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Parashat Vayechi 5784: Aliyah by Aliyah

First Reading:

“And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years….”

Our parashah begins with the verse “And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years….” In Chassidut it is commented that the last 17 years of Jacob’s life, the years that he spent in Egypt, were the best of his life. This is an astounding statement. How can it be that Jacob’s best years were spent outside of the Holyland, the Land of Israel; and not just anywhere, but in the depths of the abominations of Egypt, the most unholy of all lands? Not to mention the fact that this would become the land that would enslave his children.

The simple answer is that during these last 17 years of his life, Jacob merited having his family united with peace between all his children and Joseph. But let us see a deeper explanation. With this explanation we will also address one of the most well-known questions from the Zohar.

How Many Torah Portions?

There is a well known statement in the Zohar that there are 53 parashot (plural of parashah) in the Torah. However, counting the weekly portions, one finds that there are 54. Several different explanations have been given for this apparent contradiction between the the Zohar’s statement and our division of the Torah into weekly portions among them:

  • The first parashah, Parashat Bereishit, serves as an introduction to the Torah and therefore is not counted as a parashah.
  • Most years, the parashot of Nitzavim and Vayeilech in the Book of Deuteronomy are read together, therefore they are considered as one.

But if one looks at our parashah, one sees that it is unique. When written in a Torah scroll, parashat Vayechi does not begin with a new paragraph (parshiyah). This is not just a technicality. A Torah scroll is not kosher if there is a parashah that does not begin with a new paragraph (except for this one, for which we have a tradition from Moses that it should continue in the same paragraph as the previous parashah, Vayigash). So here we have a beautiful answer to the apparent problem with the Zohar’s 53 portions, because in the Torah scroll Vayigash and Vayechi are like one long parashah.

Rashi mentions this unique phenomenon and writes:

Why is this parashah sealed [i.e., does not begin with a new paragraph]? Because it describes the death of Jacob and with his death began the slavery in Egypt, which caused the eyes of all of Israel to seal shut. Another answer: Jacob wished to reveal the events of the end of days, but it was sealed from him [and he could not].

  • A third explanation is that the Torah wants to stress that the first verse of our parashah, parashat Vayechi, is a direct continuation of the last verse of the previous parashah, parashat Vayigash and the two cannot be separated. Why are these two Torah portions inseparable?

The last verse of Vayigash is, “And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt in the land of Goshen, and they acquired property in it, and they were prolific and multiplied greatly”[1] (וַיֵּשֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן וַיֵּאָחֲזוּ בָהּ וַיִּפְרוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ מְאֹד). The gematria of the entire verse is 2794, which is the product of 11 and 254; since there are 11 words in the last verse of Vayigash, it means that the average value of each word is 254. This may not sound very exciting until we add that 254 is the numerical value of the key phrase from the previous parashah, “Joseph is still alive”[2] (עוֹד יוֹסֵף חַי). The success and multiplication of Jacob’s offspring in Egypt is the result of Joseph still being alive. With his Divine spirit, Jacob felt all along that the success of all of his offspring was dependent on Joseph.

But not only do the words “Joseph is still alive” mean that Joseph did not perish when the brothers sold him into slavery; that is only their literal meaning. More deeply they indicate that Joseph’s “more” (עוֹד) is still alive. Joseph’s (and every Jew’s) “more” symbolizes his ability to elevate sparks of holiness from mundane reality. It is the unique Jewish ability to take physical objects and turn them into spiritual conduits for revealing the Almighty’s infinite goodness and kindness in the world. This is referred to as the “more” of a person because it goes beyond just leading a good life privately resulting in personal rectification and elevation. This is what is at the heart of the Jewish concept of tikun olam, rectifying the world. Indeed, when Rachel named her son Joseph, she gave the reason: “May God give me another son.”[3] Joseph’s represents our ability to add more, to bring more Godliness into the world.

As explained in Kabbalah, the multitudes of Jews born in Egypt were born thanks to Joseph’s ability to elevate sparks of holiness. The direct relationship between Joseph’s more is stated by the sages in another context: “The Jewish people did not go out [from the Land of Israel] into exile, except that converts should join them.”[4]

All of Jacob’s joy, all the goodness of his final 17 years, was from the proliferation of his offspring. In fact, the sages explain that Jacob did not die, because as long as his seed, his offspring is alive, he is alive![5] The very joy, the very life of Jacob was from all of his offspring living together in peace between them, even if it is in Egypt.

Beautifully, the sum of the numerical values of Vayigash (וַיִּגַּשׁ) and Vayechi (וַיְחִי) is 353, the value of “Goshen” (גֹּשֶׁן), where all of Jacob’s offspring dwelt together in peace, the land where Jacob dwelt in his final 17 good (טוֹב) years and where his offspring were fruitful and multiplied, elevating more and more of the sparks of holiness from the land. 353 is also the value of “joy” (שִׂמְחָה), accounting for Jacob’s tremendous joy during these years.

 

(from)

 

Second Reading: Crossing Hands to Embrace and Criticize

“Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it upon the head of Ephraim—and he was the younger—and his left hand on the head of Menasheh; he crossed his hands, although Menasheh was the elder”

 

Why Did Jacob Cross His Hands?

Normally, we think of Jacob (Israel) crossing his arms because Joseph had placed Ephraim on his left (since he was the younger) and Menasheh on his right (since he was the elder). But the word used for “crossing” (שִׂכֵּל) is also related to mindfulness. As Rashi writes, “understand this as the Targum renders it: ‘he put wisdom into them’ [אַחֲכִמּוּן]” i.e., he infused his hands with wisdom. Innately, our arms extend out straight. But our mind can direct them in an alternate manner, because sometimes the right hand must extend to the left and the right hand must extend to the right.

If we analyze this mindful guidance of the arms according to the Torah’s inner dimension, we arrive at the following observation: the right hand and the left hand represent the sefirah of lovingkindness (chessed) and the sefirah of might (gevurah), respectively. About the two hands, the sages tell us that “the left should push away [with its attribute of might, which places limits and criticizes] and the right should bring nearer [with its attribute of lovingkindness, which bestows and embraces].”[6]

When the sefirot are arranged along three axes, loving-kindness is on the right and might on the left. Directly underneath loving-kindness is the sefirah of victory (netzach) and directly underneath might is the sefirah of acknowledgment (hod). Thus, crossing the arms would mean that a diagonal crossover connection is created between loving-kindness and acknowledgment and between might and victory. If we can determine in what situations such a crossover might be applicable, we will learn part of the secret of Jacob’s blessing and what it was meant to endow Joseph’s sons with.

Crossing Our Hands with Respect to the State of Israel

One of the parallels we have discussed many times is that the non-observant Jews who founded the State of Israel correspond to the Northern Israelite kingdom of Biblical times, whose leaders usually heralded from the tribes of Ephraim and Menasheh—Joseph’s sons, as above. The observant Jews who settled in the Land of Israel in modern times correspond to the Southern Judean kingdom that was ruled by the tribe of Judah. Thus, Jacob’s blessing upon Joseph’s sons can serve as a guide to how we should approach the modern State of Israel, which was founded on non-Torah values.

In general, our approach has always been to encourage and nurture the good things, but to criticize those that are negative. Applying this in practice means that we should embrace and love mainly those elements of the State of Israel that have points of Judaism but criticize and try to reject those elements or foreign “spirits” that do not.

With our right hand, we embrace all that is related to the sefirah of acknowledgment (hod). Hod has several different meanings. It means acknowledgment, but it also means thanksgiving as well as to concede. It also shares the same root as the Hebrew word for Judaism, Yahadut (יַהֲדוּת). What are the points of Judaism and Jewish identity in the State of Israel? By definition, a Jew—Yehudi (יְהוּדִי)—is one who acknowledges God above and gives thanks to God for every breath he takes and concedes (modeh) that God’s truth is greater than human understanding. When these principles are brought to the forefront by the institutions of the State of Israel, we embrace and show them they are beloved. This is the practical application of crossing the right hand over to the left—acting with loving-kindness towards expressions of acknowledgment.

Of the State of Israel’s many institutions, the one that is most related to victory is the army, the IDF. The army’s role is of course, to defeat and bring victory over the Jewish people’s enemies. You can judge for yourself whether the IDF and the rest of the defense apparatus are doing what needs to be done to achieve this goal. The application of the left hand crossing over to the right is thus to not refrain from criticizing them when this is not what they are doing. We must demand that the army act with might and power to protect the Jewish people. Unfortunately, all too often, the foreign spirit that leads the defense establishment (and the judicial system that is supposed to support them legally, both domestically and internationally) is one that argues that mercy should be shown in response to our enemies’ cruelty. However, the sages have already taught us that “one who shows mercy to those who are cruel will eventually act with cruelty against those who are merciful.”[7] Ensuring that we continually demand that the police and army not grovel before our enemies is an application of the left hand that pushes away, crossing over to the right—to the sefirah of victory.

(from)

 

Third Reading: Getting Rid of Ayin Hara

“So he blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’ Thus, he put Ephraim before Manasheh.”

Question: Could you please tell me how to get rid of ayin hara [curse of the “evil eye”] and also how to guard against an ayin hara.

Answer: Berachah VeShalom. Rabbi Ginsburgh has received your email and requested that we send you the following reply. Your greatest protection against ayin hara is to concentrate on having a tov ayin (a “good eye”), as the verse states, “He who has a good eye will be blessed”[8] (טוֹב עַיִן הוּא יְבֹרָךְ).

The numerical value of “good” (טוֹב) is 17, and the numerical value of “eye” (עַיִן) is 130. Together they equal 147, which is the number of years that Jacob lived. On his deathbed, Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Menasheh, that they may multiply like fish.[9] The sages teach from this that ayin hara has no power over the children of Joseph. All the Jewish people are considered the children of Joseph, who was blessed with “the higher eye”[10] (עֲלֵי עָיִן) which is superior and greater than any ayin hara.

If we do not give subjective power in our own mind to ayin hara, the ayin hara will have no power whatsoever over us. Thus, the main way to overcome ayin hara is to totally ignore the matter.

According to Kabbalah, the source of the ayin hara is the secret of Ephron the Hittite, from whom Abraham bought the cave in which he buried Sarah (Me'arat Hamachpelah in Hebron). The numerical value of Ephron (עֶפְרוֹן) is the same as that of “bad eye” (רַע עַיִן).

If you nevertheless feel that you are still overcome by feelings of ayin hara, the first step is to completely remove your mind from these negative thoughts. This is usually best accomplished by strict concentration on positive thoughts. If you feel that you are nevertheless overcome by negative thoughts and feelings, turn to God with utmost humility and beseech Him to help you to concentrate only on the positive.

The above advice for overcoming negative thoughts was given by the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lidai in the Tanya.[11] The Alter Rebbe further goes on to state that if we turn to God in a humble request for mercy, God will surely have mercy on us and save us from negative thoughts.

Elsewhere in the Tanya,[12] the Alter Rebbe further explains that negative thoughts are an opportunity for us to strengthen our positive thinking and our closeness to God. When a negative thought enters our mind, we must absolutely concentrate from the bottom of our hearts on our service of God. It is of utmost importance not to be afraid of anything or anyone except God Himself. Nothing else has any reality whatsoever. Through your belief in this, negative thoughts and feelings will become immaterial.

When the Ba'al Shem Tov was a small boy, he liked to walk alone in the forest. One day, while walking in the forest, he met a man who asked him, “Are you not afraid to be alone in the forest?” The Ba'al Shem Tov answered, “I have no fear of anything, except for God.” When the man made an inference that God is no longer on earth, the Ba'al Shem Tov hit him with his stick, and the man disappeared.

Wishing you much success and happiness with your positive thinking.

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land of Israel.

 

 

Fourth Reading: From Rebuke to Blessing

“He blessed them; each man according to his own blessing he blessed them”

 

In Parashat Vayechi, Jacob gathers his sons together to bless them before his death. Yet, his opening words do not sound like a blessing at all. In fact, the first three tribes suffer Jacob’s stern rebuke: he tells Reuben, “Reckless like water, you shall not be privileged,” i.e., because of your impetuous sin, you have lost all the privileges that you were entitled to as a firstborn son. Jacob then addresses Shimon and Levi, saying, “Stolen instruments are their weapons. Let my soul not enter their counsel… Cursed be their wrath for it is mighty, and their anger, because it is harsh. I will separate them throughout Jacob, and I will scatter them throughout Israel.”

Hearing how his father chose to address his older brothers, it is understandable why Judah, Jacob’s fourth son, was hesitant to approach his father to receive his piece of Jacob’s mind. He was fully aware that there was good reason for Jacob to rebuke him like his brothers. As Rashi interprets, “Because [Jacob] reprimanded the first ones with his rebuke, Judah began to retreat until Jacob called him back with words of appeasement, ‘Judah, you are not like them,’” implying that from here on there is no more rebuke, only blessing.

Nonetheless, the sages teach us that in fact, Jacob blessed all his sons, as the final verse of the blessings demonstrates, “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them, and he blessed them; each man according to his own blessing did he bless them.”

Rashi too dwells on this point, “Could it be that he [Jacob] did not bless Reuben, Shimon and Levi?” he then replies, “The verse teaches us, ‘and he blessed them,’ implying all of them.” This is also apparent from Jacob’s special style of speech to all his sons. From Reuben down to Benjamin, his style is poetically celebratory. Jacob’s opening words to Reuben are words of praise, “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my strength and the first of my might; superior in rank and superior in power,” which, would the next verse not follow, be a great blessing. When Jacob turns to Shimon and Levi, he refers to them as “brothers,” which is a positive point that signifies their fraternal love (which first became apparent when they rescued Dinah, “Shimon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers,” where Rashi explains, “Because they defended her, they are called her brothers.”

What then is the blessing that these three sons received from their father?

One possible answer is that besides the rebuke that is explicitly mentioned in the text, Jacob added an undocumented blessing to the first three tribes. However, this explanation is somewhat implausible. A more likely scenario is that all the blessings appear in the Torah verses. All we need to do is to read between the lines.

The Blessing of Rebuke

The truth is that the blessings are disguised within the rebuke itself. The inner motivation of true rebuke is “great love.” This is true of a loving father, and it is also true of the Almighty Himself, who rebukes us with love, as we find in Proverbs, “For he who God loves, He rebukes….” Malbim explains that “rebuke is a sign of love”; loving parents know that they must sometimes rebuke their child for his or her own benefit, in order to educate them and refine their ways. This means that rebuke is an expression of love, as in one literal rendering of the verse, “Better is revealed rebuke [when it comes] from hidden love.”[13] By contrast, parents who do not rebuke their children at all only cause them harm, as we see from King David’s negligence in rebuking his son, Adoniyah, “His father never upset him by saying, ‘Why did you do that?’” A certain measure of chastisement lends the personality a more solid “shape.” The sages similarly describe how God chastised the world to make it stand.

From a more profound perspective, Chassidut teaches us that there are two levels of blessing. Normal blessings are explicit and are communicated openly, but there are special blessings that must remain concealed, even within harsh words of criticism.

The source of a hidden blessing is higher than that of revealed blessings. What appears to us as an affliction is the result of abundance that emanates from the concealed world that cannot be revealed in our world in the form of a blessing. As such, any hardship is an even deeper expression of God’s closeness to us, “Happy is the man whom God afflicts.” When the Almighty afflicts an individual with difficulties, he should therefore accept it with equanimity. This idea is certainly not easy to swallow for the suffering individual, but from an objective point of view, the rebuke itself is a blessing, like a father who says, “I love this disobedient child so much that I have to scold him for his actions.” Rebuke has the power to sweeten the harsh judgments at their source, thus bringing down infinite blessing.

Rabbi Shimon Reveals the Blessings in a Rebuke

The Talmud relates that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai once sent his son, Elazar, to ask for a blessing from two sages. Elazar was shocked to hear their words, which sounded to him like the opposite of blessings. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai explained to him that their intention was to bless him profusely (for example: when they blessed him “You shall sow but not reap” their intention was, “you will have children and not see them die”). Similarly, chasidim know that if the Rebbe chastises you, it is a joyful occasion. There are many stories that relate how a chasid was saved from some evil because of such a rebuke from his rebbe.

In this context, it is appropriate to relate an extreme case about the righteous Rebbe Baruch of Mezhibuzh, the Ba'al Shem Tov’s oldest grandson, who was renowned for his severity:

It was Rebbe Baruch of Mezhibuzh’s holy custom to make his students’ lives a misery and to angrily scold anyone who came to learn Torah from him. He would interpret the phrase, “And the souls who he made in Charan” to refer to “those souls who one rectifies in one’s rage [charon af].

Once, as he sat down to a meal, a rich man entered his home and Rebbe Baruch began to rant and rave at him, and even commanded his helpers to push him out of the house. Rebbe Baruch’s son-in-law, Rebbe Abraham Dov of Chemelnik, who was present at the time, asked Rebbe Baruch how he justified such behavior in the light of the injunction, “Anyone who embarrasses his friend in public.…” Rebbe Baruch retorted, “Why don’t you complete the saying? ‘…he has no portion in the World to Come?’ I saw that there were harsh judgments heading towards that man and by humiliating him I annulled all the judgments that were on him. How could I not forfeit my portion in the World to Come to save another Jew?”

Such a severe method can only be adopted by a choice few, and we simple folk cannot replicate it. But we learn that chastisement and stern rebuke can stem from a profound form of love. When Rebbe Baruch passed away, they found his Zohar open at the page that states, “There is anger and there is anger. There is anger that is blessed above and below, and it is called blessed”[14]; teaching us that Rebbe Baruch, whose name means “Blessed” was true to his name, he was blessed and also gave blessing. His anger and rebuke were merely garments for the great blessing he bestowed upon the world.

This can be illustrated with a numerical allusion; the sum of the two words, “blessing” (בְּרָכָה) and “rebuke” (תּוֹכֵחָה) is 666, which equals 3 times the numerical value of the 3-letter root form of “blessing, ברך, which appears three times in the final verse of Jacob’s blessings to his sons: “and he blessed them; each man according to his own blessing he blessed them”[15] (כָּל אֵלֶּה שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר וְזֹאת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לָהֶם אֲבִיהֶם וַיְבָרֶךְ אוֹתָם אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר כְּבִרְכָתוֹ בֵּרַךְ אֹתָם). The sum of the numerical values of the three verbs that appear in the verse, “[their father] spoke… and he blessed them… he blessed them” (דִּבֶּר לָהֶם אֲבִיהֶם וַיְבָרֶךְ אוֹתָם אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר כְּבִרְכָתוֹ בֵּרַךְ) also equals 666, teaching us that it was all a blessing. The sum of the numerical values of the names of Reuben (רְאוּבֵן), Shimon (שִׁמְעוֹן) and Levi (לֵוִי), the three sons who merited a hidden blessing, is 777, which exceeds 666 in all its integers. The average value of their names is 259, which is the numerical value of Reuben (רְאוּבֵן).

Judah, Dan, and Asher

With reference to Jacob’s blessings of his sons, the Zohar relates[16]:

One day, Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Yossi were sitting at the gates of Lod. Rabbi Yossi said to Rabbi Yehudah: “We have seen that Jacob blessed his sons from the words, ‘And he blessed them’, but where is their blessing? He [Rabbi Yehudah] replied: All these are the blessings that he blessed them, such as ‘Judah, now your brothers will acknowledge you,’ ‘Dan will judge his people,’ ‘From Asher rich bread,’ and so on with them all…”

The Zohar continues to explain the great blessing in Jacob’s words to Reuben, Shimon and Levi, as we have explained that the blessing is actually present in the words of rebuke, if we only know how to read the verses correctly.

Yet, we need to understand why Rabbi Yehudah chose the blessings of these three tribes in particular to illustrate that they are all blessings. He could have mentioned any of the other tribes who also received exceptional blessings.

We can explain Rabbi Yehudah’s choice simply by noting the location of these three tribes on the stones of the High Priest’s breastplate. The breastplate consisted of four rows, each of which contained three gemstones, corresponding to the twelve tribes. The first row of three gems corresponded to Reuben, Shimon, and Levi, the second row to Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, the third row, Dan, Naphtali, and Gad, and the fourth row, Asher, Joseph, and Benjamin. The reasoning behind this order follows the order of the Tribes’ birth respective to each of Jacob’s four wives: first Leah’s sons according to their order of birth, followed by the maidservants’ sons according to their order of birth and lastly, Rachel’s sons, who were born last.

We can now see that the three tribes who Rabbi Yehudah mentioned, Judah, Dan, and Asher, are the first tribes in each of the last three rows of the breastplate representing all of the tribes who received Jacob’s explicit blessings from Jacob. Since the tribes in the first row did not receive explicit blessings, Rabbi Yehudah offered no example of an explicit blessing from those three tribes.

The Blessing Concealed in the World of Emanation

This correspondence to the stones of the breastplate reveals another way of understanding the profound significance of blessings and rebukes. The four rows of the breastplate correspond to the four spiritual “Worlds”: Emanation, Creation, Formation, and Action. The three lower Worlds manifest blessing in a revealed way that is tangible to our intelligence and our senses. But the highest World of Emanation) is a Divine World of absolute goodness and unity. For that very reason, it is beyond our comprehension. The top row of the breastplate, representing Reuben, Shimon, and Levi, is the row that corresponds to Emanation. Those tribes who correspond to Emanation are replete with such extraordinary blessing that when it descends to reach our level of physical reality, the blessing becomes manifests as harsh rebuke.

The goal is that all blessings should manifest in a way that is tangible to us and there should be no need to conceal it in a façade of rebuke. This objective will be realized at the final redemption, which Jacob wished to reveal to his sons as he said, “Gather and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days.” Rashi explains Jacob’s words to mean, “He desired to reveal them the course of the final redemption, but the Divine Presence left him, and he began to say other things.” Had Jacob revealed the final redemption, there would have been no need to rebuke his three oldest sons. But, since the Divine Presence left him and the final redemption was hidden, we return to our present situation in which it is impossible to reveal the great blessing bestowed upon those souls from Atzilut. As long as we are in a state of exile, like in Egypt, which was the source of all exiles – the rebuke is revealed, and the blessing is hidden. Indeed, the numerical value of “exile” (גָלוּת) is equal to the value of “rebuke” (תּוֹכֵחָה).

Once redemption arrives, rebuke is completely sweetened, and the hidden blessing becomes revealed. Reuben is the firstborn, Shimon and Levi are brothers and all of the brothers are blessed together with them, “Each man according to his own blessing, he blessed them.”

 

(from The Inner Dimension)

 

Fifth Reading: Fathers and Sons

““From the hands of the Noble One of Jacob, from there shepherds the Rock of Israel’”

The Rock of Israel

In Jacob’s blessing to Joseph, he says, “From the hands of the Noble One of Jacob, from there shepherds the Rock of Israel”[1] (מִידֵי אֲבִיר יַעֲקֹב מִשָּׁם רֹעֶה אֶבֶן יִשְׂרָאֵל). What is the meaning of the symbolically laden phrase, “the Rock of Israel” (אֶבֶן יִשְׂרָאֵל)?

According to the simple explanation, it refers to all the Children of Israel, whom Joseph guided, or one might say, shepherded and sustained during their time in Egypt. Some of the commentators explain that “the Rock” (אֶבֶן) means “essence.” For example, the Radak explains, “Because the stone is a strong object and one solid piece, he called all of Israel a stone.” Another explanation (Rashbam) is that “the Rock” (אֶבֶן) refers to a unique form of the word “father” (אָב), which refers to “father and family,” together. Rashi quotes Onkelos, who translates “the Rock” (אֶבֶן) as “fathers and sons” and explains that the word is a shorthand (notarikon) for “father-son” (אָב בֵּן).

We can combine the explanations by adding that the final nun (ן) in “the Rock” (אֶבֶן) denotes, as it does many times, minimization. Thus, this word would mean a “small father,” implying that the son himself is a small father. The family is thus created from a “big” father giving birth to a small father and together they form a family, an even.

What is the connection between a rock and the father-son relationship? The rock is heavy, (as in the phrase, “the weight of the stone,”[2] כֹּבֶד אֶבֶן). The word for “weight of” (כֹּבֶד) is reminiscent of the commandment tying the son and the father together, “Honor your father and your mother”[3] (כַּבֵּד אֶת אָבִיךָ וְאֶת אִמֶּךָ). In other words, the mitzvah of honoring one’s father means to relate to them as something heavy, weighty, and present. The son may sometimes feel that the weight is oppressive and cramps his style, but he must learn to honor (kabed) the weightiness (koved). In short, the son gives the father koved, weightiness, by virtue of the fact that he honors him (kavod). (This means that he does not ignore him and is certainly not embarrassed by him).

We saw, however, that the stone is a “strong object,” something hard and inflexible. Hardness is a more essential characteristic of the stone than weightiness—weightiness is relative. If the son gives his father weightiness (koved) by honoring him (kavod), then the father gives the son the hardness. In other words, the essential assertiveness of the son, as it is expressed, for example, by self-sacrifice, comes from the father. The father is the point of hardness within the son, and the son is the weightiness of the father.

And what about the mother? The numerical value of the expression “the Rock of Israel” (אֶבֶן יִשְׂרָאֵל) is the same as that of “the House of Jacob” (בֵית יַעֲקֹב), an expression that appears before the giving of the Torah, when God instructed Moses, “So you shall say to the House of Jacob.”[4] According to the sages, the House of Jacob refers to the women. Within the warmth and softness of motherhood, there is much of the assertiveness of the Rock of Israel. It is the catalyst to unify the two properties of weightiness (from son to father) and hardness (from father to son) of the Rock of Israel.

The Wolf and the Sheep

“Benjamin is a wolf that ravages, in the morning he will devour, and in the evening, he will divide the spoils.”[5] Benjamin is the final seal of the blessings of Jacob to his sons. He likened five of them to animals: Judah to a lion, Dan to a snake, Yissachar to a donkey, Naftali to a doe and Benjamin to a wolf.

The partner of the wolf is the sheep. Today they are enemies, but in the future, “And the wolf will live with the sheep”[6] in the Messianic era of peace. In Jacob’s blessing, the sons are likened to animals. There are no placid sheep. Jacob, himself, has many dealings with sheep. He is a shepherd and marries Rachel, whose name means “sheep.” Furthermore, in Kabbalah it is written that Jacob, himself, is an aspect of a sheep, as in the verse, “And the sheep Jacob separated”[7] (וְהַכְּשָׂבִים הִפְרִיד יַעֲקֹב). If so, the sheep is blessing his sons to be animals, and even carnivorous animals.

This is an important foundation in education. The father must act like a sheep, with temperance and calm. He must conduct himself with submission, in the footsteps of the shepherd. But do not raise your children to be sheep. Instead, raise them to be lions and wolves. The wolf has tremendous power of “lights of chaos” and so he devours the sheep. But Jacob the sheep knows how to inherit the lights of chaos (from his brother, Esau) and bestow them upon his children in a rectified manner.

Many times, the wolf-son does not manage well with his sheep-father. There is tension between them, and the son feels like he wants to devour his father. But the ultimate goal is, “And the wolf will live with the sheep”—the wolf-son living in peace with his father, the sheep. He understands that it is his father who gave him the power of the wolf. (His wolf character was a recessive gene within his father’s sheep character). Then the verse, “And he will return the hearts of the fathers to the sons and the hearts of the sons to the fathers”[8] will be fulfilled.

 

(from a class given on the 27th of Shevat, 5772)

 

 

Sixth Reading: The Indestructible Bone

“He breathed his last and was gathered unto his people.”

 

The sages teach us that there exists an indestructible bone at the top (or, according to certain opinions, at the base) of the spine, from which the body will be resurrected at the End of Days. This is called either the “luz bone” (עֶצֶם הַלּוּז) or “the luz of the spine” (לוּז שֶׁל שִׁדְרָה).[9]

The numerical value of “luz bone” (עֶצֶם הַלּוּז) is 248, the number of organs in the adult body, according to the sages and corresponding to the 248 positive commandments of the Torah. Thus, this one, eternal bone encapsulates all the organs in the body.

In modern terminology, we may say that this eternal, most essential “bone” is the fully encoded description of man in one DNA molecule. In Hebrew, the word for “bone” (עֶצֶם) is the same as the word for “self” (עַצְמִי) or “essence.” From this essential molecule, the whole man will, in the time of the resurrection, spring back to life. Indeed, the most potent site of DNA in the body is the bone marrow, corresponding to the sefirah of wisdom, of which it is said, “they will die, but not in wisdom.”[10] Even upon physical death, not only does the luz bone not die, but it ensures the future reconstitution of the entire body.

The numerical value of “the luz of the spine” (לוּז שֶׁל שִׁדְרָה) is 882, or 2 times the value of “truth” (אֱמֶת), 441, or simply 2 times 212. In Kabbalah and Chasidut, truth implies eternal life, for to be “true” is never to cease. Of Jacob, “the man of truth,”[11] it is said, “Jacob did not die.”[12] Two times the value of “truth” implies resurrection and eternal life on two simultaneous planes, the physical plane, and the spiritual plane. This accords with the opinion of Nachmanides (and that of Kabbalah and Chasidut) that with the Resurrection of the Dead, not only the soul but the physical body as well will live on forever.

 

(from Body, Mind, and Soul, pp. 257-258)

 

[1]. Genesis 49:24.

[2]. Proverbs 27:3.

[3]. Exodus 20:12.

[4]. Exodus 19:3.

[5]. Genesis 49:27.

[6]. Isaiah 11:6.

[7]. Genesis 30:40.

[8]. Malachi 3:24.

[9]. Vayikra Rabbah 18:1.

[10]. Job 4:21.

[11]. See Micah 7:20.

[12]. Ta’anit 5b.

 

[1]. Genesis 47:27.

[2]. Ibid. 45:26.

[3]. Ibid. 30:24.

[4]. Pesachim 87b.

[5]. Ta’anit 5b.

[6]. Sanhedrin 107b.

[7]. Tanchuma, Metzora.

[8]. Proverbs 22:9.

[9]. Genesis 48:15.

[10]. Ibid. 49:22.

[11]. See ch. 28.

[12]. Igeret HaKodesh 25.

[13]. Proverbs 27:5.

[14]. Zohar 1:184a.

[15]. Genesis 49:28.

[16]. Zohar 1:134b.

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