VAYECHI — “Kindness and Truth”

VAYECHI (Genesis, 47:28-50:26)

“Kindness and Truth” 

The Book of Genesis draws to a close with the death of our father Jacob. Genesis is a book that, to a great extent, dedicates itself to teaching us about character. By observing the lives of our Patriarchs and their wives, we learn about such traits as kindness and truth. In the following passage, we hear about a combination of the two: 

The days grew near for Israel to die, and he called for his son Joseph … “Act toward me with KINDNESS AND TRUTH, and do not bury me in Egypt. When I will lie with my ancestors, carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their grave.” (Genesis. 47:29-30) 

Jacob’s deathbed request was to be buried in the family plot in Hebron, in the Cave of Machpela. When asking for this final favor from his son, he used this unusual expression of “kindness and truth.” What does that mean? Unquestionably, it is an act of kindness to do what his father asks him to do. But what does truth have to do with it? Certainly Joseph isn’t going to lie about it! What is kindness and truth?! 

Rashi tells us that Jacob is teaching us a new component of kindness: “Chessed shel Emes Kindness of Truth.” The kindness performed for someone who has died is called a “Kindness of Truth” because the departed person will not be able to return the favor. If I visit you when you are not feeling well or help you jump start your car when the battery dies, I know that there is a possibility that when the tables are turned, you will be there for me. This does not apply in the case of the dead. If you put yourself out to attend someone’s funeral, you can be sure that he won’t come to yours! 

Chessed shel Emes Kindness of Truth” has become synonymous with taking care of the needs of the departed; there are communities where the local volunteer burial society uses that phrase as the name of their organization. But true kindness does not have to be limited to what we do for the dead: 

When Abraham’s servant was looking for a wife for Isaac, he asked them to perform “...Kindness and Truth for my master…” (Genesis, 24:49) His intent, according to the Sifsei Chachomim, a commentary on Rashi (a commentary on commentary!), was to inform them that this was a kindness for which they should not anticipate a payment from Abraham! 

How kind is OUR kindness? When I do a favor for another person, do I do it because it’s right? Or do I do it because there’s something in it for me? Am I kind to my fellow man because G-d wants me to take care of His children? Or is it because it never hurts to “earn a few points” for future consideration? Are we more likely to do a favor for the rich and influential than for the poor and powerless? When we give Tzedakah do we do it quietly and modestly? Or do we make sure that the world knows how generous we are? 

Lest we fear that our charitable acts will be ignored, let us rest assured that no good deed goes unnoticed. Joseph saw to it that his father’s burial wishes were fulfilled. As a reward for his kindness, none other than Moses himself saw to it that Joseph’s remains were transferred to the Land of Israel. Moses, in turn, was rewarded for fulfilling Joseph’s burial wishes by being buried by G-d Himself! 

As we turn the pages away from the Book of Genesis, the Book of the Beginning, let us begin a new chapter in our lives. Let us devote ourselves to helping others only because it’s the right thing to do; in the end, everybody wins. 

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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From the Archives

 

“A Grandfather’s Blessing” (2009)

 

G-d has sent a bundle of blessing to our family.  My daughter, Chaya Miriam Goldenberg, just gave birth to a little boy.  We have now been blessed with two grandsons, בלי עין הרע…

Read more.

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“Any Maccabees Around Here?” or, “Father Knows Best” (2008) 

We recently completed our celebration of Chanukah. The heroes of the Chanukah story are the Maccabees.  Have you ever met a Maccabee? Actually, a more accurate question is, have you ever met a Hasmonean? … 

The Hasmoneans were a family of Kohanim – Priests who overthrew the Syrian Greeks who had defiled the Temple and tried to destroy Torah Judaism.  Nachmanides writes that the Hasmoneans were “pious and lofty men, without whom the Torah and Commandments would have been forgotten from Israel.” (Nachmanides’ Commentary to Genesis 49:10) 

No, you have never met a Hasmonean.  And you never will.  The family is extinct… 

Read more.

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“Forgotten but Not Forgiven?”  (2006) 

Someone I know was attending Services in a crowded synagogue in Jerusalem.  While taking the required three steps back at the end of the prayer, a fellow accidentally stepped on his toes. 

Slichah!,” (literally, “forgiveness,” in other words “I’m sorry”), said the toe-stepper. 

Since it was during a part of the Service when it is preferred not to speak, the fellow simply nodded in a way that indicated, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.” 

Well, it WASN’T okay, and he DID worry about it. “Tagid ‘Salachti!’” (“Say, ‘I forgive you!’”) 

Only after the “aggrieved party” officially forgave the toe-stepper did he relent.  “Salachti,” he said, and the incident was over… 

… all’s well that ends well, right?  Everyone recognizes that the sale of Joseph was part of G-d’s divine plan to provide for the People of Israel during the famine.  Yes, they did something wrong, but it was G-d’s will, and Joseph wasn’t angry.  Everything’s okay, right? 

Well, not exactly.  There is one thing missing.  As the rabbi in Jerusalem told my friend, “Tagid ‘Salachti!’”  — “Say, ‘I forgive you!’”…

Read more.

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“Mama’s Tears” (2005) 

… For twenty years, Israel was a memory from my past, and a some-day hope for my future.  Finally, about five years ago, when my daughter was studying there, I had cause to go back for a short visit… One of my stops was Rachel’s Tomb, in Bethlehem… I wasn’t prepared for what met me inside…                   

Now, I am not what you would call a particularly emotional person.  What was it that caused me to react in that way?  There was nothing in my particular prayers that would normally have led me to cry.  So what was it? 

It was Rachel… 

Read more .

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“Payback Time” (2004) 

Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. 

… Joseph had been very patient.  His brothers, who had sold him as a slave nearly four decades ago, were now under his control…  in the presence of their father Jacob, Joseph had treated his brothers well.  But now, Jacob was dead.  It was payback time.  

Joseph’s brothers … had reason to be concerned.  Joseph just wasn’t acting the same….  Clearly, Joseph was not happy with his brothers.  What could he be planning?  Had he taken his cue from their Uncle Esau, who had designated the anticipated demise of his father as an opportune moment to kill his brother? 

The brothers felt that they had to do some damage control… 

Read more.

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“Put on a Happy  🙂 Face!” (2003) 

… The days of Jacob’s life were 147 years.  The time drew near for Israel to die… (Genesis, 47:27-28) 

 …Jacob … lived a shorter life than his father did.  Isaac lived until the age of 180, while his son Jacob only reached 147… the Pharaoh was taken aback by Jacob’s appearance.  While the early chapters of the Torah describe people living for several centuries, this phenomenon was no longer common at that time.  The king had never seen anyone who looked so old!  Jacob explained that he wasn’t as old as he looked… 

Read more.

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“When Angels Came Early To Monsey” (2002) 

… As I sang “Shalom Aleichem,” I looked across the room at Miriam. She was mouthing the words as I sang … I felt like crying. Could it be, I wondered, that the angels came early today?!… 

Read more.

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“Promises, Promises” (2001) 

… Jacob had lived a long life, and it was time to pre-arrange his funeral. The Egyptians held Jacob in high esteem, and the last thing he wanted was to end up under a pyramid…

Read more.

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“Kindness and Truth” (2000) 

… If I visit you when you are not feeling well or help you jump start your car when the battery dies, I know that there is a possibility that when the tables are turned, you will be there for me. This does not apply in the case of the dead. If you put yourself out to attend someone’s funeral, you can be sure that he won’t come to yours!… 

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on January 10, 2001 at 8:05 am  Leave a Comment  

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