Parshas Vayechi - Disappointment is a Dirty Word

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 12/20/18

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
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When Yosef is told that his father is ill, he grabs his two sons and rushes to his father’s bedside. At that juncture Yaakov assures Yosef that these two sons that were born in Egypt prior to his arrival are to be treated as his very own and assured them a status as full-fledged שבטים, Tribes.

אפרים ומנשה כראובן ושמעון יהיו לי (בראשית מח ה), Efrayim and Menashe shall be mine like Reuvein and Shimon.

It would seem that the comparing of Efrayim and Menashe’s standing to that of Reuvein and Shimon is not specifically intended to equate them to Reuvein and Shimon per se but simply an example of two among the other brothers who are bona fide tribes, with Reuvein and Shimon, the first two born to Yaakov, as the natural choice.

The Baal HaTurim however discovers a fascinating gematria, claiming that these two sets of brothers have the exact numerical equivalent of 732!  

There is only one problem, the numerical value of ראובן ושמעון , comes up short by 1, and equals only 731.

The Kabbalists point out that there is a concept in the realm of authentic Torah numerology that one may add 1 for the כולל, entirety, representing the word(s) or concept as one ‘whole’ unit. This notion, they allege, is indicated in this exact verse. By adding 1 for its כולל, we arrive at 732.

It would seem from this numerical correspondence that perhaps there is indeed something fundamental about the parallel between these two groups of tribes specifically.

Another nagging question is why did Yaakov choose these two tribes as an illustration to Efrayim and Menashe of their becoming authentic tribes, since these two sons were later castigated by their father for their shortcomings?

In his blessing, Reuvein is taken to task by Yaakov for his impetuousness in having moved his father’s bed from the tent of Rachel after her demise and placing it in the tent of his mother Leah. It was this shortcoming that cost him his entitlement, as the firstborn, to a double share of his father’s holdings. Shimon, too, is reprimanded for his explosive anger having decimated the male populace of Shechem as a reaction to his sister being ravished by Chamor the son of Shechem.

That being the case, why would Yaakov select from among all his sons, ‘deficient’ ones as a paradigm for the inclusion of Efrayim and Menashe among the family of tribes?

Furthermore, why would Yaakov need at all to mention any of their names, he could have kept it simple by merely saying that his grandchildren,  Efrayim and Menashe, will be treated equally with his actual ‘sons’? Why the need for any enumeration at all?

Perhaps what Yaakov was seeking to convey was that he never viewed Reuvein or Shimon as a disappointment to him or as failures. He was as proud of them as of any of his children. The fact that he pointed out their mistakes wasn’t intended to be an expression of frustration, on the contrary, it was perhaps these two sons, who were so superior to the others, that they can healthily be directed to their errors without taking it personally or be offended. They relished Yaakov’s confidence and admiration in them that thus enabled them to lovingly accept his ‘rebuke’.

So often we small-minded individuals get frustrated with our children when we observe them not living up to our expectations of them and react disproportionately. We forget to see the ‘whole’ picture of who they are, the greatness they possess, the challenges they face, allowing our disappointment to cloud our perception of them.

Yaakov knew quite well the remarkable personas these two were and the sterling qualities they possessed. He intentionally sought to highlight them as representative of all their brothers. Only those who are truly cherished and valued by their parent can gladly be accepting of their mistakes as pointed out by so loving of a father.

Might that be the lesson of כולל, the notion of perceiving the whole essence of someone and not allowing ourselves to be blinded by their not living up to our expectations of them.

In Efrayim and Menashe becoming the eternal model for all children who are to be blessed, we are subtly taught by their equivalence to Reuvein and Shimon, that a father, who seeks to truly understand their child wholly, will never express disappointment in their child. Only then will a parent effectively educate a child in understanding their errors.

The names given to Reuvein and Shimon were based on the encouragement Leah, a wife who felt unappreciated and thus self-doubted her role as a loyal wife to Yaakov, sensed being directed to her from her Father in Heaven. She saw in the gift of Reuvein’s birth, כי ראה ד' בעניי, that G-d discerned her humiliation. When Shimon was born, again she expresses how, שמע ד' כי שנואה אנכי, G-d has heard I am unloved.

Perhaps these two children spur us to emulate the attributes of G-d, Who ‘sees’ and understands with absolute accuracy the anguish of His child, and ‘hears’ sympathetically the deep sadness and frustration of His beloved daughter.

A daughter of one of my dearest friends, who died in the prime of his life, exquisitely gave testament to her father at his funeral, that despite the challenges she may have faced at times and the not so perfect behaviors she exhibited as she grew up, she never once in her life ever sensed that her father was disappointed in her. It was that ability of her father to see, hear and understand her in conveying his admiration for who she was, that enabled her to accept his loving direction in becoming the wonderful wife and mother she has become to her family.

When we reflect these attitudes towards our children, seeing their wholeness and listening carefully to their feelings, we can be assured that the blessings we seek to bestow upon them to be likened to Efrayim and Menashe, will reach its fullest and greatest realization.


צבי יהודה טייכמאן