This Shabbos we conclude the book of Bereishit, which culminates with the resolution of the story of Yosef and his brothers. Four rather involved parshiot deal with this story and its many twists and turns.
Yaakov and his beloved Yosef are reunited after so many years of suffering and uncertainty. Yaakov is then able to conclude his long and troubled life by addressing his family directly. Many refer to these parting words of Yaakov Avinu as brachos, or blessings, to his children.
When we examine the so-called bracha given to Shimon and Levi (together), one wonders if the word “bracha” is the appropriate term. Yaakov unleashes very harsh words against them regarding their actions years earlier in Shechem. Back in Parshat Vayishlach it was Shimon and Levi who seemed to have the last word after that episode with Yaakov remaining silent. Until now, that is. Yaakov lets this duo know in no uncertain terms how he felt about their behavior. He concludes by stating that he will “divide them in Yaakov and scatter them in Israel.”
The simple understanding is that these two cannot possibly be together, lest they cause more bloodshed and hurt. This is the approach of many mefarshim. (It is interesting to note the different paths the tribes of Shimon and Levi ultimately take, with the former virtually disappearing from the landscape while the latter rises meteorically to give us all the Kohanim and Levi’im including Moshe, Aharon and Miriam.)
Rashi offers us a second interpretation to this verse that puts a positive spin on things. Our great teacher Rashi writes that Yaakov was telling Shimon and Levi that they would become the “sofrim and melamdei tinokot” who would spread out and go from town to town to take care of the holy items and teach Torah. Given the harsh words spoken in the verses leading up to this, Rashi’s explanation seems puzzling.
A few weeks ago I drove to Sharon, Mass., to attend the funeral of Ezra Schwartz, Hy”d. I do not know the family and they do not know me, but I felt I had to be there. The ceremony, which lasted some time, was excruciating due to the circumstances of the gathering. We heard from family members, friends and rabbis. One rabbi in particular reminded me of an answer to the aforementioned difficulty in Rashi.
Rabbi Dov Huff, principal of Limudei Kodesh at Maimonides middle and high school in Brookline, MA, delivered a eulogy that moved me like I have not been before. Everyone in the packed hall, and those hundreds standing outside in the rain, felt the love of a rebbe for a talmid. The dedication of this man to his students was so evident in the way he described the relationship he had with Ezra and how this tragedy had affected him.
While listening to the gut-wrenching eulogy of a teacher for his student, my mind went to an interpretation given by Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l in his monumental sefer “Emes L’Yaakov” on Chumash. He writes that while all of the brothers saw what happened to their sister Dina, it was Shimon and Levi who internalized the situation to such an extent that they had to do something about it. Yaakov Avinu recognized this trait as one to be channeled for the positive use of teaching Torah. The successful teachers and rebbeim are the ones who give above and beyond for their students. These are the teachers who use their own (often limited) resources to do whatever it takes for their students to not only learn, but to love to learn. Indeed, Yaakov was blessing his sons that they should use their talents and passions for Torah and Yiddishkeit.
As we reach the end of the calendar year and we reflect on those who made our lives meaningful during the year, we must never forget the Rabbi Huffs of the world. There are so many rebbeim, morot and teachers who give their all each and every day for our children. They do not go into these professions for glory and they certainly don’t do it for the money. They do it because they are blessed to have the gift of passion and charisma coupled with the desire to make a difference in the lives of one child at a time.
When you see them next, let them know how much you need and appreciate them. I know I will.
Rabbi Samuel Klibanoff is spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Chaim, in Livingston.
By Rabbi Samuel Klibanoff