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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayechi

Cover Your Eyes To See Clearly

171
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"But as for me, when Rachel died, I buried her on the road to Efrat-Bet Lechem, rather than in Bet Lechem."

Yakov, on his death-bed, makes this confession to son Yosef. But why does he do it? Is he trying to "get this off his chest," to apologize to Yosef before he dies for the seeming slight done to his mother? Or is it because he feels a bit chutzpadik asking Yosef to take his body all the way back to Israel for a proper burial, when all he did was inter Rachel "on the road" and not in Bet Lechem (or Chevron)?

Another question: When Yakov finally reunites with his long-lost son, Chazal say Yosef hugged Yakov & cried, while Yakov "said the Shma." Huh? What does THIS mean?

Finally, when Hashem appears to Yakov – after a 22-year lapse in contact between them - & informs him of his family's impending descent into Egypt, the pasuk says: "And G-d spoke to Yisrael in a night-vision & said, ‘Yakov, Yakov.’ Why the inconsistent mix of the two names "Yisrael" & "Yakov?" And while we are at it, why the added promise of Hashem: "Yosef will place his hand on your eyes." What does that mean?

To answer all these questions, I suggest the following:

For two decades, Yakov has not communed with Hashem. His depression – but mostly his anger – has blocked his power of prophecy, which can only function in an environment of spiritual equilibrium. He has felt that G-d must have a "cruel side," to take his beloved Yosef away after all the many trials he has undergone. from Esav to Lavan to Dina. But now, when told that Yosef is alive, the veil lifts & "Yakov’s spirit returns to him."

And so, when he finally sees Yosef in the flesh, he covers his eyes & says (essentially to himself, Yisrael): "Shma Yisrael, Hashem Elokenu, Hashem Echad." A mortal’s vision is "shortsighted," that is, we cannot see the "big picture" & understand that everything in life is directed by G-d’s hand, ultimately for a good purpose. There is only ONE G-d, who at times is strict, at times merciful, but always is in control at the helm. The personal "Yakov" (or any one of us mere mortals) may not always grasp this reality; but the universal "Yisrael," who represents the Jewish people through the ages, can indeed, in retrospect, see this totality of connected events.

In a sense, Yosef has truly "put his hand" on Yakov's eyes. The survival of Yosef has allowed Yakov to re-evaluate his mournful view of G-d and justice. Now he can say - with eyes covered - "I never perceived that all these things in my life could have resulted in such a happy ending, with all the family gathered together, alive and healthy. But I see it clearly now!"

At the end of his life, Yakov shares this life-lesson with Yosef. He tells him: "Do not think that I slighted your mother Rachel. G-d ordained that she be buried on the road where our descendants, exiled to Babylonia, will pass. Do you know why? Because there she will plead for Hashem to be merciful with our people & return them to Israel. She will cry out: ‘G-d, You are angry because Your people placed a rival, an idol, in the Bet HaMikdash. But I, too, had a rival – my sister, Leah - yet I forgave her, & we reconciled. So I ask You to do the same with Am Yisrael.’ And Hashem will give in to her plea. THAT is why she is buried where she is, in waiting for a moment that will only come many hundreds of years from now."

Like Yakov, Yosef comes to understand that there are no "random" events in the universe, that everything happens for a reason. Now he, too, can say the Shma with the right focus and kavana.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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