By Rus Devorah Wallen
I’m Rus Devorah Wallen, and I’d like to share my T for 2, my Torah thought for two minutes, more or less.
This week’s Torah portion is Vayechi, which means, “And He (Yaakov) lived.” This parsha has a similar name and content to Parshas Chayei Sara – the life of Sara. In each of these portions, the beginning describes their passing, yet the names reflect their lives. Our sages explain that even after their passing, the righteous live on through their eternal good deeds.
Vayechi begins with Yaakov’s last will and testament to his sons. He asks Yosef to promise that he not be buried in Egypt and that he will bring him back to Cana’an to Me’aras HaMachpelah, the Cave of the Couples. This is where Adam and Eve, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchok and Rivkah were buried. Just before Yaakov’s passing, Yosef brings his sons, Ephraim and Menashe to receive their blessings. Then Ya’akov blesses his other ten sons with the various famous poetic prophecies.
Once Yosef’s brothers knew that their father was dead, they said, “What if Yosef still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him!” So, they sent this message to Yosef, “Before the death of your father he left this instruction: So, shall you say to Yosef, ‘Forgive, I urge you, the offense and guilt of your brothers who treated you so harshly.’ Therefore, please forgive the offense of the servants of the God of your father.” And Yosef was in tears as they spoke to him. His brothers went to him themselves, flung themselves before him, and said, “We are prepared to be your slaves.” But Yosef said to them, “Have no fear! Am I a substitute for God? Besides, although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, to bring about the present result—the survival of many people. And so, fear not. I will sustain you and your children.” Thus, he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.
We cannot always guarantee that the other person is willing to forgive or accept an apology. However, to bear a grudge or want retaliation is forbidden as is discussed in the Talmud, based on the biblical command, “Do not hate your brother in your heart.” Although I have heard this quote worded in various ways, I found one version attributed to Nelson Mandela. “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” The crazy thing we do when we obsess over the bad things others have done to us, is that we don’t hurt them when we focus on them and yell at them in our minds. They’re not even thinking about us. It’s an effort in vain. We hurt ourselves.
I’d like to conclude with a portion from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on this theme. He says, “Yosef taught us to repay evil with goodness, just as he did with his brothers, sustaining them for the rest of his life. He was able to forgive his brothers not only because he was a master of self-control, but chiefly because he understood the nature of human evil. As we have seen, the brothers’ evil act of selling him into slavery served G‑d’s plan that Yosef eventually became viceroy of Egypt. Yosef focused on the positive outcome of his brothers’ acts rather than on their evil behavior. Similarly, we ask G‑d to treat us like Yosef treated his brothers, perceiving our misdeeds as being ultimately for the good and responding to them with kindness. To “inspire” G‑d to see our misdeeds as being ultimately for the good, we must first do the same ourselves, by utilizing our misdeeds as motivation for self-improvement. The misdeed that fuels this transformation thus becomes a merit, retroactively serving a good purpose. We can further enhance our ability to transform our own misdeeds into merits by training ourselves to see other people’s offenses as potential merits, as well.”
May we be worthy of filling these very big shoes!
Rus Devorah Wallen is an accomplished musician, performer, social worker, psychotherapist, and educator.