“You Win, You Luz” Parashat Vayechi 5775

Parashat Vayechi is different than all other Parshiot in that it is a “closed” Parasha: there is no space between the first word of the Parasha and the last word of the previous Parasha[1]. Rashi offers two explanations for this phenomenon and in this shiur we’re going to zoom in on the second one: Yaakov wanted to reveal to his sons the date of the redemption but his power of prophesy were suddenly lost (in Hebrew “closed”). It seems that Rashi is referring to an episode later in the Parasha where Yaakov calls his sons together, telling them [Bereishit 49:1] “Gather around and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days”. But instead of telling his sons what will happen, he psychoanalyses them. For instance, he tells Reuven that he is [Bereishit 49:4] “unstable as water”. Levi and Shimon are told [Bereishit 49:7] “Cursed be their wrath for it is mighty, and their anger because it is harsh.” Rashi identifies Yaakov’s change in plans with his inability to tell his sons what he had planned on telling them.

Why did Hashem prevent Yaakov from revealing the date of the end of days? My Rav and my Teacher, Rabbi Silberman, offers a beautiful explanation. The prophet Isaiah describes the future redemption with the words [Isaiah 60:22] “In its time I will hasten it”. This seems to be a contradiction in terms. Either the redemption will occur at some pre-ordained time or it will be hastened and will occur earlier than planned. The Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin [98a] explains this contradiction by teaching that if Am Yisrael merit then the redemption will be hastened. But if worse comes to worse and we do not merit redemption, Hashem has promised that He will still redeem us at some date in the future known only to Him. Rabbi Silberman explains that Yaakov wanted to reveal to his sons the “in its time” redemption. Hashem saw this as a horrible accusation against Am Yisrael – that we would never be able to refine our deeds to a point that we would hasten the redemption. And so Hashem “hangs up” on Yaakov.

Rabbi Silberman’s explanation can illuminate an enigmatic conversation that Yaakov has with Joseph. Yaakov becomes ill and calls Joseph to his bedside, telling him that he wants to bless Joseph’s sons before he dies. Yaakov begins the conversation with a seemingly unrelated preface [Bereishit 49:3-4]: “Hashem appeared to me in Luz, in the Land of Canaan, and He blessed me. And He said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and cause you to multiply, and I will make you into a congregation of peoples, and I will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting inheritance.’” What does this preface have to do with the issue at hand?

When studying Torah, it is always a good rule to look up references. Very often, reading the references in their context can give us a deeper understanding. When did Hashem appear to Yaakov in Luz? It turns out that Hashem appeared to Yaakov in Luz not once, but twice. The first time is when Yaakov is on his way to an extended exile in Aram, where he has been told to hide out with his Uncle Lavan until his brother, Esav, calms down. Yaakov falls asleep and Hashem appears to him in a famous dream in which Yaakov sees a ladder leading to the heavens with angels going up and down its rungs. When Yaakov awakens from his slumber [Bereishit 28:19] “he named the place Bet El, but Luz was originally the name of the city”. The second time Hashem appears to Yaakov at Luz finds Yaakov on his way home after his Aramean exile [Bereishit 35:6-9]: “Yaakov came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan that is Bet El, he and all the people who were with him… And Hashem appeared again to Yaakov when he came from Padan Aram and He blessed him.” It is interesting to note that both times that Hashem appears to Yaakov in Luz, He bestows upon Yaakov the same two blessings: [1] Yaakov will have many children and [2] he will inherit the Land of Canaan. At the first revelation at Luz, Hashem tells Yaakov [Bereishit 28:13-14] “The land upon which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants. And your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth…” And at the second revelation at Luz, Hashem tells Yaakov [Bereishit 35:11-12] “Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a multitude of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come forth from your loins. And the land that I gave to Avraham and to Yitzchak, I will give to you and to your descendants after you”.

There is a seminal difference between the two revelations at Luz. At the first revelation, Hashem takes the initiative. Yaakov is completely passive. He lies down to sleep and he is surprised by a prophetic dream. The order of Hashem’s blessings reflects this Divine initiative: Yaakov is first promised that he will inherit the Land of Israel and only then is he promised many children. Isn’t this counterintuitive? It would seem that the first blessing should be for Am Yisrael to multiply, because in order to capture and settle their homeland, a nation must have necessary assets, specifically, a population large enough to fight wars and to support an economic infrastructure. However, when the initiative comes from above, something the Kabbalists call “it’oreruta d’l’ayla”, the laws of nature are temporarily suspended and underpopulated nations can miraculously win wars and maintain a booming economy. Referring back to the two different types of redemption, it is clear that this Divine revelation corresponds to redemption “in its time”.

At the second revelation, it is Yaakov who takes the initiative [Bereishit 35:7]: “He built there an altar and he called the place El Bet El, for there Hashem had been revealed to him when he fled from before his brother Esav”. Only after Yaakov builds the altar does Hashem appear to him. Yaakov first calls out to Hashem, and then Hashem responds to Yaakov’s call. Here the order of Hashem’s blessings reflects the human initiative: Yaakov is first promised a multitude of children and only afterwards is he promised that he will inherit the Land of Israel. Where the initiative comes from man, something the Kabbalists call “it’oreruta d’l’tata”, the laws of nature have dominion and underpopulated nations must earn their national and economical freedom with blood, sweat, and tears. Referring back to the two different types of redemption, it is clear that this revelation corresponds to a “hastened” redemption.

To which revelation at Luz is Yaakov referring when he speaks to Joseph from his death-bed? The answer can be found by looking at the order of Hashem’s blessings: “Behold, [First] I will make you fruitful and cause you to multiply… and [then] I will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting inheritance”. Yaakov is giving Joseph critical information: My powers of prophecy were temporarily taken from me because I gave too much credence to Hashem’s first revelation at Luz. I was mistaken. We hold the keys to our own redemption. Denial of this fact will result in years of unnecessary exile.

How can we redeem ourselves? We are who we are, either through nature or nurture, and most of us are not going to make major life-altering changes. The thing is that we don’t have to make major life-altering changes, and this is the message that Yaakov gives his sons. Reuven is “unstable as water”. That can be a bad thing – indecision is one of the greatest causes of sin. But it can also be a good thing: Instability means that a person will never become so entrenched in his lifestyle that he cannot make necessary changes. Shimon and Levi are ultra-passionate. It was their passion that enticed them to kill an entire town after the town chieftain had raped their sister. But this same passion made the Tribe of Levi the obvious choice to serve in the Beit HaMikdash and the Tribe of Shimon to serve as teachers of Torah. Yaakov’s message is that a person’s past does not determine his future. If we want to bring the end of days, then we must find a way to use our G-d-given talents to draw ourselves closer to redemption.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5775

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Nechemiah Uriel ben Tzipora Hadara

[1] All other Parshiot either begin a new line or begin after a white space nine letters wide or more.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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