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Parasha No. 12
Vayekhi: “He lived”

Bereshit (Genesis) 47, 28 - 50, 26


Spontaneous, disinterested charity towards the poor "gemilut hassadim"
Plan
1st Level, for everyone

1. The themes of the parasha
2. Trust in men
3. Spontaneous, disinterested charity, gemilut hassadim
4. The man who represents this quality incarnate
5. Strengthening onself
6. Derekh eretz
7. The source of our strength
8. A wish for everyone
9. An exercise in integration
10. An exercise in memorization
11. Use the dictionary

2nd Level, for advanced students

1. What do the Talmud and the Midrash say about gemilut hassadim ?

2. What does Rashi say about
gemilut hassadim ?

Themes of the Parasha

- Yaakov asks his son Yosef to bury him in the Land of Israel.
- He blesses the two sons of Yosef, with the words that every father uses to bless his children on the eve of Shabbat (48, 15-16) for this blessing does not arouse jealousy among heirs despite their different positions.
- Yaakov assembles his children and reveals their destinies to them, he blesses them, praises them, and warns them to take heed of their faults. This is the true spiritual legacy of a father.
- It is said that these twelve children "are" the twelve tribes (thus we originate from them).
- Yaakov tells them where he wishes to be buried.
- Yaakov's death, his burial in Hebron, the city of our patriarchs and matriarchs.
- Yosef reassures his brothers and tells them not to fear from him after his father's death.
- Yosef announces his death and requests that his bones should be taken out of Egypt. He is buried in Egypt.

The end of a life has a very important place in this parasha which is the last in the book of Bereshit.

With this parasha, we end the study of one of the five books of the Torah. Since every word, letter, verse and chapter have significance, here is a table summarizing where we are:

Number of letters, words, …. in Bereshit and in all the Torah


LETTERS WORDS VERSES SECTIONS

Torah 304 805 79 847 5 845 187
Bereshit 78 064 20 512 1 534 50

Summary of the meaning of the book of Bereshit

From the beginning of the book of Bereshit:

1. We have witnessed many conflicts, defeats and trials centered around the fundamentals of existence;
2. We have learnt how to understand the meaning of these events;
3. We have learnt how to overcome these successive trials;
4. And, in the preceding parasha, we discovered the key which consists in a total, unequivocal trust in Hashem, the bitahon.

Trust in men

5. This parasha, the last of the book which completes the teaching of the Torah on these fundamentals of existence, teaches us about total trust in the goodness of others and assures us that the rule which will govern our relations with our fellow men will be gemilut hassadim. How do we learn this?

The end of a life is central to the whole of this parasha which is the last in the book of Bereshit.

Yaakov, in a state of absolute weakness and absolute dependence, which is the condition of each human being as he approaches the end of his life, begs his son to ensure him dignity in death and the only guarantee he has is that Yosef will be a good man.

He says:

* "If now I have found favor in thy sight, I pray thee" (what a humiliation to have to address one's children with so much care and caution....)

* "put thy hand under my thigh" (an act with which one swears to carry out what one promises, since a promise in itself is not a sufficient guarantee: another proof of Yaakov's total dependence)

* "And deal kindly and truly with me" (an appeal to the highest, most ideal qualities and duties of the other, that is of his son)

* "Bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt. But when I sleep with my fathers, thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying-place" in Hebron (finally, after his moving and painful entreaties, Yaakov is able to ask his request)

* he adds: "Swear unto me" (as if all this were not enough); and Yosef "swore unto him" (note that Yosef did not himself propose carrying out everything he said he would do).


Does this scene represent an episode that painful to witness, or does it represent an episode that shows the right way of ensuring an old person's dignity, by letting him express his wishes and desires?

These different options should be reflected on.

Spontaneous and disinterested kindness, gemilut hassadim

This scene teaches us a "midda" (an essential quality in human conduct): Yosef will carry out with "disinterested kindness" the request and desire of his weak and dying father: this is gemilut hassadim -- a kind and disinterested act that brings spiritual or physical comfort to another person and which one carries out without that person's knowledge, without his demanding it, and with no assurance whatsoever of recompense.

This is the sign of true love, and should be shown every time that someone is really in need of emotional, material, physical, moral or spiritual comfort. This mitzva consists in "acting towards someone else with kindness and integrity."

The prototypal act of gemilut hassadim
The most disinterested and prototypal act is the kindness one must show towards a dying person for there will be no words of thanks in return: veassita imadi hessed veemet (deal kindly and truly with, hessed veemet). This is explained in Bereshit Rabba 96 and by Rashi on Bereshit 47, 29: these last two words hessed veemet are part of 13 middot or characteristics of Hashem's (Shemot 34, 6-7); this shows to importance of this quality, and its divine character.

In this way, man resembles his creator who made him in His image and in His likeness.

Gathering one's strength (hithazekut)

Yaakov the patriarch senses his life is at an end. He is weak and exhausted: and a few moments later, he dies. In between, he teaches us a lesson in courage and shows us how to confront the small trials of life:

- he dares to ask his son to carry out his wishes, then he dares to take every precaution to ensure that that his wishes are respected.

- when his son Yosef comes to him, Yaakov is at his most spiritual, he is "Israel."

- moreover, he "strengthens himself" in the reflexive form of the verb veyithazek, and he sits up on his bed, he strives to be dignified, he wants his words to be respected, even if his physical strength is waning.

The Baal Haturim notes that even when the righteous, the tzaddikim, are weak, they strive to be strong, while bad people, the reshaim, like Haman (Book of Esther), let themselves go even when they are strong.

We should remember each one of these teachings when we confront the trials of life, which are but brief passages compared to this moment in Yaakov's life.

Derekh Eretz

Tractate Berakhot, page 32 b, elaborates on the quality of strengthening oneself (hithazekut) which is demanded by the Torah.

" it notes to what extent Moshe devoted himself to prayer, so much so that God said to him in the end, according to the midrash: "your words made me alive again," vehiyetani videvarekha. This is so, even if extensive and unending prayers are not recommended for they can exhaust the body.

" the Torah is a tree of life not for those who only study it, but for those who study and apply it, and keep to it (Mishle, Proverbs 3, 18).

" Ribbi Hama bar Hanina said that if a prayer has not be answered, it should be repeated, in keeping with Psalm 27, 14: "Wait on Hashem, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on Hashem" kave el Hashem hazek veyaametz libekha vekave el Hashem.

" the Sages taught that there are 4 things which require us to strengthen ourselves, inmour bodies and in our hearts (arbaa tzrikhim hizuk): the Torah, the mitzvot, prayer and derekh eretz, the courtesy and respect towards others. They cite the relevant verses: for derekh eretz it is II Samuel 10, 12: "Be of good courage and let us prove strong for our people" (hazak venithazak bead amenu).

This shows us

" that the quality of derekh eretz (courtesy and respect towards others as a social rule that must be strictly adhered to), which Yaakov teaches us at this moment, is neither easy or spontaneous;

" that it is essential since it is placed together with the Torah, the mitzvot and prayer;

" that our people have a vital need for this quality.


This self-strengthening (hithazekut) is therefore an imperative obligation for us, even if it requires unstinting efforts: the conduct of our patriarch Yaakov and the great efforts he made at the end of his life, at the moment of greatest weakness, should be an example to us.


The source of our strength

Some commentators believe that one of the symbols of the strength, fortitude and courage of our patriarchs is in the fact that their emblems are, for the most part, animals. Indeed, Tractate Sotah 11 b, notes that the Hebrew midwives in Egypt told Pharoah that their women give birth quickly and without difficulty because the Jewish people are like wild animals (hayot). E. Munk notes that the Jewish nation, according to Rabbi Shmuel Edels (the Maharsha, 1555-1631), survives "like forces of nature that have never been tarred by society and civilization," and like wild animals. This internal strength, which is constant and immovable by nature, is seen in the animal kingdom and rarely in humankind. It is a characteristic of the Jewish people.

We must wish, following the example of the patriarchs, that we too will know how to use this indomitable strength in the service of derekh eretz, even if it is arduous, as the text, which knows man well, teaches us.

One reason is enough to compel us to do so: it is that our people need this strength, as is written in II Samuel 10, 12,…and God himself needs humankind as he told Moshe (Berakhot 32 b): "you made me alive again through your words," vehiyetani videvarekha.


A wish for everyone

That we may say, all of us, at the end of a life together, like Yosef at the end of this parasha, after receiving the teaching of his father:

I received the teaching of Yaakov avinu, I listened to it, I practiced it throughout my live.

It would then be much easier to live for the needy, if one adhered to this ethos which is a fundamental tenet of Judaism, and is taught throughout the Book of Bereshit.

I was able to write this commentary because I received this teaching through the example of my masters. This is what is called in Judaism the indispensable shimush, which means the study of Torah through the observation of a master who has understood the different levels of knowledge and who puts them into practice as much as he studies them. It is a gift to learn through such a person how to harmonize the different levels of knowledge, how to understand and apply them. My gratitude and affection for these modest and devoted masters is unbounded.

They are many in Judaism who teach gemilut hassadim in this way, who "run after the needy" as is written in our texts, and who give them what they need, at great cost to themselves.

It is forbidden to teach only Torah, to teach it only in theory, without teaching shimush, its application.

May all the good that comes out of this study return as a blessing to the men and women who taught me the importance of this midda, through their lives and especially their quiet way of carrying out this midda. They understood the meaning of the silence which reigns over the Song of Songs, Shir Hashirim. The heart knows and understands even if it cannot see and cannot be seen, halev yodea umistakel bo af al pi she eino nire klal (Zohar Shir Hashirim).

Exercise in integration

In summary, we must try to understand the teachings of the parasha in relation to our own lives:

Personal question:

Do we devote anonymously (for this is required) a part of our time, our money, our thoughts to gemilut hassadim ? Do we give, without counting, our time, money, possessions simply because we see that a person is needy, will never obtain them and is in danger of his life.

This is a duty for all Jews. It is not a luxury to be indulged in by the "rich and those who find happiness in giving." It is a fundamental duty and a fundamental basis of functioning of the world in which we have been invited by Hashem and He himself gives to us benevolently.

And do we dare to do it, particularly when we know it is difficult, complicated, that it is hard to part with something, that the other person may not appreciate it, may not understand, may never know, but simply because it is a duty and because it is critical for the other person?

Clearly this Jewish way of behaving will never be understood and will seem strange and suspect, even causing difficulties for it is not the norm in a cruel world which despises those who do not follow the rules of a society based on success, but follow the benevolent rules of Avraham, Hashem and Judaism. It will even happen that those who live this way will be attacked, as when Jews are attacked for carrying the Torah for it is seen as a symbol of reproach and humiliation of others, and it is true that others do not often behave morally.

The argument most often used against those who give, whether individual Jews or the Jewish people, is that they wish to dominate or to create dependency.

The view from the other side

It could be that Hashem places each of us, in turn, in the position of a person who is in absolute need of gemilut hassadim, as Rashi notes on Bereshit 29, 11 and 43, 20. This is a way of making us sensitive to the needy, to being totally dependent on Hashem and of letting others show this midda towards us. Nonetheless, the suffering is intolerable, and this is the trial which the patriarchs, David and Job all endured.

It is also a supreme quality to be able to be humble and to accept help without being aggressive to those who themselves may feel humiliated in giving, in an unequal relationship.

Exercise in memorization

"veassita imdi hessed veemet
deal kindly and truly with me" (Bereshit 47, 30).

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2nd Level

for advanced students
who will refer to the sources

What do the Talmud and the Midrash say about gemilut hassadim ?

1. Its nature and importance

" together with tzedaka, it is equal in weight to all the mitzvot put together (Tosefta Pea, 4).
" it is dearer to the heart of Hashem (haviva) than tzedaka (Yerushalmi Pea 1).
" it is the Torah from the beginning to the end (Talmud Sotah 14 a)
" the world is based on it (Bereshit Rabba 8)
" the world rests on 3 things (the Torah, the sacrifices-prayers) and gemilut hassadim (Pirkei Avot 1).
" this is what Pharoah's daughter Bitia did when she saved Moshe, and for this she deserves more than him (Shemot Rabba 1).

2. This is what defines the children of Israel:

-- mercy (rahamim), the ability to admit one's faults (mitbayeshim) and gemilut hassadim (Tractate Yevamot 79 a).


3. How to carry it out ?

-- the way to do gemilut hassadim is to run after the needy, shekhen darko shel gomel hassadim larutz ahar dalim (Tractate Shabbat 104 a).

4. And if one doesn't ?

-- he who devotes himself only to Torah (without gemilut hassadim), is as one who does not have a God (Tractate Avodah Zarah).

5. The effect of gemilut hassadim

" it brings happiness even in the midst of sorrows (Tractate Avodah Zarah 5 b).
" it will help to prevent suffering during the period of the coming of the Mashiah (Tractate Sanhedrin 98 b).
" it makes one live in the shadow of God (Yerushalmi Taanit 4).
" it brings the rain of life to the world (Yerushalmi Taanit 3).
" with tzedaka, it brings dignity (kavod), succor, and life itself (Tractate Kiddushin 40 a).
" it prolongs life (Yerushalmi Pea 1).

**********

What does Rashi say about gemilut hassadim ?

Refer to Rashi's commentaries on the following verses of the Torah and study them together with the text of the Torah:

" Bereshit 18, 16: "it is the power of giving to the poor which transforms divine anger into rahamim" (mercy).
" Bereshit 28, 20: "he who is reduced to begging for bread, is called abandonned," (commentary on Yaakov's vow: if God will give me bread to eat).
" Bereshit 29, 11: "a poor person must be considered as a dead person" (thus to leave him in need, is to kill him). Rashi elaborates on the same idea for Shemot 4, 19.
" Shemot 22, 24-26: read this passage and all of Rashi's commentary which shows how we can easily do mortal harm to a poor person and how a small slight can eventually completely destroy him.
" Vayikra 25, 35: this is the same idea in reverse ; when poverty erupts, we have the power to stop it easily (and thus, the obligation) and if we do not do this, the situation will then become irreversible and we will be responsible for causing the downfall of the poor person, for we could have stopped it. The poor person knows that we have the power to save him and he suffers from this, and looks on those who are indifferent and feel no guilt as people who are killing him, and this is true.
" Bamidbar 5, 10: he who does not give the maasar (the obligatory 10% of one's earnings and possessions), has kept it for himself (and would seem to profit by it), but his fortune will in fact depreciate by 10% in other ways.
" Bamidbar 29, 11: (commentary on: I will give you my covenant of peace) "Just as we forcefully express our gratitude towards someone who has done us good." This teaches us that a poor person who has been helped is obligated not to be aggressive towards his benefactor but must show the same genuine gratefulness as towards Hashem. Why? Because it is Hashem who gives to us and because it is from Him that we received everything, so that everyone would have the opportunity of giving freely and generously according to each person's means. The aggressiveness that often emerges later, under the pretext of not wanting to be dependent (to which we referred above) is understandable psychologically in people who have been hurt and misunderstood the relationship, but it is an injustice and a direct act of ungratefulness towards Hashem.) This is also an important teaching.
" Read Devarim 15, 7 to the end of the section and Rashi's commentaries:

" "many hesitate, many begin then stop giving;"
" "as He is merciful, rahum, so must you be, and as he does gemilut hassadim, so like Him, you must do."
" "first give to the poorest… and the poor person who is near to us has precedence over the poor person who lives far to receive our gifts."
" "if you do not give to the poor, you will become poor."

" Devarim 15, 8: "thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him" (this counters the way in which we often persuade ourselves not to give, by claiming that it is against Judaism because Judaism teaches us to be balanced and cautious.)

The meaning of success in Judaism

It is clear that success in Judaism has little in common with the modern concept of "success," which is based on the vaunting of one's financial success and on boastful exhibitionism.

Success in Judaism is definitely not this: it consists in studying the example of the patriarchs who, rich or poor, according to what Hashem grants, conduct themselves in the image of Hashem and according to the obligatory law that one must help to end the suffering of the poor, with the greatest sensitivity.

This why when one gives, priority should be accorded to Torah institutions, for through their teaching they help to increase the number of those who give.

This is the reason why the great Sages of the Torah always condemned the financial excesses invested in marriage and bar-mitzva ceremonies, for these monies can be given to the poor without in anyway affecting the holy quality of these ceremonies, which are necessary and obligatory.


Refer to the study on dibbur hamathil in Lev Gompers.

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- Psychology and Repentance
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In french

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Dedication

Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

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