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C. Goren Ha-atad

Let me bring one last case of Egyptian-Canaanite tension, this time not only geographical but personal-political.

After someone dies, a funeral is conducted. Yaakov's instructions are to bury him in the Cave of Makhpela. What actually happens is as follows:

1. Yaakov, at Yosef's orders, is embalmed by Egyptian doctors (50:2)

2. Yaakov is mourned for seventy days by Egypt, including forty days of embalming, for "thus are the days of the embalming fulfilled" (3).

3. "The days of his crying end," and Yosef requests permission from Par'o to take Yaakov to Canaan (4).

4. Yosef takes Yaakov's body to Canaan, and all the elders of Egypt accompany him (50:7), as well as his father's house (8).

5. At a place called Goren Ha-Atad, "which is over the Jordan," Yosef conducts a mourning ceremony which attracts the attention of the Canaanites, who then call the place "the mourning of Egypt" (10-11).

6. Yaakov is brought to the Makhpela Cave by his sons, "as he had commanded them" (12-13).

What seems to be taking place here is two parallel mourning rites, one by Egypt and one by the house of Yaakov. First, Yaakov's body is embalmed in the Egyptian manner, according to Egyptian rites. Embalming in Egypt is not only, or even mostly, a practical means of preserving, but rather a religious ritual designed to ensure the existence of the dead in the nether world. This is hinted here by the phrase "for thus are the days of the embalming fulfilled" (3), which has a ritualistic tone to it. Forty days is what the prescribed ritual calls for. The body is then transported to Canaan by Yosef, who is accompanied by Par'o's servants and elders (and only secondarily by his own family). Finally, a great ceremony is held, which is identified by the local inhabitants as "the mourning of Egypt."

At this point, the Torah states, "And his sons did for him exactly as he commanded them" (12). This verse is a typical introduction verse, which should precede a description of what they did. In fact, the next verse states, "His sons carried him to the land of Egypt and buried him in the Cave of the Makhpela field...." The Torah clearly differentiates between all that took place between Yaakov's death and this point, which is not included in "as he commanded them," and what follows. The sons of Yaakov were not involved in the embalming, the seventy days, or the mourning at Goren Ha-atad. A different ritual begins at this point, one according to Yaakov's instructions. In other words, Jewish ritual takes over after the end of the Egyptian ritual.

There is an undercurrent of conflict here. The Egyptians seem to be claiming Yaakov as one of their own. It is clear from the way Yosef has to go and ask permission of Par'o, using the oath he swore to his father to convince the king to agree, that there is an assumption that Yaakov is supposed to be buried in Egypt. Par'o agrees, but only because of the oath: "Par'o said: Go up and bury your father AS HE MADE YOU SWEAR" (50,6; see Rashi). Even so, although the burial will not be in Egypt, Par'o sends the Egyptian court along and eventually they conduct what can only be described as a state funeral. The spectators exclaim, "This is a heavy mourning of Egypt" (11). The location of the Egyptian funeral receives a name forever implanting it in the minds of all as a national site of mourning. What the Egyptians are doing is adopting Yaakov and making him an Egyptian national hero. (Rashi [50:3] explains that they imputed to him the prosperity of Egypt in the years following the famine.)

The sons of Yaakov patiently, or perhaps helplessly, wait. For reasons which are unclear, the Egyptian entourage does not cross the Jordan river. As soon as Yaakov crosses into the Land of Canaan, the Egyptian character of the funeral disappears. Canaan is not subject to Egyptian assimilation. Now Yaakov's instructions are paramount, and the sons act exactly as he commanded, burying him in the grave of his fathers, i.e., returning him to the Jewish heritage and rescuing him, as it were, from the Egyptian embrace.

It is noteworthy that Yosef told Par'o that he was required by the oath to bury Yaakov in the grave "which (Yaakov) had dug for himself in the land of Canaan" (50:5), but did not mention anything about the fact that it was the grave of Yaakov's forefathers. When Yaakov is buried there, the verse emphasizes (once again) that this is the cave bought by Avraham to be an "achuzat kever" - not just a grave of Yaakov, but a family (national) cemetery. Avraham bought this piece of land from Efron the Chitti, and it was, to some extent, already Jewish national land. It had already, as Yaakov emphasized in his request of the sons, been turned into historical-national territory, for it had been paid for and generations of Avraham's family had been buried there.

D. Yaakov and Egypt

Yaakov fears that after his death, Egypt will attempt to take over his identity. Egypt represents for Israel the power of assimilation, the imperial power that would swallow up the Jews. When the exodus takes place, Moshe tells the Jews, "But God took you, and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt" (Devarim 4:20). Chazal express this fear when they state that the redemption came about because the Jews did not change their names, clothing, or language. Egypt is a melting pot. We saw how easy it was for Yosef to take on an Egyptian identity. Yaakov fears that the same will take place with him, posthumously. Throughout the parasha, we find this struggle between the embrace of Egypt and Yaakov's resistance. (The prohibition of the Torah to live in Egypt is illuminated by this point; see also Yeshayahu 30:2)).

It is worth noting that during the struggle over his burial, the actions of the Egyptians are orchestrated by Yosef. He orders the embalming, the original journey is described as "Yosef went up ... and with him ... and with him" (50:7-9). The funeral at Goren Ha-atad includes the statement, "and he made for his father a seven-day mourning" (10), clearly referring to Yosef. But when they go to Canaan, it says only that "his sons" took him," and Yosef is not mentioned.

This is not because Yosef is on the side of the Egyptians. On the contrary, Yaakov has entrusted to Yosef the job of extricating him from the Egyptians. This is not only because he has the power, as regent, but also because Yosef has in fact become something of an Egyptian - though he has preserved his character and remained Yosef Ha-tzadik. Hence, the difference between Yaakov's charge to Yosef and the corresponding charge to the sons. To Yosef he commands, Do not bury me in Egypt! Yosef is in charge of maneuvering the Egyptians in such a way that Yaakov is not physically attached to Egyptian soil and thereby adopted by the Egyptian nation. (This is the meaning of the midrash which states that Yaakov feared that his burial would lead to his becoming an Egyptian god.) To the assembled sons he commands, bury me in the grave of my fathers, in the field Avraham bought. Yosef is in charge of defense against the Egyptians, the sons as a whole, the house of Yaakov, are in charge of fulfilling the national destiny.

This is also the background to the adoption of Efrayim and Menasheh. The sons born to Yosef in Egypt BEFORE YAAKOV CAME THERE have been born completely into Egyptian culture. When Yaakov was in Canaan with his entire household, Yosef was divorced from them. He is married to the daughter of an Egyptian priest, he has an Egyptian name (41:45), he wears Egyptian clothes (41:42), and presumably he speaks Egyptian. In fact, he says so explicitly when naming Menasheh, whose name means, "for God has made me forget all my toil and ALL MY FATHER'S HOUSE." Without a direct connection to Yaakov, these children will suffer the fate that Yaakov fears for himself. And so, Yaakov takes them and makes them his own sons (thereby also fulfilling the bekhora of Yosef), like Reuven and Shimon. Yaakov rescues them from the grasp of Egypt. That is why his blessing to them is so different from the usual promises of prosperity and victory we find in Bereishit. "My name shall be called on them, and the name of my fathers, and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of THE LAND." He was blessing them with a Jewish name, with Jewish identity. He is so successful that he can add, as a second blessing, that they will be the archetypal Jewish names, and generations of Jews will bless, saying: May God make you like Efrayim and Menasheh.

With Yaakov safely buried in Canaan, his children and grandchildren, the house of Yaakov, can remain in Egypt, in anticipation of redemption.

Post script for further study:

Parashat Vayechi is characterized by frequent changes between the name Yaakov and the name Yisrael. I think it is correct to say, especially in Vayechi, the parasha of the berakhot and the transition from avot (individuals) to am (people), that the name Yisrael has national implications. A clear indication of this is the verse, "With you shall Yisrael bless, saying: May God make you like Efrayim and Menasheh" (48:20), and the verse, "These are all the twelve tribes of Israel" (49:28). With this in mind, together with the theme of the shiur, check out and consider the following:

1. Yaakov lives in Egypt (47:28), but Yisrael tells Yosef not to bury him there (29).

2. Yaakov adopts Efrayim and Menasheh (48:3-6), but Yisrael does not recognize them (8). After Yisrael kisses them, he blesses them.

3. The Egyptians embalm Yisrael, but afterwards he is called only "his (Yosef's) father."



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Who is the Leader and When?

Harav Yosef Carmel

Perhaps the central theme of our parasha is the berachot Yaakov gave his sons. Yehuda received an important one, being promised that leadership will not stray from his descendants (Bereishit 49:8-10). Yosef (and his full brother Binyamin whom, we have explained elsewhere, share one destiny to a great degree) must wait until the end of the blessing receivers (ibid. 22-26). The blessing describes how Yosef had to withstand the challenges from his brothers, but received blessings that exceeded those Yaakov received from his parents. It also refers to the “head of Yosef and the kodkod (head) of the crown of his brothers,” which represents the leadership of the nation.

If one looks at the story line at the end of Bereishit, it is clear that Yosef is the leader of his brothers, and Yehuda is subservient to him. He is the one Yaakov entrusts with burying his remains in Eretz Yisrael. He and his sons receive special blessings before the other brothers are even called for blessings. Within those blessings, Yaakov not only sets the leadership as being from Yosef’s family but slates Ephrayim to assume the mantle of leadership within the family.

Rashi explains that there is no contradiction regarding the balance of power between Yosef and Yehuda. In the short term, it will belong to Yosef, to be replaced at a later date by Yehuda’s descendants.

When Moshe leaves his final blessings and instructions to the tribes that descended from the brothers, he does not change the balance of power. He uses the same language regarding Yosef of “the head of Yosef and the kodkod of the crown of his brothers” and throws in the word bechor (firstborn) for good measure. Moshe also reaffirms Ephrayim’s precedence over Menashe, saying: “These are the tens of thousands of Ephrayim and these are the thousands of Menashe” (Devarim 33:16-17).

When and how did the leadership change? The pronouncement actually came from the grass roots. When David, of the tribe of Yehuda, showed success in his battles against the Plishtim, the women showered him with praises that are particularly telling in this context: “Shaul smote by the thousands, and David by the tens of thousands” (Shmuel I, 18:7). This reference to David was not a fleeting one, as the non-Jews of Achish referred to him as the one who was hailed as smiting by the tens of thousands (ibid. 21:12). The officers of Plishtim used the same accolades regarding David (ibid. 29:5). The use of the tens of thousands was the code for assuming leadership that had been attributed to Yosef’s son, Ephrayim.

Yehuda’s ascension is not the intrinsic goal. As we discussed last week, true success is reached when Yehuda and Yosef join hands and live harmoniously together. Let us hope that modern-day Israel will be able to turn the nation’s sporadic show of unity into a consistent uniting of the staffs that represent our different factions in an effective and proper manner.


Question: I saw in a recent Ask the Rabbi column of yours a discussion of the issue of leaning while receiving an aliya. I think you overlooked a very important problem, as there is a definite prohibition to receive benefit from the shulchan (the table the sefer Torah sits on), which is a tashmish kedusha (an object used to serve something holy).

Answer: You raise a good point (at least in regard to a serious type of leaning), albeit one we did not overlook but chose not to address. If the matter was as clear cut as you perceive, it would present problems in most shuls not just for a person getting an aliya. Gabbaim often lean on the shulchan, and other objects, including tzedaka boxes and other things are often placed on it. Let us see if all of these practices are really forbidden.

It is not clear that the shulchan has a status of tashmish kedusha. The gemara (Megilla 26b) cites Rava as saying that he did not think that a shulchan has a status of tashmish kedusha. Since it is covered with a mitpachat (cloth or decorative covering), which is what comes in contact with the sefer Torah, the shulchan is only a tashmish d’tashmish, i.e., it supports the mitpachat upon which the sefer Torah sits. Such an object has only the kedusha on the level of the shul as a whole. Rava concludes that since the mitpachat is sometimes removed and the Torah then sits directly on the shulchan it is a tashmish kedusha. The status thus depends on whether or not the shulchan is consistently covered. However, this does not really answer your question, as it should still be forbidden to lean or place other things on the mitpachat.

The Beit Yosef (Orach Chayim 154) cites the Mordechai who says that it is worthwhile to make a condition that the mitpachat not receive the type of kedusha that would make it forbidden to lean on. He proves that if this is not done, it would even be forbidden to put sefarim on top of it since they have a lower level of kedusha than the sefer Torah. The ability to do so is confirmed clearly by the Yerushalmi, cited by the Rosh (Megilla 4:11). The Rama (OC 154:8, based on the Terumat Hadeshen 273) goes a step further, saying that (at least in shul- see Mishna Berura 154:8) it is not necessary to make a condition. Because the situation is so clear that people will have trouble from refraining from leaning or putting things on the shulchan and/or its mitpachat, there is an assumed public condition (lev beit din matneh) to save people from possible sin. Lev beit din matneh is found in the gemara (including Shevuot 11b) regarding things that were given for the Beit Hamikdash and has been applied to many cases of holy objects (see for example Yabia Omer, VII, OC 26, regarding the minhag to use the parochet of the aron kodesh for a wedding canopy). This condition does not allow people to use these objects in an unseemly manner (Mishna Berura 154:34), but that does not seem to be a common occurrence.

Admittedly, the Bi’ur Halacha (ad loc.) raises the possibility that only regarding those things that are hard to avoid do we say that lev beit din matneh applies. However, given people’s habits, it is hard to imagine that you could expect everyone in shul, whether having an aliya or not, to make sure not to lean on the shulchan when standing near it during a variety of different activities. However, if one can easily avoid the issues, it is proper for him to do so. It is apparently for this reason, that several Acharonim (see Sha’arei Ephrayim 3:11; Mishna Berura 141:4) suggest that if one is so fat or weak that he needs to lean seriously on the shulchan, he should pull back the mitpachat and lean on the wood of the shulchan. Since it is rare for someone to actively decide to lean on the shulchan and it is often not feasible to pull back the mitpachat, we purposely left out this added information, which is apparently not fully required (as above) and is rarely practiced in our experience.


What the Dead Know

(based on Berachot 3:21)

Gemara: [Rabbi Yonatan, in a previous gemara, had said that the dead do not know what happens in the world.] Rabbi Yonatan retracted his former statement, as we know from the fact that Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmeni said the following in his name: How do we know that the deceased speak with each other? It is from the pasuk: “Hashem said to him [Moshe]: this is the land that I swore to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, to say (leimor)” (Devarim 34:4). Why does it say leimor (which Chazal interpret as being commanded to tell someone else)? Hashem was thereby communicating to Moshe that he should tell the forefathers that the oath that Hashem had taken [regarding inheritance of the Land] was already fulfilled vis a vis their offspring. Now, were you to believe that the deceased do not know, what would come out of telling them? On the other hand, if they do know, why would it be necessary to tell them? The reason [for Moshe to tell them] is so that they could be appreciative to Moshe.

Ein Ayah: The basis of the dispute whether the dead know what is going on in this world depends on the following question. Does that which remains of the person after death include the powers that are utensils for physical senses or only the purity of the intellectual spirit, which has nothing to do with the sensory elements of humanity? That is why the gemara discusses the deceased speaking with each other, as speech is something intellectual that attaches itself to physical things. In other words, according to that opinion, the vehicles for grasping the sensory remain. The specific application is also telling, as the forefathers were being told about the inheritance of the Land, which is a physical attainment.

A previous gemara had deflected a similar proof by saying that the deceased might have been told by another person who had died. However, that answer would not work here according Rabbi Yonatan’s previous statement that the deceased are totally unaware. It also raises here the possibility that if a dead person does not know, it will not help to inform him. The idea is as follows.

It is possible that a certain relationship to the physical exists, which would enable the deceased to know about that which is close to him. It is also possible that someone who had died recently would maintain, within his spirit, things and memories of the physical. It still could be, though, that the connection to the physical is not from the characteristics of the permanent spirit, and therefore these memories fade.

According to this approach, spirits that are separated from the body could certainly not recognize the value of a physical land, so that it would not be significant for Moshe to inform them [that Bnei Yisrael began to take hold of the Land] or to appreciate Moshe for his part in that acquisition. Therefore, from the fact that Hashem commanded Moshe to tell the forefathers, we see that holy, independent spirits have full conceptions regarding elements of the physical world. This approach would posit that all of the powers that grasp matters remain intact.


Interrogation of Witnesses – part II

(based on Sha’ar Ladin – Halacha Psuka, vol. 33)

[Last time, we introduced the concept of interrogation of witnesses, which included two different types: chakirot and bedikot, and some of the possible reasons for them.]

The Rambam (Sanhedrin 1:4) gives a different reason for interrogating the witnesses. He says that it is a mitzva to do so because by making things difficult for the witnesses, they might remain silent or retract their testimony if there are problems with it. In other words, this is a way of weeding out bad testimony. The Rambam does not mention the possibility of finding the witnesses to be zomemin, which has to do with being able to prove that they were not where they claimed to be at the time about which they testified. This may also explain why the Rambam calls questions that relate not to time but to how the event took place derishot, not the more classic chakirot, yet still says that if he answered “I don’t know” to one of the derishot, the testimony is inadmissible. Previously we had posited that this was true only of chakirot. While according to the approach that focuses on the ability to make zomemin, questions related to time and place are special, the Rambam expands the matter to other crucial questions. Only regarding peripheral questions, which are classified as bedikot, does the Rambam agree that a witness need not answer.

A third approach to the basis for chakirot can be found in the Noda B’Yehuda (I, Even Ha’ezer 72). He understands that the p’sukim that deal with interrogations only teach us that it is proper to ask a variety of questions, but do not necessarily indicate that if he answers that he does not know that we would disqualify the testimony. Only when the lack of a response prevents us from indentifying an eid zomem do we say that this disqualifies. He therefore says that the obligation to interrogate is distinct from the ability to identify eidim zomemin.

It appears that the Noda B’Yehuda does not understand like the Rambam that chakirot are designed to clarify if the witnesses have been exact in their testimony. That is because he says that the obligation to require questioning does not itself disqualify testimony of those who do not answer. Rather, it seems that he posits that the questions are asked in order to try to find contradictions between the various testimonies.

In practice, the Torah’s requirement of interrogating witnesses was annulled by the Rabbis in regard to monetary cases, a decision which alleviates the difficulties of a plaintiff. The rationale is to not “lock doors before lenders.” In other words, one who is asked to lend money should not be overly concerned that it will be too difficult to recover his money in beit din. Thus, the witness is not even required to remember when and where the alleged loan took place. This being said, if it appears to beit din that a witness is lying or there is a particular lack of clarity, beit din may choose to interrogate witnesses as it sees fit.


Tevet 3-9, Bava Batra 128-134

Transferring Inheritance (133b)

Rav Ofer Livnat

This week in the Daf Yomi the Mishna (133b) states that although one can give all of his assets to others and thus leave nothing for his sons, the Sages are not pleased with such conduct. According to Rashbag, if the sons do not behave properly, it is proper not to leave them anything. However, the Gemara states that the Chachamim disagree with Rashbag and claim that even among one's sons it is not proper to give the portion of an evil son to a righteous one. The Gemara (Ketuvot 53a) explains that the reason is that one does not know how the descendants of one's children will turn out. Therefore, even if one son is not behaving properly, it is possible that his descendants will be righteous and one should therefore not take from him his portion in the inheritance.

The Chatam Sofer (Choshen Mishpat 151) was asked about a wealthy individual who had no children and wanted to establish a charity fund from most of his wealth, leaving only a small portion to his inheritors. The Chatam Sofer states that there are three points which need to be clarified:

1. Does the instruction of the Sages not to transfer inheritance regard only one's children, or even more distant inheritors?

2. Is it also relevant when one wants to donate the money to charity?

3. Does it pertain even when one only transfers part of his assets, or only when one leaves nothing to his inheritors?

The Chatam Sofer proves that this instruction of the Sages is valid in all of these circumstances. From the wording of the Rambam (Nachalot 6, 11) he proves that the instruction regards not only one's children but all other inheritors, as well. Our Gemara deals with cases of people who donated and sanctified their wealth to the Beit Hamikdash so that it would not be left for their inheritors; from this we see that the instruction is relevant even when one wishes to use the money for the purpose of a Mitzvah. And from the Gemara in Ketuvot (ibid) he proves that it is not proper even to give over only a portion of one's wealth.

Nevertheless, the Chatam Sofer concludes that a person who does not have children and wants to establish a charity foundation so that he will have more good deeds to his credit when he appears before the heavenly court, may do so since his intention is proper and he is not doing so for the sake of excluding inheritors from his wealth.

The Pitchei Teshuvah (Choshen Mishpat 182, 1) disagrees with the Chatam Sofer. The Chatam Sofer proved from the Gemara that the instruction applies even when one gives money to charity, and even when one is giving only a portion of his assets.

The Pitchei Teshuvah says- each of these conditions is relevant only on its own. However, if one fulfills both conditions, giving only a portion of his wealth, and giving that portion to charity, it is permitted. Therefore, according to his opinion, even if one has children, he may still give a portion of his wealth to charity.

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