סדר ויחי

ועשית עמדי חסד ואמת אל נא תקברני במצרים

and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I beg you, in Egypt

Genesis 47:29

The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah) understands Jacob’s request of Joseph to mean that he did dnot want the Egyptians to use him as a medium of redemption, for it is written (Exodus 13:13) “וכל פטר חמור תפדה בשה” (and every firstling of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb). The Egyptians are compared to asses, as it is written (Ezekiel 23:20): “אשר בשר חמורים בשרם” (whose flesh is as the flesh of asses) while Jacob was compared to a lamb, as it is written (Jeremiah 50:17): “שה פזורה ישראל” (Israel is a scattered sheep).

Our master explained the Midrash with reference to the danger posed by the character trait of kindliness. Although this trait may lead a person to do good to others and to care for them, it may also lead a person to a forbidden desire to engage in immoral relationships and to consort with adulterers, the source of kindliness being an uncontrollable impulse, so that the Scripture (Leviticus 20:17), when mentioning one of the forbidden relationships, writes “חסד הוא” (it is a shameful thing). Now we, the Children of Israel, are רחמנים בני רחמנים (merciful ones descended from merciful ones). Nonetheless, we are very far removed from forbidden relationships, fleeing from them to the furthest extent possible, as required by the Torah which is called Truth.

This was the trait of Jacob, who took pride in saying about his first-born son (Genesis 49:3): “כחי וראשית אוני” (my might and the first-fruits of my strength). However, the Egyptians were licentious, lusting after forbidden relationships. But they were also good-hearted, so full of kindness that the Scripture writes (Deuteronomy 23:7): “לא תתעב מצרי כי גר היית בארצו” (you shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land), meaning that we should not abhor an Egyptian totally, despite his tendency to immoral conduct, because of his good side, having arisen to save our fathers who were strangers in his land, providing them refuge in their time of distress.

In making this request to Joseph, Jacob, understanding that the Children of Israel and the Egyptians shared the character trait of kindliness, was afraid that the Children of Israel might become dissolute like the Egyptians, deviating from the path of truth, the distinguishing character trait of Jacob. And once having stumbled, they might, God forbid, be unable to rise again. Was it not, in fact, just because they avoided illicit relationships that they were rescued from Egypt? This is what Jacob said to Joseph (Genesis 47:29) “ועשית עמדי חסד ואמת” (deal kindly and truthfully with me), as if saying to Joseph “perform kindness in a manner consistent with the Torah, which is truth.” Jacob then asked “אל נא תקברני במצרים” (bury me not in Egypt). By this request, Jacob meant that, his offspring, as long as they remained in Egypt, not abandon his trait of faithfulness by committing, as the Egyptians do, adultery, for then his hopes would be destroyed. How, then, would his descendants be any different from the Egyptians who are as kind-hearted and generous as they are?

This was the intent that the Midrash attributes to Jacob: “that the Egyptians should not use me as a medium of redemption.” He meant, in other words, that the Egyptians should not be able to say that the Children of Israel are, as are adulterous as they — “whose flesh is as the flesh of asses” – are, meaning that the Egyptians are licentious.

“And I am like a lamb.” The Midrash explains elsewhere that Israel is compared to a lamb, because, like a lamb, whose whole body shakes if one of its limbs is touched, if an Israelite is endangered, then the whole people are aroused, reflecting their trait of kindness, so easily awakened. However, they are also scattered, meaning that when it is necessary to remain aloof and detached, they have the self-control to resist temptation, exemplifying the traits of might (גבורה) and of restraint (צמצום). Israel is therefore called a scattered lamb. If they were just a lamb, then they could, God forbid, be exchanged for an ass, “וכל פטר חמור תפדה בשה” (for every firstling of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb). If so, how would these (the Israelites) be different from these (the Egyptians)? (שביבי אש)

חסד ואמת

kindly and truly

Genesis 47:29

Rashi comments:

Kindness and truth: the kindness shown to the dead is the “חסד של אמת” (kindness of truth) inasmuch as one cannot hope for any reward.

The Siftei Hakhamim writes that Rashi’s reference to the kindness shown to the dead was not meant to deny that kindness to the living could be completely disinterested, just that any kindness done without expectation of reward could be called “חסד של אמת” (kindness of truth). For Eliezer also said to the family of Rebecca (Genesis 24:49) “ועתה אם ישכם עושים חסד ואמת עם אדוני” (and now if you will deal kindly and truly with my lord) when asking them to send Rebecca without compensation or expectation of reward.

Apparently Rashi’s opinion is that only an act performed without expectation of any reward is an act of true kindness. But this is difficult because the Sages (Nedarim 83b) deduce from the verse (Ecclesiastes 7:2) “והחי יתן אל לבו” (and the living will lay it to heart) that the living should bury and eulogize the dead, so that they in turn will be buried and eulogized when they die. If so, the living do have an expectation of reward for their acts of mercy to the dead. Nor can one distinguish between an expectation that the beneficiary of the act of kindness will reciprocate or that third-parties will reciprocate, because in either case the one performing the kindness expects a reward, so his kindness is not truly disinterested (חסד אמתי). Even Joseph acted in this way when requesting that his brothers take his remains with them from Egypt.

It therefore seems to our master that, but for the words of Rashi, we could have said the opposite: that kindness refers to any act done with no expectation of reward. But if an act is done in the expectation of reward, it is not kindness (חסד) but truth (אמת) that is done only for the sake of compensation. Jacob therefore told Joseph that the act of kindness that he was requesting from him was not an act of pure kindness, but also an act of truth, because Joseph would eventually also have to request from his brothers that they take his remains with them when they left Egypt.

Receiving no immediate compensation, Joseph therefore performed an act of kindness, but it also had an aspect of truth (אמת), because he did hope for eventual compensation. Similarly, Eliezer, in saying, “if you will deal kindly and truly” with Abraham, meant that it would be a kindness to Abraham, because it was Abraham’s desire that Isaac marry a member of that family, but it was also “truth,” because what greater reward could they gain than to be related by marriage to Abraham who had been blessed by God with everything. (שביבי אש)

בנימין זאב יטרוף

Benjamin is a ravenous wolf

Genesis 49:27

Rashi comments:

He (Benjamin) is a wolf that will tear. He prophesied that the descendants of Benjamin would become rapacious in the future, for they (the Tribe of Benjamin) were told, as it is written (Judges 21:21) “וחטפתם איש את אשתו” (and seize each man his wife) after the incident of the concubine at Gibeah.

The Siftei Hakhamim writes that because every wolf tears, “יטרוף” is not an adjective modifying “wolf” (i.e., “a wolf that tears”). Rather, it is a verb whose subject is Binyamin. So the opinion of Rashi is that Benjamin is a wolf that will tear. And the Siftei Hakhamim should have elaborated further to say that if “יטרוף” were an adjective, the text would have been written in the present tense (טורף), not in the future tense (יטרוף).

Our master observed that there is a wonderful symbolism in this verse, because we know that when the children of Israel convened after the incident of the concubine of Gibeah to formulate a plan to allow the four hundred men of Benjamin to take wives from the other tribes, so that the tribe of Benjamin not be annihilated completely, allowing them to catch wives from the tribe of Ephraim. The reason that they designated the tribe of Ephraim was that Ephraim was descended from Joseph, the brother of Benjamin. But there was also a hidden reason for this, which is that Joseph had been supposed to have twelve sons like Jacob. But, as a result of being in Egypt, he only had two sons, not twelve. But those sons were restored in a spiritual sense by Benjamin through the birth of his ten sons, each of whom he named in memory of Joseph, as is explained well in the Midrash and in the kabbalistic books (ספרי חן), it being a kind of yibum (levirate marriage) to name the son in memory of a dead brother. Therefore, just as Benjamin restored the loss of Joseph by naming his sons in Joseph’s memory, so too at the time when the tribe of Benjamin was threatened with extinction, it was appropriate that he should claim his reward by catching wives from the tribe of Ephraim, son of Joseph.

This is what Jacob meant in his holy spirit by saying, Benjamin is a wolf, because he snatched the ten souls from the void and returned them to a place of holiness in the name of his brother. What is more, the numerical value of זאב is ten! But in the future Binyamin will tear (יטרוף) in the incident of the concubine of Gibeah, when he will receive his reward for what he did for Joseph.

According to this interpretation, we can well understand the words of the Ohr ha-Hayim ha-Qadosh about the verse (Genesis 30:23-24):

“ותאמר רחל אסף אלוקים את חרפתי ותקרא שמו יוסף לאמר יוסף ה’ לי בן אחר”

(Rachel said, God has taken away my reproach and she called his name Joseph saying may the Lord add to me another son.)

These are the words of the Ohr ha-Hayim:

The letter “א” is composed of one “ו” and two “י”s. She took one “י” from it, leaving one “י” and one “ו.” That is why she called him יוסף and not אסף. And the “י” which she took from Joseph, she gave to Binyamin, which is written with an extra “י.”

Rachel spoke correctly in saying that God had taken away her disgrace, Joseph being destined to have twelve sons like Jacob. But after seeing through the holy spirit that ten would be lost, she took a “י” from the “א” of Asaph and hid it in the name of Benjamin. This is why the Scripture says, “ ותקרא שמו יוסף” (she called his name Joseph) saying “יוסף ה’ לי בן אחר” (may the Lord add to me another son) who will retrieve the ten that were lost. (שביבי אש)

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