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Vayechi 5779

Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!  What do you think the chances are of getting back a bag you left in the back seat of a taxi -- with $80,000 in it? Probably you wouldn't give very good odds. One might think that most people are hurting for money -- particularly taxi drivers and the temptation would be too great.

This happened in Jerusalem a few years ago. When the driver noticed the bag and what was in it, he decided to immediately go back to where he dropped off the passenger in order to return it -- before his desire to keep the money overwhelmed him. But how to return it? The passenger was not outside and there were many floors and too many apartments to knock on every door. So, the driver devised a plan. He would walk the hallway of each floor until he heard uncontrollable sobbing and crying emanating from an apartment. Lo and behold, after walking a few floors, sure enough, he heard people bawling.

You can imagine the joy and relief in seeing the taxi driver and more so, the bag of money! The people were buying an apartment and had to deliver this portion of the payment in dollars. They thought all was lost. They were sure that the driver would keep the money. And boy, were they surprised!

How do we judge people? The Midrash (an allegorical commentary on the Torah) gives us an insight from the story of Noah. Before Noah sent out the dove which brought back the olive branch, he sent out a raven. However, the raven refused the mission and kept circling the ark. Why? The Midrash tells us that the raven suspected Noah of sending the raven away in order to take the raven's wife. Does this make sense? Noah was the one person righteous enough for the world to be saved. How could the raven possibly suspect him?

The raven didn't suspect Noah per se, it just figured that if it was in Noah's position, that is what it would do. The Midrash is teaching us that we tend to judge other people according to our own values. In modern idiom: When you point a finger at someone, realize that there are three fingers pointing back at you.

The Torah has a positive commandment to judge people favorably, "You shall judge your fellow man with righteousness" (Leviticus 19:15). This verse obligates us to give someone the benefit of the doubt when we see him performing an action that could be interpreted either positively or negatively (Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Commandment 177; Sefer HaChinuch 235).

Here is a brief and general guideline regarding giving the benefit of the doubt compiled from Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin: In general, if the likelihood of a favorable judgment and unfavorable judgment are equal, give the benefit of the doubt; if the person is an evil person (defined as one who persists in evil conduct in spite of all warnings and chastisements), don't give the benefit of the doubt. For a righteous person, give the benefit of the doubt even if it appears that the action was improper.

Even when you must mentally judge people favorably, you should be on your guard to protect yourself or someone else from a loss. If you can clarify the matter, it is proper to correct the person if he has erred. If you mistakenly suspect an innocent person of doing wrong, you are obligated to appease him and give him a blessing (Talmud Bavli, Brochos 31b).

Judging favorably is not easy. Since I started with the story of Jerusalem taxi driver, I'd like to end with a story of another Jerusalem taxi driver -- and a hat store. In 1979, my friend, Gur Aryeh Herzig, left his black Shabbos hat in the taxi when he arrived in Jerusalem from the airport. Figuring the hat was gone forever, that evening he went to Ferster's Hat Store in Meah She'arim and picked out a new hat to buy. At the cash register, he told the story of the lost hat to the store owner. Want to guess what the store owner's response was?

The owner refused to sell him the hat! "I will put it aside and hold it for you, but I will not sell it to you until you check with the taxi company for the hat. It is not worth selling you the hat and have you think badly of Jerusalem taxi drivers." Gur Aryeh walked to Nesher taxi. They were very happy that he came to pick up his hat which the driver had turned in that afternoon. It may be difficult to judge people favorably, but it is possible!

Torah Portion of the week

Vayechi, Genesis 47:28 - 50:26

The parasha, Torah portion, opens with Jacob on his deathbed 17 years after arriving in Egypt. Jacob blesses Joseph's two sons, Manasseh (Menashe) and Ephraim (to this day it is a tradition to bless our sons every Shabbat evening with the blessing, "May the Almighty make you like Ephraim and Manasseh" -- they grew up in the Diaspora amongst foreign influences and still remained devoted to the Torah. The Shabbat evening blessing for girls is "to be like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.") He then individually blesses each of his sons. The blessings are prophetic and give reproof, where necessary.

A large retinue from Pharaoh's court accompanies the family to Hebron to bury Jacob in the Ma'arat Hamachpela, the burial cave purchased by Abraham. The Torah portion ends with the death of Joseph and his binding the Israelites to bring his remains with them for burial when they are redeemed from slavery and go to the land of Israel. Thus ends the book of Genesis!

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Before Jacob's death, the Torah tells us:

"And Ya'akov (Jacob) called to his sons, and he said, 'Gather together and I will tell you what will befall you in the end of days' " (when the Jewish people will be redeemed from galus/exile) Genesis 49:1.

What did Ya'akov mean when he used the phrase "Gather together"?

When Ya'akov told his sons to gather together he meant that they should have achdus, unity amongst themselves. Only when there is unity among the descendants of Ya'akov can there be redemption. If there is not yet unity, it is not yet time for redemption.

With this we can understand what Yosef's brothers meant when they said to him later on (Genesis 50:16-7) that before Ya'akov's death he requested that Yosef forgive them. Nowhere in the Torah is it recorded that Ya'akov asked Yosef to forgive his brothers. However, the commentary of the Shaloh tells us that the answer can be seen in our verse where Ya'akov asks the brothers to "Gather together." Ya'akov was asking all of them, including Yosef, for unity and the deep love that comes from unity. Where there is love, there is forgiveness.

This is a crucial issue for our time. People are very different from one another in many ways. However, if all the descendants of Ya'akov realize how important it is to have achdus, this unity will bring about a love that transcends the specific complaints one person has against another. Judging favorably helps brings unity.


Ethics of the Fathers -- Pirke Avos -- on Judging

1:1 Be cautious in judgment
1:6 Judge every person to the side of merit
1:8 (and 4:5) When sitting in judgment do not act as an advocate
2:4 Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place
4:7 One who refrains from serving as a judge avoids hatred, thievery and false oaths.
      One who frivolously hands down rulings is a fool, wicked and arrogant.
4:8 Do not judge on your own, for there is none qualified to judge alone, only the One.



Candle Lighting Times

December 21
(or go to

Jerusalem 4:04
Guatemala 5:20 - Hong Kong 5:26 - Honolulu 5:37
J'Burg 6:42 - London 3:35 - Los Angeles 4:30
Melbourne 8:24 - Mexico City 5:46 - Miami 5:17
New York 4:13 - Singapore 6:46 - Toronto 4:26

Quote of the Week

Love people for what they are;
don't judge them for what they're not



In Loving Memory of

Fima Falic
Chaim ben Dov HaCohen

The Falic Family

In Memory of My Father

Edward Menashe Erani

Chuck Erani



In Loving Memory of

Jerry Schechter


In Loving Memory of

Jerry Stern

Helen Stern



In Loving Memory of

Samuel N. Goldstein
Shmuel b. Rachmiel Lieb

Harold Goldstein

In Loving Memory of

Albert Finer,
Norma Finer &
Marsha Finer

Moshe Finer &
Steve Finer



In Loving Memory of

Laura Weinsoff




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