Parashas Vayechi

This week’s parashah recounts Yaakov Avinu’s death in Egypt and subsequent burial in the Cave of Machpelah. The Torah relates that Yaakov summoned Yosef and said (Bereishis 47:29-30): “Please, if I have found favor in your eyes, please place your hand under my thigh and do kindness and truth with me: Please do not bury me in Egypt. For I will lie down with my fathers and you shall transport me out of Egypt and bury me in their tomb.” The Midrash picks up on the phrase “kindness and truth,” saying (Bereishis Rabbah 96:5): “Is there such a thing as a false kindness, that he says ‘kindness and truth’? … He was saying to him, ‘If you do a kindness for me after my death, that is a kindness that is an act of truth.’” The Maggid sets out to explain the concept of “a kindness that is an act of truth.” He starts by quoting a verse (Michah 7:20): “Grant truth to Yaakov, kindness to Avraham, as You swore to our forefathers in days of old.” Here also, benevolence is described with the two terms “kindness” and “truth.” The Maggid then develops his explanation through a short parable.
A person wanted to give his friend a handsome sum of money as a gift at some later time. He was worried that his wife might protest, so he decided to write out to his friend a bill of debt for the sum he had in mind, get witnesses to sign it, and then give it to his friend. In this way, when the time arrived his friend could take him to court to force him to pay, and his wife would be unable to protest. In this situation, it fits well to describe the payment as both a kindness and an act of truth. The person’s initial act of writing a bill of debt in advance in order to obligate himself to pay is an act of pure kindness and generosity. At the same time, when the friend makes a claim for the money in court, the person’s payment can be described as an act of truth, for in truth he is obligated to pay the stated sum.
It is similar with Hashem’s grant of Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish People. Initially, when Hashem made a covenant with Avraham and swore to him to give Eretz Yisrael to his descendants, Hashem’s binding Himself with an oath to give this very generous gift was an act of pure graciousness. But once Hashem took the oath, Hashem’s conveyance of the land was like payment of an established debt, for Hashem was (so to speak) obligated to keep His word. Thus, Michah’s choice of terms in his request to Hashem was precise. In asking Hashem to “grant truth to Yaakov,” he was calling upon Hashem to fulfill His promise and thereby give credence to His prior oath. At the same time, in asking Hashem to grant “kindness to Avraham” [to whom He made the promise] as He had sworn, he was admitting before Hashem that His initiative to take the oath was a pure kindness.   
This is the idea behind Yaakov’s request to Yosef to do him “kindness and truth.” Had Yosef not sworn to bury Yaakov in the Cave of Machpelah, but had simply done so when the time came, Yosef’s arranging the burial would be called simply an act of kindness. But Yaakov wanted Yosef to obligate himself with an oath, so that when he eventually arranged the burial, his doing so would also constitute an act of truth, for he would be obligated to give credence to his word. Yaakov worded his appeal to Yosef as a request for “kindness and truth” in order to express both aspects. Yaakov insisted on an oath because he knew that Pharaoh would not let Yosef go down to Canaan for the burial had he not sworn to do so. In this vein, after Yaakov’s death Yosef told approached the members of Pharaoh’s household and asked them to tell him (Bereishis 50:5): “My father adjured me, saying, ‘Behold, I am about to die; in my grave, which I have dug for myself in the land of Canaan – there you are to bury me.’ Now, I will go up, if you please, and bury my father, and then I will return.” And Pharaoh replied in turn, saying (ibid. 50:6), “Go up and bury your father as he adjured you,” the closing phrase emphasizing [as Rashi ad loc. comments] that it was only on account of the oath than he was allowing Yosef to go to Eretz Yisrael for the burial.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.