Tuesday, May 24, 2016

507 - Vayechi

When Yaakov blessed his children, Yosef received an extra measure of blessings: "The blessings of your father gavru al (lit. surpassed) the blessings of my fathers... let them be upon Yosef's head" (Bereishis 49:26). The Targum translates "gavru al" not as 'surpassed,' but rather to mean 'in addition.' Accordingly, the pasuk should be read, "The blessings of your father in addition to the blessings of my fathers (Avraham and Yitzchok)... should all come to rest upon the head of Yosef." Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, ibid.) comments, that Yaakov was informing Yosef that ultimately all blessings will come to rest upon the head of one who lives a life in accordance with the Torah, and he will not need to look elsewhere to find gratification.

The Ohr HaChaim (Bereishis 4:7) elaborates on this idea in his explanation of Hashem's response to Kayin's depression as a result of his sacrifice not being accepted by Hashem. "Hashem said to Kayin, 'Why are you annoyed and why has your face fallen? If you improve yourself you will be forgiven, but if you do not improve yourself then sin rests at the door.'" What did Hashem mean when asking Kayin why he was annoyed? Did he not have a good reason to be upset that his younger brother had found favor in Hashem's eyes while he did not? Additionally, Hashem's suggestion to improve sounds like an idea to help for the future, but it doesn't seem to be a response that would rectify the bitter past.

The Ohr HaChaim explains that Kayin was looking outward to find satisfaction and approval instead of inward. He looked over his shoulder and mistakenly thought that Hashem was interested only in his brother, which caused him great dejection. Hashem responded that a person does not need to look elsewhere for approval, because kedusha - i.e. proper behavior - needs no outside approval. Pure actions are majestic in and of themselves, and they inevitably raise he who performs them to an elevated spiritual stature. Thus, although his korban was not acknowledged by Hashem it was not an indication of His displeasure with Kayin per se. Rather, it came as a byproduct of an imperfection in Kayin's offering - a deficiency in his performance of the mitzvah. His dejection would have turned to elation had he understood that Hashem was as happy with him as He was with his brother, and the fact that his offering was not accepted was caused by a lacking in his own desire to connect with Hashem.

Accordingly, the Ohr HaChaim reads the above pasuk as follows: "If your actions are good, then both your spirit and your actions will become elevated and lofty. However, if your actions are not virtuous and worthy, then there all your actions will be lacking, which will negate the possibility of spiritual elevation."

The lesson to be learned is pertinent to each and every one of us. We constantly look outward for approval for our actions. Many deeds are performed or neglected because of the people around us. What will the neighbors say if I act that way? What will my friends think about me if I don't conform? Moreover, looking over one's shoulder to see the way others react breeds jealousy. "Why did my fellow shul member get showered with praise for his efforts while I was not the beneficiary of any accolades?" One should not eat himself up by trying to impress others. Rather, he should focus on the gifts with which Hashem has endowed him and use them to the best of his ability - and prepare to start feeling true satisfaction!

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