Parshat Vayechi (Mussar approach)

Jacob blessing Joseph's sons

How is a curse a blessing?

Bereishit (49:1-7) (Robert Alter, trans.)
Assemble and hearken, O Jacob’s sons,
and hearken to Israel your father.
Reuben, my firstborn are you —
my strength and first yield of my manhood,
prevailing in rank and prevailing in might.
Unsteady as water, you’ll no more prevail!
for you mounted the place where your father lay,
you profaned my couch, you mounted!
Simeon and Levi, the brothers —
weapons of outrage their trade.
In their council let me never set foot,
their assembly my presence shun.
For in their fury they slaughtered men,
at their pleasure they tore down ramparts.
Cursed be their fury so fierce,
and their wrath so remorseless!
I will divide them in Jacob,
disperse them in Israel….
Bereishit (49:28-29)
These are the tribes of Israel, twelve in all, and this is what their father spoke to them, blessing them, each according to his blessing, he blessed them.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler
[Ya’akov’s] chief midda was truth … It was he who saw that there would be no peace among his heirs if he had no time before his death to give his personal instructions to his family and to sort out all possible points of conflict among them in the spirit of truth. People possess different characteristics and peace can never rule among them without the midda of truth.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe
At first glance, it is heard to understand how Yaakov’s rebuke to Reuven can be called a blessing. In truth, however, it was one of the greatest blessings possible. In the course of his rebuke, Yaakov revealed to Reuven his underlying character trait [haste-impulsiveness]. Such a piece of information is worth far more than gold! It is a spiritual treasure that can set a person on the proper path for the rest of his life by attuning him to the middah that is liable to destroy his avodas Hashem if left unchecked.

Rabbi Wolbe describes Reuven’s underlying negative character trait as “haste” (which might be better translated as impulsiveness)? What are examples of his haste or impulsiveness? Why is impulsiveness particularly damaging to a person intended to be a leader?

Why would bringing up Reuven’s impulsiveness and Simeon and Levi’s violent anger help the family resolve conflicts? Wouldn’t this inflame conflicts?

Do you agree that identifying a person’s most negative underlying flaw “is worth far more than gold!” What circumstances or conditions might be necessary for this to be helpful?

Reviewing the Patriarch’s as fathers, how would you describe them:
Abraham
Issac
Jacob
Thinking about the next book of the Torah, what do you think the Patriarchs have left unresolved?