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Friday, December 21

The Weekly Shtikle - Vayechi

Yesterday, 12 Teves, was the 11th yahrtzeit of Rabbi Joseph Schechter of Ner Yisrael. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Yoseif ben Eliezer Z'ev.

At the beginning of this week's parsha (47:29), Yaakov asks his son, Yoseif, for a favour, to bring his body back to Eretz Yisrael and bury him with his forefathers. Yoseif has no objections and agrees immediately. However, Yaakov then asks Yoseif to swear to him to that effect. Yoseif was Yaakov's dear and trusted son. Did he really have so little trust in him that he needed him to swear that he would heed his word?

It seems that Yaakov made Yoseif swear not out of mistrust but out of concern that Yoseif would run into problems getting permission to leave Egypt as, indeed, he did. Yoseif requests permission to bury his father and Paroah's answer is (50:6) "Bury your father as he made you swear that you would." Rashi goes into even greater detail explaining that if not for this vow, Paroah would not have let Yoseif go. Paroah actually insisted that Yoseif renege on his vow. However, Paroah himself had made Yoseif promise not to reveal that he knew only seventy languages while Yoseif knew leshon haKodesh in addition to the seventy languages. Yoseif countered that if he was to renege on his father's vow, he would then renege on the vow that he made to Paroah. Yaakov had the foresight to realize that Paroah would not be happy with his right-hand man leaving the country and so he provided this vow as a means to help Yoseif leave.

The aforementioned exchange between Yoseif and Paroah is rather puzzling. Is it possible that Yosef retorted with such a threat? Paroah was the most powerful man in all of Egypt and would not be expected to tolerate such insubordination. I heard an explanation of Yoseif's words from my father which I later saw in Birkas Peretz from The Steipler Rav. Yoseif was really telling Paroah that a person naturally feels an obligation to honour a promise. The vows a person makes are sacred to him. The breaking of a promise destroys this sacredness. Yoseif was simply warning Paroah that breaking his word to his father would have a subconscious effect on him. The promises he made will lose their sacredness in his mind and that might ultimately lead to the inadvertent disclosure of Paroah's secret. Paroah, realizing the lesson that Yosef was teaching, accepted his argument and allowed him to fulfill his vow.

Yoseif is often referred to as Yoseif HaTzadik for his many righteous deeds. However, he clearly made a point of not keeping this righteousness to himself. A careful analysis of his various interactions in Mitzrayim shows that he was always trying to teach valuable lessons in life by simply leading by example. And the Torah seems to testify that it worked, to some degree. Immediately upon his arrival in Mitzrayim, it is stated, (39:3) "and his master saw that HaShem was with him." Rashi writes that Yoseif would often invoke the name of Heaven. And his master certainly took notice. As the first man of galus, Yoseif was the quintessential light unto the nations to which we should all aspire.

Chazak, chazak, venischazeik!

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

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