Parshas Vayechi

December 28, 2012
15 Teves, 5773

Parshas Vayechi
Candle-lighting Time: 4:25 PM

This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in loving memory of Rav Mendel Weinbach, zt”l, who passed away last week, by Rabbi Leban, a devoted talmid of several decades.


  • Save the Date for Wine, Cheese and Chocolate 2013, Saturday night, Feb. 2nd at History Colorado Center, toasting Rabbi Raphael Leban for 10 years of service to Denver.
  • Last chance to make a 2012 gift to TJE, act now! Thank you.

Rosed Colored Glasses Amidst the Thorns

by Rabbi Raphael Leban

Several times this month, I was asked by a parent to help with a child, raised in a Jewish home, who chose to marry a non-Jewish boyfriend/girlfriend. These are always difficult and sad conversations for me. I always promise to do my best to inspire the grown child to renew their interest in Judaism, but inside I am pessimistic. Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late.

How much do we have to do as parents to feel confident that our children will express the level of commitment to Judaism that we want from them?

In the beginning of this week’s parsha, as Jacob nears his death, he summons Joseph to his bedside, and proffers upon him a blessing. “And now, your two sons, they that were born to you in Egypt before I came, they are mine,” meaning that Joseph’s two sons will now be elevated to the status of heads of tribes, alongside Joseph’s brothers. It will be as if they are Jacob’s own sons and not his grandsons.

The description of Joseph’s two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, as ‘they that were born to you in Egypt before I came’ seems oddly out of place in the verse. After all, does the fact that they were born in Egypt before Jacob’s arrival somehow make them likelier to be treated as Jacob’s own sons? Quite the opposite, in fact. They apparently have less connection to Jacob—they were born to Joseph when he was very distant from his father, Jacob.

From this strange verse Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, z”l learns a profound lesson for us as parents and educators.

As we raise the next generation, we must instill in them the moral values and good habits of the Torah. (That’s not the profound part.)

How far do we have to go? How much do we need to get across?

It’s enough that they sit still in synagogue, isn’t it? Maybe say the four questions? How about speaking Hebrew?

A child’s Jewish values must transcend his ‘Jewish life’. They have to be strong enough to guide him through the challenges of life’s everyday obstacles, the worst that society at large will throw at him. A child should be raised to withstand the temptations and seductions of December in America, of the greatest TV commercials of all time, of the toughest comparison with their non-Jewish peers. The sense of pride and inner satisfaction from a connection to their rich, 3000-year heritage has to carry our children though all the complex moments of their lives in a predominantly non-Jewish world.

Jacob raised Joseph in accordance with the Torah’s values to such an extent that even when he was away from him, he remained steadfast and reliable in following in his father’s footsteps. Not only that, but he raised his own two sons to be just as dedicated. And all amidst an Egyptian culture that was diametrically opposed to the Torah’s wisdom.

It was specifically those two sons, born in Egypt in Jacob’s absence, who showed clearly the degree to which Jacob had raised Joseph. About those two sons Jacob could accurately say, ‘they are mine.’ And from those two sons, we learn how strongly we must work to instill the Torah’s values into our twenty-first millennium children.

Divide and Conquer

by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

Yaakov blessed all of his children before he passed away. Shimon and Levi also received a tongue lashing due to their attack on the city of Shechem after they abducted their sister Dina. Yaakov cursed their anger and condemned them to be always in a state of flux. As Rashi points out, the tribes if Shimon and Levi gave birth to poor people, who are always travelling seeking support from others, as well as professions whose work forced them to travel. Rashi also comments that the tribe of Levi had to travel around gathering tithes from farmers.

The Torah states that Moshe also blessed the nation before his passing, but he praised the tribe of Levi who had been faithful to Hashem during the Golden Calf incident. Furthermore, Moshe said that they would be teachers of Torah and would render halachic decisions that would guide the Jewish people. Although the entire nation thus gained from their presence, there seems to be a dichotomy in the vision that Yaakov and Moshe had for the tribe of Levi. Yaakov blasted them and many generations later Moshe praised their loyalty and acclaimed their glorious future as leaders of their respective generations.

The answer provides insight into the strength of the Torah that we are privileged to have received from Hashem. On various occasions, Shimon and Levi understood that the mandate of the Torah required them to react to the situation at hand as opposed to passive acceptance. When it came to Yosef, even though they were mistaken, Shimon and Levi both perceived that Yosef was a threat to the stability of the family and subsequently to the future of the Jewish nation. Therefore, they convened a tribunal and ruled that Yosef should be dispatched.

When it came to Dina who was kidnapped by Shechem, the other brothers failed to avenge the family honor while Shimon and Levi acted to bring the perpetrators to justice. Many years later, when the nation turned to idols in order to ‘replace’ Moshe with the Golden Calf, the tribe of Levi fought against those who would contaminate our nation with such foreign actions. The intensity and assertiveness demonstrated by these two powerful individuals would serve the nation well in the future. However, there was a need to channel their powerful energy and therefore Yaakov integrated them into the very fiber of the Jewish people in ways that would be appropriate and beneficial.

At the most fundamental level of Jewish life, there are those who dedicate their lives to instructing our tender, young children, our teachers of Torah. Rashi comments that these fine people originate from Shimon. They will instill in the next generation the ambition to strive for greatness in Torah study and to comprehend the Torah to its fullest accuracy. The Kohanim and Leviim when they circulate amongst us to collect their tithes will inspire us to donate only to worthy causes that support our future in a positive and valuable way. When the needy approach us to support them, we must remember that they derive from Shimon as well. When we support them we are actually supporting ourselves, acquiring the merit of charity which will stand by us when we stand in judgement before Hashem. In the final analysis it is the power of Torah that sustains us when we use it properly.

Question for the Rabbis
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher, reprinted with permission from

Generally, when a person sneezes others say “bless you” and the “sneezer” says, “thank you.” Is there a traditional Jewish etiquette for sneezing?  Rashi (Brachot 53a) states that the custom is to say “asuta” to one who sneezes, which is Aramaic for “[May you] be healed.” The one who sneezes replies “baruch tichyeh” — “may you be blessed” and should then add the verse from the Torah portion this week, “I pray that G-d will help you” (Genesis 49:18). The reason he should add this verse is based on the idea that when one prays for someone else, and himself needs that very same thing, he will be answered first (Bava Kama 91a), so the sick person (who sneezed) prays for the one who blessed him, hoping that he will be cured speedily (Rabbi Shlomo Luria, Yam Shel Shlomo, Bava Kama 8:64; Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chaim 231).

Joke of the Week

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying.

Woody Allen


The Torah states that Yaakov lived in Egypt for 17 years. Why is he not referred to by his name Yisroel? The name Yaakov alludes to the quality of unadulterated truth that Yaakov possessed. When one is committed to ultimate truth and refuses to compromise, then even in a land as corrupt as Egypt was, one can thrive and be successful.