Parshat Vayechi Dvar Torah
By Stephen Kirschenbaum
V’einei Yisrael Kavdu Mizaken. At the beginning of Vayechi, Yaakov Avinu realizes he’s at the end of his life, and so Yosef’s children are brought to him for a blessing. Lo Yachlu Liros. His eyes were dim; he couldn’t see well. So, Ephraim and Menashe were brought before Yaakov, VaYechabek Lahem VaYenashek Lahem. The Ohr HaChaim wonders why the verse doesn’t read VaYechabek Osam VaYenashek Osam. The Degel Machaneh Ephraim explains in the name of the Ohr HaChaim, when an old person is unable to see well, and they try and kiss or hug someone, they might hug them in the wrong way since they can’t see. Same with a kiss. Instead of kissing the cheek, he kisses the shoulder. So instead of Yaakov connecting with Ephraim and Menashe, Osam, it was more Lahem, towards them, in an awkward sort of way.
The Degel Machaneh Ephraim expands on this based on a Yesod brought by the Toldos Yaakov Yosef. V’einei Yisrael is a reference to the Tzadikim of the Dor who keep their eyes on the Jews. They protect us from doing things we aren’t supposed to do; provide guidance if they see we’re making a misstep. But sometimes the eyes of Yisrael are Kavdu Mizaken, the Tzadik grows weary of seeing us mess up so often. He gets burnt out because our negative behaviors have become the norm. Hergel Naaseh Teva. So, on a certain level, the Tzadik doesn’t want to look anymore. The nation has strayed so far that, in their own eyes, they’ve done nothing wrong. They think they can carry on with what they do. Nonetheless, VaYagesh Osam Eilav, Yaakov pulls Menashe and Ephraim close. Menashe and Ephraim, representing the next generation that perhaps hasn’t lived up to the expectations of the previous one. On the one hand, the people aren’t willing to change, yet he still draws us close. He catches himself and says these are G-d’s children. V’amech Kulam Tzadikim. Every Jew has the potential to be a Tzadik. He finds a way to look at the good in even the sinners of Yisrael. So, the Tzadik hugs us and kisses us; he attaches himself to us in a very deep way, despite our shortcomings. VaYechabek Lahem VaYenashek Lahem instead of Osam. There’s an awkwardness and unnaturalness, a certain disconnect and this is why the Torah speaks in a funny way. The people don’t necessarily want the Tzadik, but he embraces us and pulls us in. This closeness isn’t natural because of the disconnect, but this closeness still exists.
How does the Tzadik see the good and not give up hope? By placing Ephraim before Menashe, like Yaakov did. Menashe is Lashon Ki Nashani Elokim, forgetting HKBH. On the one hand, these Jews have abandoned G-d through their bad deeds. Ephraim is Lashon of Parah V’rava, being fruitful and positive. Even though we do Aveiros, we also do good deeds. We’re filled with Mitzvos like a pomegranate. When a Jew sins, he’s called Yisrael. The Tzadik pulls us close and places Ephraim before Menashe; he focuses on our good deeds and ignores that we’ve forgotten HKBH on a certain level. Even though Menashe is the Bechor, he’s first, meaning most of our lives we’re forgetful of G-d, the Tzadik digs deep and places Ephraim before Menashe. He finds the way to see the good in everyone. He pulls us close even when we aren’t worthy and creates a closeness that reminds us who we really are.
Similarly, in the sweet words of Reb Shlomo Carlebach on our Pasuk ‘V’einei Yisrael Kavdu Mizaken,’ that his eyes became old from age. “If you translate it properly it says, ‘the eyes of Ya’akov have reached the level of honor.’ Honor isn’t given with your hands or with your head; it’s given with your eyes. It’s all about the way you look at something. When someone walks into a room, I can get up for him and show him honor by going through the motions, but my eyes say it all. You see, when you kiss someone you love very much, you close your eyes. What happens when you kiss someone? You don’t say anything, but you’re really uttering all the blessings which have ever been said in the universe — from the first day until the last day…”
Part of Yaakov’s blessing to Menashe and Ephraim is ‘ViYkarei Bahem Shemi, Veyidgu LaRov B’kerev Ha’aretz.’ What does this mean? Kuf Resh Alef is Lashon of Hamshacha, drawing close. When one calls someone, they usually want them to draw them near. You’re Moshech them towards you, creating a link between you and the person. Yaakov was saying, I want you to be called by the essence of my name, Emes. Emes lasts forever. So, Yaakov was saying there should be no break in my Bracha; it should last forever like Emes. The Sefarim quote the Zohar teaching Kushta, truth, Ka’i, stands forever. The Gemara Shabbos has a similar idea, by attaching yourself to the Middah of Yaakov, Emes, you will never have a break from Bracha and will always be in the state of Veyidgu LaRov, multiplying and growing in Ruchniyus and Gashmiyus. Those who strive to live lives of Torah, live with this desire of clinging to the Toras Emes. We’re the children of Yaakov who represents this Middah of Emes, part of the secret of the eternity of Klal Yisrael.