Parshat Vayechi 5778

How is a curse a blessing?

Jacob giving his blessing to his descendants

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.

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.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler
[Ya’akov’s] chief middah 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 middah of truth.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe
At first glance, it is hard 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?

The middot of Boshet (sensitivity to consequences) and Patience-Calmness are opposites of impulsiveness and anger. Weakness in Humility is often a cause of unbalanced Anger. What might this suggest about the characteristics of a good leader?

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?

The Brother Cycle
Looking at the relationships between brothers in the Torah, there are the following conflicts and resolutions:

Brothers Conflict Resolution
Cain-Abel Cain is jealous about how (or his perception of how) God reacts to the brothers’ sacrifices. Cain kills Abel. God exiles Cain to wander.
Issac-Ishmael Sarah fears potential competition from the son of Abraham’s concubine Hagar. Sarah convinces Abraham to force Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness. God saves Hagar and Ishmael and makes Ishmael a great nation.
Jacob-Esau Rebecca favors Jacob over her other son. Rebecca plots with Jacob to trick Issac into giving Jacob the firstborn blessing. There is a reconciliation between Jacob and Esau but they meet only briefly and live apart. Esau becomes a great nation.
Joseph-Brothers Jacob favors Joseph. Joseph insults his brothers. Jacob asks Joseph to spy on his brothers. The brothers sell Joseph into slavery. Joseph overcomes adversity and the brothers reunite and
reconcile. The brothers settle in the land that Joseph politically controls, which is not the
Promised Land.
Ephraim-Manasseh No apparent conflict. Jacob blesses the younger brother. Jacob says that the younger brother is greater but the older
brother will also be great. Both live in Egypt.
Moses-Aaron Brothers collaborate and share power. Their sister Miriam plays a significant role as a member of the ruling family. Aaron is given the priesthood, which is hereditary. Moses has political power. Moses selects his
successor, who is not his son. Miriam does not have an institutional role, but is the water-finder, and
her death triggers a crisis.
Moses, Aaron, and Miriam lead the Children of Israel into the Wilderness. Eventually the Children
of Israel are led by the successor of Moses, Joshua, into the Promised Land. Moses, Aaron and Miriam
do not survive the Wilderness.

What patterns do you see? How does conflict and resolution change as the cycle proceeds?

Reviewing the Patriarchs and Matriarchs as fathers and mothers, how would you describe them:

  • Abraham-Sarah
  • Issac-Rebecca
  • Jacob-Leah-Rachel

Why is Joseph not a Patriarch?

If the Patriarchs represent the resolution of Lovingkindness and Strength (Judgment-Boundaries) in Truth, what comes after Truth?

Thinking about the next book of the Torah, what do you think the generation of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs have left unresolved?