Friday, December 28, 2012

VaYechi 5631 Fourth Ma'amar

After Ya'akov requests of his son Yosef to bury him at the burial site of his forefathers he asks him to take an oath, "ויאמר השבעה לי וישבע לו וישתחו ישראל על ראש המטה/(Ya'akov) said, 'Swear to me.'  (Yosef) swore to him and Yisrael bowed at the head of the bed." (Breishis 47:31)  Two questions arise.  Why did Ya'akov find it necessary for Yosef to take an oath?  Surely Ya'akov trusted that Yosef would do everything in his power to fulfill his father's request.  Secondly, what is the connection between the oath and bowing at the head of the bed?  Why are these two events in the same pasuk?  This leads to an additional question.  Why did Ya'akov bow at the head of the bed?

Rashi on this pasuk explains the head of the bed represents the fact that all of Ya'akov's children remained true to their upbringing.  Even Yosef who was a king (the head of Ya'akov's bed) in Egypt and was even previously captured and lived among gentiles remained true to his forefathers and his traditions. 

How did Ya'akov know that Yosef was able to internalize the traditions and pass them on to his own progeny even as he led a life as king in the house of Pharaoh?

Ya'akov knew this from the oath.  How so?  What is the significance of an oath?  Is it simply a verbal commitment?  The Chiddushei HaRim teaches us that an oath is much more than that.  Oath in Hebrew – שבועה – has the same root as the word for seven – שבעה.  We each have seven primary character traits.  An oath implies bringing all of the seven primary character traits – ones entire being – to bear upon a decision, a commitment.  An oath is therefore a very serious matter in Jewish tradition.  Both Ya'akov and Yosef understood this and took it very seriously. 

Ya'akov Avinu wanted to know that his descendents would remain true to his traditions and deserve the redemption.  The oath was the mechanism that Ya'akov used both for understanding Yosef's essence and for passing on to him his own spiritual essence that allowed him to remain true to God even in Egypt.  Through the oath Yosef revealed his total essence to Ya'akov. 

Chazal teach us that Yosef inherited Ya'akov and that it was in his merit that we were redeemed from Egypt.  Chazal[1] teach us that because Yosef resisted the temptation of Potiphar's wife, he influenced the entire nation to refrain from illicit relations.  Chazal continue that in the merit of this we were redeemed.  Furthermore, Chazal[2] explain the pasuk, "הים ראה וינס .../The sea saw and fled …"  What did the sea see?  Chazal teach us that the sea saw the bones of Yosef.  Yosef fled from Potiphar's wife so the sea fled from his bones.

The Zohar[3] states that when God foretold to Ya'akov that, "ויוסף ישית ידו על עיניך/and Yosef will place his hand upon your eyes," He was telling him that Yosef would be his heir.  The Sfas Emes explains that this is referring to inheriting Ya'akov spiritually.  The mechanism for this inheritance was the oath.  Through the oath Yosef opened his entire essence before Ya'akov.  He was able to cleave to Ya'akov with his whole being.  He was thus able to receive the aspect of Ya'akov which enabled him to live in Egypt without being affected by Egyptian society.

When Ya'akov understood that he had a spiritual heir who would be able to influence the nation for good even as they lived in decadent Egypt, he realized that his bed was complete – his progeny would continue his traditions – and he bowed "at the head of the bed".

[1] VaYikra R. 32:5
[2] Mechilta Beshalach Masechta 2,3
[3] Zohar 1:226a

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