Friday, December 29, 2017

Yosef And Levi, How To Succeed In The Exile

To Dedicate a Dvar Torah  Click Here
Dear Friends, 
This is the second new Dvar Torah for this week. To see the first one click here.

Print Version        All Vayechi Articles
In this week's parsha, Vayechi, Yaakov passed away, his sons carried him to Israel and buried him in Hebron. Rashi tells us how his casket was carried, three of the tribes on each side, in the same order as they would later camp in the desert. Rashi continues to say, that "Levi didn't carry (Yaakov) because he would later carry the Ark (of the Covenant), and Yosef didn't carry, because he was a king. Menashe and Efraim (carried) in their stead." 

It would seem that even though Yosef was a king, he still should have carried his father, because he is the one who Yaakov made take an oath that, "you will carry me from Egypt." Why was Yosef excluded from bearing Yaakov's casket?

Levi was not to carry it because he was going to carry the Ark. This is problematic, because he himself wouldn't carry the Ark, rather it is referring to his descendants hundreds of years in the future. And actually, when it came to the Exodus, Moshe himself, who was from the tribe of Levi, carried Yosef's bones out of Egypt. Why was Levi excluded from bearing Yaakov's casket? And if there is a good reason for the tribe of Levi not to carry it, why did Moshe make a point to carry Yosef's bones? 

Another question. Rashi explains that "Menashe and Efraim (carried) in their stead." If Yosef and Levi weren't allowed to carry, why did they have to have someone carry in their stead? 

And finally, it makes sense to have Menashe or Efraim carry on behalf of Yosef, because children stand in for their father. But what connection is there between Levi and Yosef's children, that they should be the ones to stand in on his behalf? 

Yaakov's passing allowed for the exile in Egypt, as Rashi tells us that "When Yaakov our patriarch passed... the servitude began." Not that it actually began with his passing, but that it allowed for it, because as long as Yaakov was alive and in Egypt, no exile could exist, because Yaakov was above any exile. Taking Yaakov out of Egypt signaled the start of the Egyptian exile. Both Yosef and Levi could have no part in the commencement of the Egyptian exile, as I will explain. 

About Yosef, the Torah says, "These are the children of Yaakov, Yosef," and it doesn't continue to list the other brothers. It is telling us that Yosef was exactly like Yaakov, above any exile. This is symbolized by the idea of a king that is above it all. That is why the Midrash tells us that "As long as Yosef was alive, they didn't have the burden of Egypt." Because Yosef, like Yaakov was above any exile. 

The Ark had in it the Ten Commandments. Carrying the Ark symbolized carrying the Torah, as it was the tribe of Levi that were the teachers of Torah throughout the Egyptian exile. This began with Levi himself. Being that they took on the burden of Torah, the burden of the exile was removed from them, as the tribe of Levi never was forced into servitude. So in a way they were above the exile as well. Levi himself was completely above the exile, as Rashi says, "Why does it recount the (number of) years of Levi's life?... Because as long as one of the brothers was alive, there was no servitude... And Levi outlived them all." 

Later by the Exodus, taking Yosef's bones out of Egypt, signaled the redemption, the opposite of Yaakov, so it was specifically done by the tribe of Levi, by the head of the tribe, the redeemer himself, Moshe. 

When the Jewish people left Egypt, they left with great wealth. The tribe of Levi also came out with great wealth. You may ask, if they weren't enslaved like the rest of the Jewish people, why did they deserve the reward? 

The answer is, that they were also in the exile, although they were not slaves, they provided a necessary and vital service to the Jewish people. 

The purpose of the exile, is not so we can suffer, rather, that we succeed in taking out of it spiritual and physical benefit, accomplishing  for Hashem what he put us in the exile to do. But at times the exile gets so dark and bitter, we could forget what we are here to do and what the goal is. At these times, we need someone who could see the big picture, someone who is not stuck in the mire of the exile, to remind us why we are here and to lift our spirits. In this way, they transform the exile into a meaningful, purposeful and possibly into a positive event. This was the job of the tribe of Levi and they did it well, so they deserved there reward. 

This will help us understand how Menashe and Efraim were in the place of Yosef and Levi. 

Why did Yosef name his first son Menashe? Because "G-d has made me forget all my hardships, and all my father's home." In other words, Yosef realized that with his success in Egypt, it was possible for him to forget his father's home, where he came from and what he was all about. So he named his son Menashe, not to forget. 

This is one of the goals of every Jew in exile, to ensure that he doesn't forget where he comes from and what he is all about. 

And this was the way of Yosef, he set himself up to remember his father's home in every situation, raising him above the exile. So Menashe represented Yosef. 

Why did Yosef name his second son Efraim? Because "G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering." This is the second goal of every Jew in exile, to realize that there is meaning in his being in exile and find a way to succeed in his purpose no matter how difficult it is. 

This was the way of Levi, to transform the exile into a meaningful and purposeful event. To succeed in difficult times, to turn the darkness itself into light. So Efraim represented Levi. 

They needed to both be represented, because as mentioned above, Yaakov being taken out of Egypt signaled the start of the exile, and since both of these goals are necessary for the Jewish people in exile, both had to be represented. 

My family has been suffering for years now, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. All of the struggles that come with ALS, not being able to live a normal life. My wife Dina, not having a husband who can do normal husband things. On top of that, there is so much that has fallen on her shoulders because of my illness and because I can't do the things I used to do. My children, not having a father that could hug them, and do the things that a father does for and with his children. Harder than all that is the uncertainty, not knowing, not being able to breathe, the possibility that at any moment there could be a scare that will knock you off your feet, or even worse... How am I to comfort and reassure my wife and children? How can I give them some stability? It is heartbreaking when I think of what they must be going through. It is so difficult to deal with these questions and I will not always succeed, but I have to try. 

Perhaps this teaching can help. If we can recognize that Hashem put us in this dark and difficult situation, maybe we can find meaning in it and it will make it easier. Knowing that there is a bigger picture, we can use our situation to succeed in doing what Hashem wants. Remembering where we come from and who we are, will help us rise above the difficulties. I know that it isn't the perfect answer and it won't fix the problem, but it will help us through it somewhat. 

It also helps to realize, that just as something scary can happen at any moment, something good can happen at any moment and we could have a reason to celebrate. In the blink of an eye, Hashem will send Moshiach to take us out of this dark and bitter exile, and put an end to all the suffering and uncertainty. May he come soon, we all have suffered enough.

Dedicated to my wife Dina and to my children who are amazing, and don't have it easy. I love you all so much. May Hashem send us a salvation, His salvation is in the blink of an eye.


  1. Beautiful Rabbi, May he come today!

  2. This is so beautiful- I pray that your family and you continue to have the strength and emunah through it all. It is inspiring