. Thus, when you turn to killing, you exercise a stolen trait.”
2. The Midrash comments further (Bereishis Rabbah 99:7): “He [Yaakov] cursed only their anger.” The Maggid notes that many commentators have expressed puzzlement over the import of Yaakov’s cursing only Shimon and Levi’s anger. He says that Yaakov was in fact casting a sharp curse on Shimon and Levi themselves, but he held himself back from expressing the curse explicitly, and instead directed his words toward their anger.
He explains the matter as follows. Consider a person with an angry nature who always wants to pour out his wrath on others. If he is rich, his position gives him the power to cast his wrath about however he wishes. But if he is poor, he cannot do so. Instead, he must keep his anger bottled up inside. And then his anger becomes a curse, raging within him and causing him anguish. This is what Yaakov had in mind when he said, “Cursed be their anger.” And, indeed, the Midrash (ibid.) says that ultimately the Shimonites and Levites were put in the position of having to go door to door for their sustenance – the Shimonites to collect alms, for they were poor, and the Levites to collect their tithes.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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