Saturday, January 17, 2009

More thoughts on Vayechi

Both Yaakov and Yosef, through their burial instructions, wish to encourage their family to await a return to Israel rather than assimilating in Egypt. But they do so in very different ways.

Yaakov makes a point of being buried immediately in Hevron, in the family burial cave, with as much of the family as possible attending the funeral. In contrast Yosef was buried in Egypt, but made his family promise that when they eventually left Egypt they would take his body with them for an Israeli burial.

Aside from the practical issues that might have impelled these two different types of burial, it seems Yaakov and Yosef were using different methods to convey the message of the importance of returning to Israel. Yaakov's impressive funeral leaves an indelible impression of the effort worth going to to return to Israel. In contrast, Yosef's funeral is much less impressive. But his temporary tomb in Egypt is a constant, if subtle, reminder that there is unfinished business and eventually everyone would need to return home.

These two burials represent two different kinds of leadership. One can be a kind of distant lighthouse signalling a clear direction to lost people. Or one can live among those people, sending a less clear message but through one's proximity exerting a more constant influence.

On every issue of public policy we must decide: Which of these ways is preferable?

(the above is from a "post" by Tzviel Gantz and Tomer Mevorach, in last week's Gush Daf Kesher)

And it was after these events, that it was told to Yosef saying "Behold your father is sick", and he took his two sons with him - Menashe and Efraim. (48:1)

Something is missing from this verse. It omits the central event - that Yosef goes to visit his father. Instead it tells us just one detail of that event - that the children came too. Why?

I think the answer is that the Torah does not tell us things that are obvious. Knowing Yosef's character, saying that he is informed of his father's sickness is equivalent to saying that he will then visit his father. So there is no need to mention this separately. Only the detail of bringing the children, which is not obvious, must then be mentioned.

Yosef's behavior, as pointedly not described in this verse, can be a model for our own behavior. Often when confronted with moral challenges we choose correctly, but only after a period of vacillations and doubts. That was not the level of Yosef, nor the level which we should aspire to. When it comes to mitzvot such as visiting the sick, our help should be instinctive and without hesitation. It should literally go without saying that we help out, just like it went without saying that Yosef would help out. If we notice any hesitation and laziness in this regard, it shows that our sense of empathy is incomplete and we must work to strengthen and encourage it.

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