We just experienced the 13th Siyum Hashas of Daf Yomi. For many people, it is not the speeches that will remain etched in their memories, but the images. Images of old Holocaust survivors displaying their numbers and proclaiming that they have triumphed and survived against all odds.
We are all survivors, though we don’t all have those awful numbers on our arms. We have persevered through golus, remaining loyal to Hashem, His people and His Torah. Despite all the various pressures and demands we face, we study Torah every day, for it is the essence of our life.
Some learn a daf a day, and for others it’s a daf a week, and others don’t even count how long it takes them to do the daf, for in each daf they see layers of understanding and Torah. Some learn halacha and Shulchan Aruch, while others learn nistar and Zohar. Everyone who learns something celebrated with those who learn Daf Yomi. It was a celebration of all who hold Torah dear.
You don’t have to have those numbers scratched into your arm to appreciate that decades after we were beaten to a pulp, we are back with a vengeance. Decades after we were shot and gassed, we flourish and multiply. There are more communities, more people, more yeshivos, more schools and kosher supermarkets than anyone could have imagined a little while ago.
People attended the siyum and were overwhelmed by the site of so many people – old people, young people, and people of all ages. They were overwhelmed with emotion because they saw that the Torah remains our base and core. It is not only our religion and culture. It is our nationality, and we are proud of that. We haven’t been intimidated by the incidents of today or yesterday.
We stood there and felt the past and saw the future. So many young people, so many children, so much life and happiness and fulfillment. Who could not shed a tear or two? Who could not dance in celebration? It was a kiddush Hashem, yes it was, and for that reason. It was nice that outsiders got a nice impression of us, but that was not the story. We don’t do what we do because of what others will say. We have enough pride in what we do that we do it for ourselves, for our neshamos, for our families, and to benefit other Yidden. We do it for nitzchiyus.
We do it because we follow the path of the avos, as set out in the parshiyos of Bereishis we have been studying since Sukkos.
This week’s parsha of Vayechi bears many lessons for us in golus. Referring to the impending passing of Yaakov Avinu, the posuk states, “Vayikrivu yemei Yisroel lomus vayikra levno leYosef” (Bereishis 47:29). As Yaakov’s final moments of life approached, he called for his son Yosef. He urged Yosef not to bury him in Mitzrayim, but in Eretz Yisroel: “Al na sikbereini beMitzrayim. Veshochavti im avosai…” He asks Yosef to swear that he will bury him amongst the avos, repeating the request by stating, “Veshochavti im avosai.”
The Torah generally refers to our forefather as Yaakov when denoting something that is in the present, while the name Yisroel connotes eternity. We must understand why in this instance the Torah refers to him as Yisroel while he was discussing matters relating to the present. Additionally, why did Yaakov feel it necessary to repeat the request a second time? Why did he only make the request of Yosef? Why didn’t he speak to the rest of his children and notify them where he wanted to be buried?
Regarding this final question, Rashi explains that Yaakov made the request of Yosef because “hayah beyado la’asos,” he was the one who was able to carry it out. However, since the Torah refers to him as Yisroel, this meeting, the conversations, and the request are apparently matters of eternal value and not just temporal. Thus, these favors Yaakov asked of Yosef can be understood as matters of longstanding impact.
Perhaps we can understand the request being made of Yosef on a deeper level bearing in mind the exposition of the Baal Haturim, in Parshas Vayishlach when the posuk recounts that Yaakov said to Eisov, “Vayehi li shor vachamor” (Bereishis 32:6). He writes that Yaakov wasn’t only referring to his ownership of cows and donkeys, but, more significantly, Yaakov was alluding to his two sons who had the ability to confront Eisov. Yosef, who the posuk refers to as shor, is the alternate power to Eisov. Yissochor, who is referred to as a chamor, has the power of Torah, because of his diligence in its study.
The Ramban at the beginning of the parsha (47:28) writes, “Yaakov’s descent to Mitzrayim is similar to our present exile in the hands of the chaya harviis, Romi harasha… The golus is extending for a long time, and unlike previous exiles, we do not know when it will end.”
From the words of the Ramban, we see that golus Mitzrayim contains lessons for us in golus Edom. Thus, even Yaakov’s discussions with Yosef pertaining to golus Mitzrayim have relevance to us in our day.
These pesukim tell of cosmic events. Yaakov was laying the groundwork for survival for his children, and their children, in golus. He was joining with Yosef to craft a code of endurance and triumph, igniting that lehavah, the flame that will ultimately consume Eisov.
Thus, we can understand the seemingly repetitious request, “Vayikra levno leYosef vayomer al na sikbereini beMitzrayim. Veshochavti im avosai…” Yaakov said, “Do not bury me in Mitzrayim. I wish to lay with my fathers.” Then he said, “Unesosani miMitzrayim ukevartani bekevurosom – Carry me from Mitzrayim and bury me in their burial place.”
We can understand that Yaakov was making two distinct requests. Yisroel, the sheim hanetzach, the name that denotes eternity, was requesting, “Although I am now in Mitzrayim, the most tomei of all the lands, with wicked people and a wicked king, please do not bury me, Yisroel, here. Do not bury the netzach Yisroel, the traditions and beliefs that I received from my fathers, in this impure place. Remain separate from these profane people. Don’t permit yourself and your children to be influenced by them. Veshochavti im avosai. I wish to be like my fathers, Avrohom and Yitzchok, and be a link in a holy chain, with offspring who follow in my path.”
How will that be accomplished? Yaakov makes it clear: Not just by asking to be buried on holy soil, but by emphasizing, “Veshochavti im avosai. I want to rest with my fathers. I want to be connected to them and attached to their sacred mesorah.”
Yaakov tells Yosef, “You will be able to do that if unesosani miMitzrayim.” While the simple translation of unesosani is to carry, the word also means to uplift and raise (like the meforshim explain on the posuk, “Naso es rosh Bnei Yisroel”).
Thus, Yaakov was telling Yosef, “In order to accomplish my wish to be an av, with sons and grandsons following in my path, you must raise me and what I stand for over the Mitzri culture. Raise me higher than Mitzrayim. You, Yosef, my son, have to remain elevated. Remain above your surroundings. Raise your children to live on a different level. That is how they will remain connected to the avos.”
When Yaakov said, “Unesosani miMitzrayim,” he was referring to the need to remain above the prevailing tumah of Mitzrayim and other goluyos of the future. Hence the use of the name Yisroel. Then, after he expressed his wish for the future, he made his request for the present: “Ukevartani bekevurosom.”
Yaakov pleaded with his son, “Al na sikbereini beMitzrayim, don’t bury me, my middah and my hard work, in Mitzrayim.”
Yaakov appealed to Yosef and not to the other brothers, because the matter he was attending to was not simply with respect to where to bury him, but how to stand up to Eisov and Edom throughout the ages. Yosef was the antithesis of Eisov. He was the one who had the ability to carry out Yaakov’s request of transmitting to future generations the secret to surviving and thriving in the hostile setting of golus.
Additionally, Yaakov perceived that Yosef, the kadosh, who perfected the middah of yesod through personal purity and strength, had mastered the ability to transcend the lures of Mitzrayim, the ervas ha’aretz, the capital of permissiveness and hedonism. That, combined with his inherent ability to battle the forces of Eisov, is why Yaakov requested this of Yosef and not his brothers.
The posuk continues: “Vayishova lo vayishtachu Yisroel al rosh hamittah – And Yosef swore that he would do as his father asked. Yisroel bowed to him in appreciation towards the head of his bed.”
Once again, the posuk refers to Yaakov as Yisroel, because he wasn’t just bowing in appreciation of the fact that he would be buried near his father and grandfather in Eretz Yisroel. The eternal Yisroel of netzach was bowing to the eternal middah of Yosef. Yaakov was comfortable in the assurance that his avodah would continue.
Therefore, the parsha continues with the narrative of the brachos that Yaakov gave to the sons of Yosef.
Yosef brought his two sons, the guarantors of the derech of the avos, the fusion of Bais Yaakov and Bais Yosef that can negate the koach of Eisov. Yaakov saw nitzchiyus. He saw these children of golus, born in impure Mitzrayim but committed to derech Yisroel saba. He responded by giving them brachos, the blessings that have echoed ever since in every Jewish home.
After reporting on the entire conversation and incident, the Torah states, “Vayevorech es Yosef vayomar haElokim asher hishalchu avosai lefonov Avrohom v’Yitzchok haElokim haroeh osi mei’odi ad hayom hazeh. Hamalach hagoel osi mikol ra yevoreich es haneorim veyikorei vohem shemi vesheim avosai Avrohom v’Yitzchok veyidgu larov bekerev ha’aretz” (48:15-16).
This brocha is the culmination of the parsha as we have understood it. When Yaakov saw Menashe and Efraim, the sons of Yosef, he perceived that his offspring would succeed in remaining loyal to his heritage in the exile. Thus, he said, “…haElokim asher hishalchu avosai lefonov Avrohom v’Yitzchok haElokim haroeh osi mei’odi ad hayom hazeh. That same derech that Avrohom, Yitzchok and I have walked on will continue throughout golus.”
“Hamalach hagoel osi mikol ra yevoreich es haneorim.” Yaakov appreciated that davka Efraim and Menashe carried a strength that others did not have. The malach who protected Yaakov as he went into exile from his father’s home protected his grandchildren in their golus. Yaakov prayed that they would have the tenacity and determination in golus Mitzrayim and golus Romi to remain loyal to the precepts of Avrohom and Yitzchok: “veyikorei vohem shemi vesheim avosai Avrohom v’Yitzchok.”
The posuk in Chagai (2:9) relates the prophecy that the second Bais Hamikdosh would be more glorious than the first: “Gadol yihiyeh kevod habayis hazeh ha’acharon min harishon.” Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin asks that this prophecy is apparently refuted by the fact that many of the revealed nissim of the first Bais Hamikdosh, such as ruach hakodesh and the Heavenly fire, were absent in the second Bayis. How, then, can the novi say that the splendor of the second Bais Hamikdosh would exceed that of the first?
Rav Tzadok quotes the Sefer Heichalos, which explains that in the absence of those open miracles and being removed from the tangible presence of the Shechinah, more glory was present, because the people had to toil and work hard on their own to create the kedusha. The glory that arises from hard work and struggle is superior to that which is brought about as a gift from Heaven. People who work hard for their income appreciate what they have much more than those who live lives of dependency.
Yaakov perceived that a new era was beginning. He delighted in seeing that Efraim and Menashe, children of golus, were determined to live as their avos did. He determined that they would serve as the paradigm for generations to come, portraying that it is possible to rise to high and exalted levels even when trapped in a place one doesn’t want to be in.
After learning that his beloved son, whom he had not seen in twenty-two years, was alive, Yaakov Avinu hurried down to Mitzrayim. On the way, he stopped in Be’er Sheva (46:1). The Medrash states that he stopped there in order to cut cedar trees for use in the construction of the Mishkon when his grandchildren would eventually be redeemed from golus Mitzrayim.
In the midst of the commotion and excitement, Yaakov Avinu remained focused on his mission of leading his progeny into golus. He maintained his equanimity, ensuring that his children would have the supplies they would need to exist in golus and when they would be redeemed.
Perhaps there is a deeper significance here as well. Yaakov brought cedar trees, because, tall and proud, they are a symbol of steadfastness and strength. He was hinting to his children that if they would stand like arozim, unyielding and proud, they would survive the golus.
Golus is grueling, dangerous and long, but with the firmness of the erez, it is possible to emerge whole and pure. As we endure this period, it behooves us to remain resolute, resisting temptation to sin and sink. We must remain united in our drive and determination not to splinter and divide. Division has caused so many of our problems, historically and presently.
Success and sometimes our very existence in golus is tenuous. We must count and appreciate our blessings while we have them.
Imagine the sight when Moshiach arrives very soon. Thousands of Jews will line up to dance around him. Many will be bearing the scars of daunting nisyonos and tragedies of golus. They will stand there dancing, the children of Efraim and Menashe, with those of Reuvein and Yehuda. The weak will be strong, the wobbly will be tough, and the persecuted resilient. They will celebrate the great siyum, the greatest siyum ever. Everyone will participate as brothers and sisters. Nobody will be left out.
The Torah (49:1 and Rashi inter loc) relates that after he blessed his grandchildren, Yaakov gathered the family together and said that he would tell them what would happen at the End of Days. Yaakov was inspired to reveal the time of Acharis Hayomim, as he saw the unity, the shared mission, and the special kochos of his descendants. He saw that although they were born in the exile, Efraim and Menashe possessed the strengths of Yosef. He was comforted that his offspring would be able to withstand golus and would merit redemption at the End of Days.
Alas, the very nature of golus is that it is enveloped in a film of darkness and its end remains hidden. We do not understand the ways of Hashem, but through it all, we maintain our emunah and bitachon that the end, the keitz that Yaakov visualized, is approaching.
Through smiles and tears, good years and bad, generous hosts and disdainful ones, we follow the example of Yaakov Avinu’s cedar trees, of Yosef’s strength, of the glory of Efraim and Menashe. We remain strong, honest, incorruptible, united, and committed to each other and our goals, knowing that if we continue to persevere, we will soon be in a better place.