Torah Fax    

Friday - Shabbat, December 17 - 18  - Parshat VaYechi 

Torah Reading:Veyechi (Genesis 47:28 - 50:26)
Candle Lighting  4:11 PM
Shabbat ends 5:16 PM

Fast begins (12/17): 6:02 AM
Fast ends: 5:10 PM

Dual Morality

Our Parshah tells us that Jacob sensed that his end was near. He summoned Joseph and his two sons Menasheh and Ephraim to his bedside to bless them. When Joseph presents them to his father, he asks “Who are they?”     

How could it be that Jacob did not recognize his own grandchildren with whom he had spent the last seventeen years of his life and whom he most likely saw and interacted with on numerous occasions?

Rashi seems to have anticipated this question, and he therefore states:

“He attempted to bless them, but the Divine presence withdrew from him because of the wicked Jeroboam and Ahab, who were destined to be born from Ephraim, and Yehu and his sons [who was destined to be born] from Menasheh. [Jacob] said, “who are these?” i.e. “From where were these boys born, who are apparently unfit for blessing?" Jacob assumed that if such evil children will eventually be born from Menashe and Ephraim, there must be something wrong with their own lineage. Rashi continues: "Joseph said, 'with this,' showing [Jacob] his marriage deed and his Ketubah.”

In other words, according to Rashi, Jacob certainly recognized his grandchildren but he couldn’t fathom how his grandchildren appeared to have some unworthy trait hidden in their soul. He thought there must be something wrong with the way they were born. Joseph then assured his father that his children were indeed born of a proper Jewish marriage.

Rashi’s comment is difficult to understand.

First, why would the fact that wicked people centuries later would be the descendents of Menasheh and Ephraim deter Jacob from blessing them?

Second, haven’t we learned in an earlier narrative that G‑d judges people on their merits at the present moment and not on the basis of some future scenario? As Rashi told us, Yishmael was spared despite the argument of the angels that he should perish since in the future his descendents would harm the Jewish people, because G‑d judges us as we are at that moment of judgment, not on how things will unfold in the future. Why then would Jacob deprive his beloved grandchildren of a blessing on account of their evil descendents?

Third, why would the fact that Joseph showed him his marriage contract and Ketubah change anything? If they were not worthy of a blessing, as was evidenced by the departure of G‑d’s presence from Jacob when he sought to bless them, why would producing a marriage contract and Ketubah make a difference?

The fourth question we can ask—which will be the key to answering all of the questions—is why would he hold the realization of the evil descendents of Menasheh and Ephraim against them any more than holding it against Joseph and Jacob himself? When Jacob saw into the future and realized that these evil people would be their descendents, he had to know that they were also his own descendents. Yet, that did not faze him. Why? 

The answer is that Jacob knew that whatever evil would come from him was not of his own making; his actions could not have sown the seeds of such treachery associated with Jeroboam and Ahab. Likewise, having observed Joseph’s behavior he knew that Joseph was not responsible. The fact that the Divine presence departed from him convinced him that it was his two grandchildren whose behavior had somehow sown the seeds of the future evil. But Jacob had to dismiss that theory as well, since he was well aware of their righteousness. How could they have been the one’s to introduce the seeds of such unmitigated evil?

Jacob therefore concluded that the problem was not with his children per se, but rather with the way they were brought into the world. Something must be amiss with the marriage of Joseph to his wife. After all, Osnat, Joseph’s wife, was the daughter of Potiphar—not exactly a paragon of virtue—and she was given to him by Pharaoh, the leader of the world’s most morally depraved nation.

To allay these concerns, Joseph demonstrated that, on the contrary, his marriage with Osnat conformed to the highest standards of morality on two levels.

Morality or the lack of it expresses itself in two ways: First, morality defines the way we behave vis-a-vis G‑d. When a person engages in forbidden relationships such as incest or is promiscuous it may not be a crime against humanity but it is considered to be a moral abomination and an affront to G‑d. A marriage contract was designed to ensure that the marriage conforms to the standards of morality demanded by G‑d.

The second form of morality involves one’s relationship with others. Adultery and abuse are forms of immorality in the sphere of human relationships. The writing of a Ketubah was designed to ensure that the husband does not abuse his wife. To prevent a man from divorcing his wife and leaving her destitute, the Ketubah would force him to pay her a substantial amount. This would insure that he would either desist from divorcing his wife or would provide her with a means of survival. In addition, the Ketubah details all of the obligations a husband has to his wife and is a constant reminder of them.

By Joseph showing Jacob that he had in fact married his wife in a way that incorporated both forms of moral standards, he was demonstrating that there can be no connection between Joseph’s children and their evil descendents. The seeds for their extreme immorality must have been sown by some later individual(s) but not by Menasheh and Ephraim. Hence they were worthy of Jacob’s blessings.

The question still remains, why did the Divine presence leave Jacob when he sought to bless his two grandchildren? Since they were indeed not tainted, why would G‑d abandon Jacob at that time?

Perhaps, the departure of the Divine presence from Jacob was intended to compel Joseph to produce those documents and thereby strengthen the moral and spiritual position of Menasheh and Ephraim. Had Jacob proceeded to bless them at the outset without any hitches we would never have discovered the high standard that Joseph followed in his marriage with their mother—which was clearly above and beyond the requirements of that period, before the Torah was given at Sinai.

The concealment of G‑d’s presence was thus actually the impetus to reveal the greatness of Joseph and his sons and how worthy they were to receive Jacob’s special blessings. The darkness that ensued when Jacob lost his awareness of the Divine presence was the catalyst for greater light. Moreover, it brought to light the virtues of Joseph’s family who were born and bred in the morally depraved Egypt and yet were conceived and raised in the most refined and morally upright fashion.

The application of this story for our time is striking. We are at the tail end of the period of exile and stand poised to enter into the period of Redemption. As we stated in many of these messages, exile is defined not simply by the distancing of the Jewish people from their Land, but primarily by the alienation of G‑d from them. What happened to Jacob for a few moments—the Divine presence departing from him—was a harbinger of the future exile of the Jewish people.

The purpose of exile, Chassidic teachings inform us, is not merely a punishment for our misdeeds thousands of years ago. It is actually a period of concealment intended to introduce even greater light.

As we have seen with regard to Jacob’s taste of exile, it actually brought to light the superior moral level of Joseph’s children, and their worthiness of Jacob’s blessings. Similarly, the exile that we are in is intended to bring to light the greatness of the Jewish people and prepare them for G‑d’s greatest blessings in the Messianic Age. Notwithstanding the concealment of G‑d’s presence in exile, all of the pain and suffering, all of the forces of assimilation that threaten to undermine the integrity of the Torah’s value system, we have remained loyal to its tenets. The Jewish people who are referred to in the book of Psalms as “Joseph” can produce the marriage contract and ketubah, i.e. the teachings of the Torah that attest to the fidelity of the Jewish people to the principles of morality in both areas—in our relationship with G‑d and with our fellow human being. The darkness of exile will therefore give way to an infinitely greater light and the experience of G‑d’s infinite blessings.   

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The Talmud states, "The mitzvot will be annulled in future time." This means that the mitzvot in their present form will be of no account relative to the revelations of the future. The degree of Divine energy elicited by the performance of a mitzva today is infinitely inferior to the degree of Divine energy that will be elicited by the performance of a mitzva in the future. (From a Chasidic Discourse of Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch)