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Parshas Vayechi 5774: How Yaakov Chose to Teach the Importance of Ahavas Yisroel

After Yaakov Avinu’s passing, the brothers feared that Yosef might take the opportunity to punish them for their misconduct. We read in the parsha [1]: ויראו אחי יוסף כי מת אביהם ויאמרו לו ישטמנו יוסף והשב ישיב לנו את כל הרעה אשר גמלנו אתו, ויצוו אל יוסף לאמר אביך צוה לפני מותו לאמר, כה תאמרו ליוסף אנא שא נא פשע אחיך וחטאתם כי רעה גמלוך ועתה שא נא לפשע עבדי אלקי אביך – When Yosef’s brothers saw that their father had died they said, “Perhaps Yosef will nurse hatred towards us and avenge himself upon us for all the evil that we did to him,” so they directed that it be told to Yosef, “Your father commanded before his death, saying, “So shall you say to Yosef, ‘Please, forgive now your brothers’ transgression and their spiteful deed, for they did evil to you.’ Now [the brothers plead,] please forgive the transgression of the servants of the Hashem of your father.” Rashi quotes a Gemarah [2] that states that in fact Yaakov had not left Yosef any such message since he did not suspect that Yosef bore a grudge towards them.

Out of fear, Yosef’s brothers “altered the facts for the sake of peace.” There is a well known concept often repeated by the Ohr Hachaim HaKadosh [3] that regarding aggadic teachings one is permitted to interpret passages with a different approach than Chazal if no Halachic rulings are affected by this interpretation. In last week’s parsha when Yosef and his father Yaakov were reunited after being separated for twenty two years the pasuk says [4] וירא אליו ויפל על צואריו ויבך על צואריו עוד – and Yosef appeared to Yaakov and embraced him; he also wept profusely on his neck. ויאמר ישראל אל יוסף אמותה הפעם – then Yisroel (Yaakov) said to Yosef “I can die this time”, (meaning: were I to die at this moment I would be consoled). Rashi offers that Yaakov, however, did not embrace Yosef nor did he weep or kiss him. Why not? Was Yosef not Yaakov’s beloved son? The Rabbis answer that at that exact moment Yaakov was preoccupied as he was reciting Shema. He therefore could not show affection towards Yosef at that instant. There is a noteworthy ruling of the Magen Avraham [5] [6] that every day before we begin our daily prayers it is incumbent on each and every Jew to accept on himself the mitzvah of ואהבת לרעיך כמוך – to love each and every Jew comparable to the love we all have for our very own selves [7]. A suggested explanation for the reason of this requirement is as the Baal Shem Tov [8] explained that there are two mitzvohs that operate in parallel: to love Hashem and to love every Jew. Hashem cannot be perceived by our senses. He is unfathomable and completely beyond our ability to comprehend. How then are we meant to experience love for Him? The Baal Shem Tov explains: The way to achieve this is to love His cherished children, the Bnei Yisroel. The love of Hashem’s children facilitates love of Hashem.

The Zohar [9] teaches that Hashem, Torah and Yisroel are one, therefore the love for Hashem, the love for Torah, and love for Bnei Yisroel are also one. Since Hashem, His Torah, and Yisroel are connected, the love of either is a manifestation of the love for all three. This is why Ahavas Yisroel – love of our fellow Jews- is the indicator for Ahavas Hashem, love of Hashem. If a person is lacking in Ahavas Yisroel he is also lacking in Ahavas Hashem for one who loves our Father in heaven should surely love His children. Shema is recited during our daily tefilos – prayers. Shema contains our affirmation of our love for Hashem with all of our being even with our very lives [10], as we say ואהבת את ה’ אלקיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך – and you shall love Hashem, with your very lives and with all your resources [10]. Now we can understand why in preparation to our prayers we are required to accept upon ourselves the love of our fellow brethren. This can be the reason why Yaakov recited Shema immediately upon his reunion with Yosef. He was demonstrating to his children that they must forgive one another and love each other; for without loving one another their love of Hashem is also incomplete. The famed wonder-working tzaddik, Reb Leib Sarah’s,[12] would say that the reason he went to the Maggid of Mezritch [13] was not so much to learn Torah, but simply to be in his presence and watch him perform his routine chores. “I traveled to the Maggid not to hear words of Torah from him, but merely to see how he ties and unties his shoelaces. Lofty tzadikim (righteous individuals) found holiness and Divine genius in everything. Every movement spoke volumes and therefore for men of such caliber not every lesson in Mezritch was taught conventionally. So too here the offspring of Yaakov were capable of absorbing great lessons purely from witnessing their father’s actions. Now let us return to the pesukim under review, and explain them. The pasuk reads: ויצוו אל יוסף לאמר אביך צוה לפני מותו לאמר – Your father commanded before his death ‘leimor – saying’. The word ‘leimor’ actually means ‘so to say or implying’. The intention of using the word ‘leimor’ can be to imply that ‘our father actually never said these words’. However we understood from his behavior – his recital of krias Shema at that precise moment – that he wanted you Yosef to exonerate us of our misdeeds towards you.

More so, the pasuk ‘our father commanded before his death’ even hints to this precise episode in last week’s parsha. At the time he met Yosef, Yaakov said ויאמר ישראל אל יוסף אמותה הפעם – then Yisroel (Yaakov) said to Yosef, “I can die this time”, implying that were he to die at that moment he would be consoled. Our father instructed us prior to his death, can be in reference to his statement “I can die this time”, he commanded us at the time he said he is ready to die, meaning the time that he was reciting Shema. So as to conclude this discussion on a more positive note rather than with a reference to ‘death’, we might mention that the Torah imparts highly significant wisdom cloaked in a seemingly simple narrative. Love for our fellow Jew can be the key that unlocks the coded messages contained in the Torah.


[1] Bereishes / Genesis 50:15-17
[2] Tractate Yevamos 65B
[3] Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar (1696-1743)
[4] Bereishes / Genesis 46:29-30
[5] Rabbi Avraham Gombiner of Kalisch (1634-1682), he authored the commentary on Shulchan Aruch: Orach Chaim.called Magen Avraham.
[6] Orach Chaim 46:1
[7] Vayikra / Leviticus 19:18
[8] Rabbi Yisrael, the son of Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov [“master of the good Name”], (1698-1760). He is the founder of the Chassidic movement. He authored no books, although his disciples disseminated his teachings in lectures and in published form.
[9] Zohar HaKadosh Vayikra 73B
[10] Tractate Brachos 61B
[11] Devorim / Deuteronomy 6:5
[12] Rabbi Leib Sarah’s (Aryeh Leib the son of Sarah) (1730–1796) was a Chassidic Rebbe and a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and of the Mezritcher maggid.
[13] Rabbi Dov Ber ben Avraham of Mezeritch (passed away 1772) he was a disciple of Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidic movement, and was chosen as his successor to lead the early movement