Perspective

parashas Vayechi 5782

“When Joseph saw.” – Genesis 48:17

When the time arrived for Jacob to give his blessings to his children, he began by blessing his two grandchildren, Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Because his father’s eyesight was dim, Joseph specifically arranged the children for the blessings: Manasseh, the older son, he placed toward Jacob’s right hand; the younger son, Ephraim, he placed toward Jacob’s left hand. He intended that the primacy is given through the right hand to the older son as would be the custom; however, Jacob changed his hands, placing his right hand on the head of Ephraim, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh.

“When Joseph saw” this rearrangement, he was displeased, and said, “Not so, my father, for this is the first-born; put thy right hand upon his head” (Genesis 48:18). Yet, his father explained, “‘I know it, my son, I know it; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; howbeit his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations’” (Genesis 48:19). Moreover, he established the tradition that Israel shall bless their children “saying: G-d make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh” (Genesis 48:20).

At that moment, Jacob was given prophetic insight: he foresaw the greatness of the descendants of the younger brother Ephraim. And, so, aided by the power of the Ruach HaKodesh, he was able to see beyond the expected scenario. Additionally, by instituting the blessings given to Jewish children, he has empowered us to accept ourselves, regardless of our status. While Joseph’s perspective is akin to our own commonplace understanding of events in our lives, the perspective of Jacob reaches higher towards an outcome even beyond expectations.

Furthermore, from another viewpoint, intending to place primacy upon Manasseh, whose name alludes to the verb “forget” (Genesis 41:51), Joseph was emphasizing putting his past sufferings behind himself. Yet, what we can learn by the name of Ephraim, is to be “fruitful” in regard to performing mitzvot (good deeds), so that we may flourish, despite our sufferings. For, it is not enough to put our past sins and negative character traits behind us (sur meira); we must also focus on holiness, through asei tov (doing good). “Turn from evil and do good” (Psalm 34:15).

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Shabbat Shuvah 5782

“And they shall say on that day, ‘Surely it is because our G-d is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us.'”

– Deuteronomy 31:17, JPS 1985 Tanach

“They will be intelligent enough to conclude that all the troubles which suddenly overtook them must be due to G-d having deliberately left their midst.”

– Or HaChayim on Deuteronomy 31:17, sefaria.org

The key word here in this commentary is “deliberately,” as if it is implied that the people realized that their own sins compelled G-d to abandon them. This is an important connection for them to make, whereas without recognizing their own complicity, would only have led to blame G-d for His abandonment of them, as if they had no part in the matter. Consider the attitude of some, in blaming G-d for harsh events in life, holding Him accountable for our suffering, without acknowledging the sins that created the distance between us and Him in the first place. The point being, that it is the wrong attitude to have, a spoiled mindset to think that we deserve better, despite our abandoning Him through our own misdeeds. And, yet, He is compassionate and merciful, inasmuch that hiding His face from us, He desires us to cry out with a heartfelt repentant stance, taking it upon ourselves, to return to Him, in all of our ways, in order to elicit His forgiveness. Thus, it may be seen in regard to what is sometimes called today “tough love,” for example when parents stop enabling their children who exhibit poor behavior, and, rather, deny them assistance, or any kind of monetary support until they correct their errant ways.

And, so, we do not understand G-d to be capricious: rather everything is ultimately designed for our benefit, even the chastisement that is placed upon us, when we go astray of G-d’s commandments. For nothing happens by chance in an ordered world, that is a world whose order is often above our own understanding. Any randomness that appears to occur is only based upon  a perspective that does not have the type of faith in H’Shem that accepts His sovereignty over all events in the world, as well as those that occur to us on an individual level. To understand that everything happens according to G-d’s will, or is permitted by Him, is to recognize His absolute sovereignty in all realms of life. Surely, He is not to blame when bad things happen to good people, for man is responsible for his own sin against his fellow man, and if G-d permits something bad to happen to us, it is for a reason, that we are to attempt to understand. Otherwise, we will fall prey to a lack of faith in Him as sovereign. Furthermore, to be angry at Him for the bad things in our lives is to deny His sovereignty over us. We must return to Him, especially as we feel compelled to do on Shabbat Shuvah (the Sabbath of Repentance), so that we do not hold any grudges against the very one whose wisdom soars above our own.

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