Parshas Vayechi - Why Today’s Mitzvos Are Priceless

By BJLife/Moishy Pruzansky

Posted on 12/20/18

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
Dr. Shapsy Tajerstein, DPM - Podiatry Care.
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In this week's parshah, Yaakov gives Ephraim and Menashe the following blessing: all future generations will bless their sons that they should be just like you (48:20). Indeed, it is still the custom of every Jewish family to do so until this very day.

What made Yaakov specifically choose Ephraim and Menashe (who were his grandsons) to be the role models for all future generations'? What made them unique? Furthermore, why didn't he choose one of his own children instead?

We can answer these questions through the following beautiful lesson from the Chofetz Chaim:
One day, as the Chofetz Chaim was walking down the street in Radin, he met one of the town's bakers. The baker looked sad and depressed. When the Chofetz Chaim asked him what was troubling him, he replied that his business was doing terribly. "Nobody likes my products. They complain that my goods are  'too burnt, too underdone, or not shaped in an appealing fashion'".

A couple of months later, a ravaging war broke out. The Chofetz Chaim saw the baker again, but this time, he was grinning from ear to ear. The Chofetz Chaim asked him how business was going. He answered with a proud smile "business is FANTASTIC! Due to the war, there's a shortage of food. People don't care any more about the condition of my products. In fact, food is so scarce that even my crumbs are valued like rare diamonds!".

The Chofetz Chaim explains that the same is true regarding our spiritual accomplishments in exile. Everything is relative. In previous generations where Torah giants were in abundance, it took tremendous accomplishment to be considered special. “Just” keeping all of the mitzvos was not noteworthy because everyone did it. These days, however, there is such a shortage of religious Jews and so few that are even aware of what a mitzvah is. Therefore, if one keeps even a "regular" level of Jewish observance in today’s generation, it is valued like rare diamonds in the eyes of Hashem. Similarly, R' Yeruchom Levovitz* said that these days one who even tries to understand a Rishone's (early Torah commentator’s) explanation on a Gemara, has the potential to receive even MORE reward than the Rishone who actually wrote it!

 We can learn from the fact that Yaakov specifically chose Ephraim and Menashe to be the role models for our children, that he considered their spiritual accomplishments to be even greater than those of Yaakov's own sons, the perfect Shevatim (12 tribes). The reason for this is because each of the Shevatim’s mitzvos were performed in the close proximity of Yaakov the Patriarch, as well as in close proximity to 10 of the greatest spiritual giants in our national history (the other Shevatim), and were performed in the holy land of Eretz Yisroel. Ephraim and Menashe (who were Yosef’s sons), on the other hand, grew up far from Yaakov and the Shevatim’s spiritual influence and proximity. To make matters worse, they grew up in Egypt, which was spiritually desolate and a place where impurity was especially rampant (see Rashi Lechi Licha 12:19). Furthermore, they grew up in a palace with all of the money, secular education, and temptations imaginable at their disposal. Their surroundings were a spiritual wasteland. This made their mitzvos all the more of a rare commodity and were therefore even more precious to Hashem than those of the Shevatim’s **.

Living Inspired

The reason why Yaakov specifically chose Ephraim and Menashe to be our role models, and why we bless our children to be like them, is because they embodied this important concept that a mitzvah is of infinitely greater value when performed in a setting where mitzvah observance is a rarity. Yaakov knew that future generations would go through years and years of exile, and that each generation would be a little less perfect than the generation before them (Yiridas HaDoros). He also understood that this recession in spiritual vibrancy may leave later generations feeling discouraged and feeling that their “small” spiritual accomplishments wouldn’t make much of a difference any more. By instructing us to bless our children to be like Ephraim and Menashe, Yaakov intended to remind us that the reality is quite to the contrary; In fact, the less vibrant Jewish practice becomes, and the more temptations and distractions we are surrounded by, the MORE precious even our smallest mitzvos become to Hashem.

 The rarer a valuable commodity is, the greater its value becomes. A recent study conducted by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs concluded that there are only 14.5 million people alive today who are Jewish. However, an even more staggering statistic is that of the 14.5 million Jews, they found that only 850,000 people in our entire nation consider themselves Torah observant ***! Jews like you and I who are even aware of Hashem’s will, let alone trying to follow it, are such a rarity! Therefore, in a very real sense, our mitzvos count more now than ever before.

 May we always be consciously aware of the tremendous opportunity that we have by being Torah Jews in this generation, and always realize how proud Hashem is of even our smallest mitzvos that we do in today's world.


*- The famous mashgiach of the Mir yeshiva in Poland, until his death in 1936.

**- This is also why we bless our daughters to be like the Matriarchs. Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah. They did not grow up surrounded by spirituality nor were their parents spiritual Patriarchs or Matriarchs. In fact, the majority of them grew up in the close proximity of deeply wicked people. Therefore, like Ephraim and Menashe, their mitzvos were all the more of a rare commodity and were therefore especially precious to Hashem.

***- Http://www.jcpa.org/dje/articles2/demographics.htm