Vayechi: Sibling Rivalry?
One day, an old man was having a stroll in the forest when he saw a little cat stuck in a hole. The poor animal was struggling to get out. So, he gave him his hand to get him out. But the cat scratched his hand with fear. The man pulled his hand screaming with pain. But he did not stop; he tried to give a hand to the cat again and again.
Another man was watching the scene, screamed with surprise, “For heaven’s sake! Stop helping this cat! He’ll have to get himself out of there”.
The other man did not listen, he just continued saving that animal until he finally succeeded, and then he walked to that man and said, “Son, it is cat’s instincts that makes him scratch and to hurt, and it is my job to love and care”.
Despite what gets thrown our way, it’s our job to remain committed to doing what’s good.
In this week’s Parsha we find the blessings that Yaakov gave to his grandchildren- Efraim and Menashe. It’s a blessing that until today parents choose to use these words of Yaakov Avinu and express that our children should grow up to be like Ephraim and Menashe:
.ְישׂמךָ אלִֹקים כּאפַרִים וכמנֶשּׁה
When relating the blessings, the Torah tells us of a interesting situation which unfolded at that time. Before saying this Bracha, Yaakov placed his hands on the heads of Ephraim and Menashe. When Yosef saw that Yaakov’s right hand was on Ephraim’s head (who was younger), he tried to switch his father’s hands, but Yaakov insisted that his hands remain that way. “Know that I’ve switched my hands intentionally,” he said, “because even though Menashe is older, Ephraim is going to be greater.”
Harav Hagaon Meir Tzvi Shpitzer Shlita quotes the Agra d’Kallah, by the author of the Bnei Yissaschar, who makes a powerful point. Menashe is standing there, and he realized that his grandfather was giving the better Bracha to his younger brother; and we don’t hear a peep. Ephraim, whom Yaakov chose to receive the better Bracha, saw his father getting involved and trying to take that Bracha away from him; and we don’t hear a peep. While the back and forth between Yaakov and Yosef was going on, neither Menashe nor Ephraim said a word – and they knew the value of a Bracha from Yaakov Avinu, who was the one who fought to get the Bracha from his own father!
When Yaakov Avinu finished his back and forth with Yosef, and he sees these 2 brothers just standing there, who were happy if their brother received the better Bracha, he Bentched them – and all of us – to be like them. When we bless our children with these words, we are asking that Hakadosh Baruch Hu that not only should our children strive to reach the level of the Shevatim as Ephraim and Menashe did, but also to help our children become like Ephraim and Menashe and possess a love that will allow them to be happy for the success of others. Sometimes, even at our own expense.
Where did they learn such a powerful trait? It was from their home. From their father Yosef. In last week’s Parsha, Yosef told his brothers:
אִני יוֹסףֲאחיכם אֶשׁר מכְרֶתּם אִֹתיִמְצָרְיָמה
The Ohr Hachaim explains that Yosef was emphasizing, “I am Yosef your brother – I feel to you as a brother does, and I yearn to be kind to you.” Furthermore, Yosef was telling them that even at the time that they sold him to Mitzrayim, he still felt like their brother. They were being unkind to him, but he nevertheless wanted to be kind to them. “I’m the ruler in Mitzrayim and you’re going through difficult times, I want to help you and take care of your families.”
You know what the message is? Treat everyone around you with your ethics, not with theirs. Treat people the way you want to be treated by them.
This Middah carries over into countless areas of our lives. It doesn’t only impact and build a beautiful connection with others- it builds a beautiful well-rounded connection with HKBH and our Yddishkeit as well.
Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells a beautiful story about his son-in-law’s grandmother, referred to as Oma Roberk, a wonderful sweet and optimistic lady. She originally grew up in Stuttgart, Germany before WWII broke out where she taught secular studies and her husband taught Torah studies. By the time of this incident, all the rabbis who had previously lived in Stuttgart had left, leaving its Jewish community without any rabbinical guidance. Aside from this, food was being rationed, with eggs and milk being limited to a certain number per month.
At one point, Oma Roberk was only able to obtain four eggs per month. Although they were living in poverty, she decided to prepare a little cake every week. Using one egg yoke per week for one cake, Oma would happily bake a cake in honor of Shabbos and with her beloved husband in mind.
One Friday, as her husband was teaching and she stood in the kitchen cooking and baking, she opened an egg to prepare her weekly cake. But to her disappointment, it had a blood spot on it. “I’m not going to have a cake for Shabbos,” she worriedly sighed. “Perhaps however,” she thought, “since the blood spot is only on top of the egg and it has not pierced into the yoke, I can simply wipe it off.” But that consideration didn’t last. “Well, maybe I am not allowed to do that. What should I do? There are no rabbis here to ask.”
After much back and forth, she decided she would use it, mentally noting that if she would ever make it out of Germany alive she would ask a rabbi if she made the right decision.
But then she thought again. “I cannot do it. If it is not kosher, it is not kosher. Moreover, my husband relies on me for keeping a kosher home. He trusts me for everything in the kitchen. I cannot go behind his back and do something which is improper.” And so, with tears in her eyes, she threw out the egg and washed out the bowl.
Now Oma Roberk had a decision to make. Should she use the egg set aside for next week for this week’s cake or would she and her husband just simply not have any cake this week. And then she decided. “Who knows if we will even be around next week? I am going to take next week’s egg and use it for this week’s Shabbos cake.” And so, she washed out the glass bowl again and cracked another egg.
And out came two yokes.
As Oma Roberk said of herself, “Sometimes Hashem sends you a small message that lasts a lifetime. That little gift in the kitchen was Hashem saying to me, ‘My dear daughter, no one would have known the difference. It was just between you and Me. But because you had such love for the mitzvah of honoring Shabbos, I gave you a special gift.’”
We can’t allow outside circumstances, people actions, situations, etc., to effect what’s right.
Yosef wasn’t treated kindly by his brothers, but it didn’t matter. Efraim and Menashe so desperately wanted the blessings, but didn’t matter. Outside circumstances can’t change what we know to be right.
Our lives need to be lived by our own ethics, not that of others.