Mrs. Smiles - Vayechi: Tenacity and Truth 5771/2010

The major theme of Parshat Vayechi is Yaakov's blessing his sons and the progenitors of the twelve tribes prior to his death. While Yaakov imparts his wisdoms and insight to each of his sons, we notice that his focus is not so much on blessings that imply prayers for success as on identifying a particular character trait for each son. Indeed, says Rabbi Reiss in Meirosh Tzurim, the source of all success is recognizing your particular abilities and character traits and then using them to achieve your goals. This understanding is an even greater requirement when pursuing spiritual goals.

With this thought in mind, let us study the blessing imparted to Yehudah. Yaakov begins by saying, "Yehudah - your brothers shall acknowledge you. (yoducha)." This "acknowledgement" is a play on very name of Yehudah. The Medrash points out that this acknowledgment will come by way of identification, for Jews throughout the generations and in all places will be called by the name of Jewdah, or Yehudim. The initial, obvious recording of this fact is in the Purim Megillah, for Mordechai, although from the tribe of Benjamin, is nevertheless identified as Mordechai Hayehudi. What was it about Yehudah, highlighted in Yaakov's blessing, which merits all Bnei Yisroel being called by his name?

The answer lies in the dual meaning in the root of his name, for lehodos includes both admission and acknowledgement, and gratefulness. When Leah named her son Yehudah, she thanked Hashem for this special gift and acknowledged that she was unworthy of the favor of bearing more than her share of children to Yaakov. These two traits formed the integral basis of Yehudah's character, the traits Yaakov focused on in bestowing his blessing. When Yaakov predicted that Yehudah would rule over Bnei Yisroel forever, he was highlighting the particular character traits that Yehudah would need to focus on in order to succeed. Yaakov points out that Yehudah had already utilized this trait in his life, "You rose up from the prey of my son (Yosef)."

Rav Schwadron in Lev Shalom reminds us that Reuven had also argued against killing Yosef. What is the difference between the two, he asks, that Yaakov should praise Yehudah for this while not mentioning it at all in praise of Reuven. Rav Schwadron continues by pointing out the difference between the actions of these two that makes Yehuda's actions so meritorious. On the one hand, Reuven had always insisted that Yosef did not merit the death sentence.  Reuven never considered Yosef a threat to the brothers, a rodef. Yehudah, on the other hand, had sat at the head of the tribunal and agreed that Yosef was a rodef and should be put to death. However, when the time for carrying out the decree came, Yehudah realized he had been mistaken. Yehudah's greatness was that he did not let his ego get involved. He admitted his mistake immediately even thou his prestige might suffer as a result.

In fact, his prestige did suffer. The Torah testifies that Yehudah "went down" from his brothers, for the brothers had removed him from his exalted position when they saw their father's anguish. They blamed Yehudah for not advising them and not leading them correctly.

Yehudah may have been down, but he was not out. He did not fall into despair, but "rose up" as a lion from the incident of Yosef being the prey. He left his family's home and built a new home for himself, married and had children. He never sensed that he was totally alone, for even when he was down, he still felt surrounded by Hashem. Yehudah's very name bears witness. The letter daled, signifying his afflicted condition is surrounded by the four letters of Hashem's Hebrew name, YKVK.

Rav Schwadron continues with his analysis of Yehudah's name as reflected in his life. When Yehudah's daughter-in-law Tamar is sentenced to death for committing adultery while awaiting a levirate marriage to redeem her from her childlessly widowed state, Yehudah again proves the strength of his character. At the end of her trial, Tamar presents the evidence of who impregnated her. Yehudah immediately acknowledges the truth and admits that he is the father of Tamar's unborn children. Rav Schwadron points out that Yehudah could have dismissed the case in light of "new evidence" that cast doubt on her guilt without implicating himself. But Yehudah's name is a reflection of the name of Hashem Himself, and the "seal of Hashem is truth." We who are the bearers of Hashem's truth on earth in all circumstances, no matter how dire, who recognize that the very soul Hashem breathed into us is part of His truth, go by the name of the tribe who was willing to demean himself for the sake of truth.

From a different perspective on sin, Rav Reiss cites the Panim Yafot on the verse "For I would know my transgressions" (Psalm 51). Yehudah's descendent, King David, understood that the very transgressions upon which one stumbles provide the means to rise to greater heights. When one does teshuvah for a wrong one has committed, the Baal Hatanya writes, one reties the severed cable that connected us to Hashem and strengthens the bond between Hakodosh Boruch Hu and ourselves.

The ability to admit one's transgression and the ability to express gratitude, explains the Sifsei Chaim, are derivatives of the same character trait, the search for truth based on humility. When one can diminish one's ego, one can accept his own shortcomings and admit his faults, and pave the way for personal growth. In a similar vein, when one thanks another for a service or a gift, one acknowledges that he is neither omnipotent nor in total control, and humbly accepts what another has to offer. How much more so is this the truth when we acknowledge and accept the gifts Hashem bestows upon us daily. In each case, we set aside our egos in favor of truth, as Yehudah had done. When one understands this truth, one can accept one's failures and shortcomings as the means to growth, just as a child learns to walk only after falling many times. As Rabbi Schachter explains, just as it is necessary to dig deep down into the ground to lay a proper foundation if a building is to rise high above the ground, so too is it necessary that we fall down so we can learn from these experiences and establish a strong foundation for rising to greater spiritual heights.  

This was the lesson Yaakov wanted Yehudah to learn from his name if he would be a strong and effective ruler of this entire nation. If Yehudah is to be the lion protecting its pride, he must retain his regal manner by his unflinching dedication to truth. We too, as Yehudim, must all learn to recognize our essential and unique character if we are to reach our potential as servants of Hashem. Like Yehudah, we must be aware of Hashem's presence in our lives and not despair, especially when we could easily be overwhelmed. At those times as during the good times, we must remain Yehudim in gratitude to Hashem for all His gifts and especially for His constant presence in our lives.

Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein


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