Parshas Vayechi - In a Single Moment

By BJLife/Reb Dovid Fink

Posted on 12/20/18

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
Dr. Shapsy Tajerstein, DPM - Podiatry Care.
(410) 788-6633

Parshas Vayechi represents the culmination of creation, the end of Sefer Breishis.  The world and its teva are in place, Avraham Avienu forms his Bris with Hashem, thus beginning the Jewish people and Avraham’s children lead to the birth and forming of the Shivtei Yisroel – the 12 Shevatim.  Indeed, much of the Parsha centers around Yaakov’s brachos to his sons.  Perhaps most fitting, within the brachos we find a telling piece of musar, one as applicable today as it was then, some three thousand years ago.

While much commentary has been devoted to the contents of each Bracha, perhaps the most stunning is the “blessing” given to Shimon and Levy.  The “bracha” given to Shimon and Levy is unique in many respects.  First, they are the only brothers whose “blessing” is a combined one – that is to say neither has their own special pasuk or pesukim.  They are almost addressed as a single unit.  Second, the “bracha” is rather disheartening and chilling.  Their wrath is overtly cursed by Yaakov and they are plainly called to task for their improper behavior in killing Shechem.  Finally, Yaakov delivers the remedy for their conduct and declares that they must be split up in Eretz Yisroel so as not to egg each other on in the future. 

It is no wonder that Yaakov addressed Shimon and Levy together.  Until this point they appeared to always act in unison, with one mind, one heart and unity of purpose.  Shimon and Levy attacked and massacred Shechem with apparently little or no involvement from their other brothers. (Vayishlach 34:25)  Rashi, in our parsha (49:5) further explains that it was Shimon and Levy who wanted to kill Yoseph before Reuven intervened with the suggestion to throw him into the pit and Yehuda ultimately encouraged selling him to the Yishmaelim.  Yaakov saw them as a combined force and therefore knew they must be split up to break their damaging influence on each other.  Indeed, the harshest criticism is reserved not for Shimon and Levy personally, but rather for their wrath and misuse of weaponry.

The Musar however comes from the course of history that would take shape after this most humbling dressing down by Yaakov.  Shimon and Levy, brothers in every way could not have taken more divergent paths from this point onward.   Shimon and Levy, the extremists, prone to act on their impulses, were never heard from as a unit again.  Shimon, for the most part, continues in many ways on a destructive course while Levy quickly becomes the standard bearer for Torah and Klal Yisroel.

Levy is spared the shibud Mitzrayim.  While Bnei Yisroel is enslaved, Levy lives outside of the slavery learning Torah.  Moshe, Ahron and Miriam are born to Levy’s daughter Yocheved and grandson Amram.  Moshe becomes Klal Yisroel’s greatest Navi and teacher, Ahron is granted the Kehuna for himself and his descendants and Miriam Haneveya is Zocheh to have Malchus Bais Dovid  as her direct descendant.  Levy is further granted special status as the Kohanim were to perform the Avodah in the Mishkan and later the Beis Hamikdash with the Levyim assisting them and singing shira.  Levy’s path after Yaakov’s bracha is impressive indeed. 

The path of shevet Shimon is much more clouded.  Shimon’s next prominent appearance is with his son, Zimri.  At the end of parshas Balak, Zimri openly champions for Bnei Yisroel to intermarry with Midyan.  Zimri goes so far as to mock Moshe Rabbeinu by pointing out that Moshe is married to a Midyanite woman while “denying” them to the rest of B’nei Yisroel.  Zimri then takes his loathsomeness to a new level by openly taking Kuzbi, a Midyanite woman, for all to see.  Indeed, in Zos Habracha, shevet Shimon is the only shevet not to receive a bracha from Moshe Rabbeinu prior to his death.  Rashi explains that it was on account of Zimri that this was so.  Not only is Shevet Shimon conspicuous for its overt misconduct but also stands alone as the only shevet who never had a Shofet or Melech come from it.  The Yalkut Shimoni at the beginning of parshas Shoftim states specifically that no leader could ever come from Shimon on account of Zimri.

Shimon and Levy, the closest of brothers united against all, now stand at opposite sides of the spectrum.  Levy, the undisputed leader of Klal Yisroel, Shimon destined to forever be denied any leadership position within Klal Yisroel. How did this happen and what can we learn from it?

The Maaseh of Zimri is indeed pivotal in its illustration of how this occurred.  Shimon took the Musar of Yaakov Aveinu and rejected it.  He felt that he could not deny what he innately was - a radical - unwilling to control his anger and impulses.  Levy, on the other hand, took Yaakov’s Musar and fundamentally changed who he was and how he lived.  When Zimri the son of Shimon takes Kuzbi, who is it that kills him and won’t stand by for such a desecration?  Pinchas, Ahron’s grandson of shevet Levy. The separation is complete; the unity which formerly existed between these brothers is now a great divide. 

In order to grasp the implications of this lesson we must take a step back and gain some perspective on who Shimon and Levy were at the time Yaakov delivered his bracha.  These two brothers were well over 60 years old at the time.  They had fought wars, raised families and recognized their special status as members of the Shiftei Yisroel.  They were both quite set in their ways, even certain in the correctness of them.  Yet one of them, Levy was determined and able, after hearing the Musar of Yaakov, to fundamentally change who he was and how he lived.  Levy, still retained his Kanoyis, as illustrated by his descendant Pinchas, but he learned to only act on it L’sheim Shamayim.  Shimon chose to reject Yaakov’s musar and let his baser instincts take him wherever they led.  That lesson was passed down to Zimri and ultimately through his shevet ledorei doros.  This is why Shimon was forever denied leadership.  One who cannot see the error in their ways cannot lead.

A more profound and powerful musar is difficult to find.  Simply put, one is never too old nor is it ever too late to change one’s ways.  Any one of us can recognize a failing, even one intrinsic to our personality, and resolve to change it in an instant.  Our ability and openness to do so can completely change the course of our lives, the lives of our families and that of those who come after us. 

May Hashem grant us the insight to recognize our shortcomings, the strength to correct them and the willingness to do so.