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Zera Shimshon on Parshas Vayechi

This week’s sedra, Parshas Vayechi, is unique in that it is the only Sedra without a separation between it and the previous sedra. This differs from all other parshios that either start on a new line or have 9 empty spaces before it.

Rashi explains in the name of the medrash that the reason for this is that in this Sedra the Torah relates that Yaakov Avinu passed away and Klal Yisroel’s eyes and heart closed from the suffering of the bondage in Mitzrayim. To allude to the fact that Klal Yisroel’s eyes were closed, the Torah “closed” and hid the beginning of this parsha.

Zera Shimshon asks that this Rashi implies that the pain of the bondage started immediately after Yaakov Avinu’s passing. However, Rashi in Parshas Vayairah (Shemos 6/15) seems to contradict this. There he writes that the bondage did not start until all of the children of Yaakov passed away and not, like he writes here, when Yaakov himself passed away.

Zera Shimshon gives an answer that contains two parts.

It is written, “ki mipnay hara’ah ne’esaf hatzaddik– because of the impending calamity the tzaddik is gathered. Meaning, that before Hashem brings a calamity, a tzaddik passes away. We find in Chazal two seemingly contradictory explanations why this is.

One explanation is that when there is a decree against Klal Yisroel Hashem picks and takes away a tzaddik from this world in place of other people. According to this the pasuk means that because of an impending calamity, Hashem gathered a tzaddik in order to save the others from that calamity.

The second explanation is that tzaddikim act as shields and protection for Klal Yisroel. Therefore, Hashem gathers the tzaddik, meaning he has him die, in order that the people will not be saved! According to this explanation the pasuk means, because of an impending calamity, Hashem gathered a tzaddik in order to bring a calamity on others.

In other words, according to the first explanation the tzaddik dies in order to save others from disaster and according to the second explanation the tzaddik dies in order to be able to bring disaster on the people. How can this be?

The answer is that the consequence of the tzaddik passing away is dependent on the people’s reaction to it. If they mourn and eulogize him properly his death protects them from danger midah k’negged midah; just like they were kind to the deceased tzaddik by mourning and eulogizing him so too Hashem is kind with them and annuls the difficult decree.

However, if they do not mourn and eulogize him properly not only does the death not protect them from danger but on the contrary it adds to their punishment!

The second part of the answer is that at the Bris Bein HaBesarim, Hashem told Avraham that his descendants would have to be enslaved for four hundred years. This decree is not incidental and cannot be circumvented; it is essential for Klal Yisroel to experience it in order to be purified, to be able to receive the Torah and to be totally connected to Hashem.

According to this, Zera Shimshon resolves the contradiction of the two Rashi’s in the following way:

The suffering of the bondage actually started only with the passing away of all the children of Yaakov like Rashi wrote in Parshas Va’airo. However, when Yaakov passed away Hashem was concerned that his children would properly eulogize and mourn him and this would nullify the decree of 400 years of bondage. Since the bondage was needed to purify and cleanse us, therefore, in the beginning, at the time of the death of Yaakov, Hashem “closed their eyes and numbed their hearts” in order that they wouldn’t properly mourn and eulogize Yaakov and Hashem would be able to bring on Bnei Yisroel the suffering that was needed to purify them.

In other words, Rashi doesn’t mean, like Zera Shimshon initially thought and is the simple meaning of Rashi, that it was the suffering of the bondage that made their heart and eyes close. This can’t be because Rashi in Parshas Va’airo writes that the bondage didn’t start until the last of Yaakov’s children died. Rather Rashi means that because Hashem needed to bring the suffering of the bondage He closed their eyes and hearts so they wouldn’t properly eulogize and mourn Yaakov which would have prevented the Jewish people from enslavement.

According to this explanation, that there was no enslavement at all as long as some of Yaakov’s children were alive, Rashi never explains how Hashem prevented them from properly mourning Yaakov.

Zera Shimshon also gives another explanation. It is the same as the first one but explains how Hashem prevented them from properly mourning Yaakov.

He explains that the enslavement in Mitzrayim began right when Yaakov passed away; however it was very mild. Therefore, this doesn’t contradict what Rashi writes in Parshas Va’airo that the bondage, enslavement and suffering began only after all of the children of Yaakov died because Rashi there is referring to severe suffering and after Yaakov died it was very mild.

Even though it was very light, Bnei Yisroel were concerned it might develop into a much more severe bondage. Since they were concerned mainly with themselves they didn’t fully mourn Yaakov but mourned their own situation. The only time that the mourning for a tzaddik prevents calamities is when the mourning is solely for the tzaddik. Since they were mainly concerned with themselves, their mourning didn’t have the ability to annul the decree of being enslaved in Mitzrayim for 400 years.

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