Honor Your Father And Mother Equally
- HaRav Avigdor Nebenzahl
- Jan 6, 2012
Yaakov Avinu tells Yoseph: "as for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died on me in the land of Canaan on the road, while there was still about a beras of land to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the road to Ephrath, which is Beit Lechem" (Bereishit 48:7). Rashi comments: why did Yaakov feel the need to tell this to Yoseph? Yaakov, says Rashi, explains: "I did not even take her to Beit Lechem to bring her into the land and I know that there are hard feelings in your heart against me. But you should know that by the Word of G-d I buried her there, so that she should be of aid to her children when Nebuzaradan would exile them and they would pass through by way of Rachel's tomb, Rachel would go out onto her grave and week and seek mercy for them".
Yaakov is telling Yoseph that although not only did he not bury Rachel, Yoseph's mother, in Ma'arat HaMachpela he did not even bring her into Beit Lechem itself, he simply buried her on the way. Why did Yaakov do this? Because Hashem wished for the Jewish nation going into exile to pass by Rachel's grave. She will have compassion on the Jewish nation and plead before Hashem that they return to Eretz Yisrael. Yaakov asked that Yoseph please not be upset with him, there was good reason for burying Rachel where he buried her.
There are other reasons offered why Rachel was not buried in Ma'arat HaMachpela. Among them is that she exchanged a night with Yaakov for the dudaim of Reuven. Because Rachel did not value living with Yaakov she was destined not to be buried alongside him. We find in the Zohar another reason for Rachel being buried outside the Ma'arat HaMachpela. Yaakov loved Rachel from the beginning because he saw right away what a great tzadekkes she was. Leah's righteousness was more hidden. Rachel therefore was buried out in the open while Leah was buried in a cave. Because of the reason we cited in the name of Rashi, Kever Rachel is a popular place to pray.
Did Yoseph not swear to Yaakov that he would bury him in Ma'arat HaMachpela, what was Yaakov's great concern? Perhaps he feared that Yoseph would find a way to annul the vow he took (matir neder) and therefore not bring him to the cave. Perhaps Yoseph harbored some feelings of resentment to Yaakov as Reuven did for Yaakov's moving in with Bilha following Rachel's death rather than with Leah (Reuven's mother). Reuven disturbed the bed of Bilha - Yaakov feared that perhaps Yoseph would do something similar.
Reuven's sin consisted of not being carefully enough with the honor of his father while being extra careful for the honor of his mother. Perhaps, similarly, Yoseph would not properly fulfill kibbud av due to being extra careful with kibbud em. Yaakov therefore felt the need to make sure that Yoseph would indeed carry out his wish and bury him in Hebron.
Yoseph indeed fulfilled his father's wish. Yoseph was afraid that just as Reuven forfeited his bechora by not sufficiently honoring his father, perhaps Yoseph also would receive some sort of punishment for not properly honoring his father. Yoseph in fact gave his father incredible honor both during Yaakov's lifetime and after his passing. He brought him to be buried in Eretz Yisrael, his burial was a very honorable one attended my many of the leaders of Egypt and other places.
Yoseph, however, was punished for other things relating to his kibbud av. One opinion in Chazal states that the reason Yoseph died before his brothers is because he heard them referring to Yaakov as "our father your servant" and did not say anything to prevent this. Even if he feared that too much protest would reveal his identity that he was their brother, something he did not wish to do at this point, he could have said something to the effect "your father is a prophet, he is a great man, I do not believe it is proper to refer to him as my servant."
There is another opinion which states that it was wrong of him to instruct the doctors to embalm Yaakov. His intentions were certainly noble and were meant to honor his father, yet we know that Hashem preserves the bodies of the tzaddikim, even those on a level far less than Yaakov Avinu. There were stories of people in the previous generation whose body was preserved. Yoseph therefore should not have had the doctors do this.
Yoseph's intentions were good and the sin does not appear so severe, yet we know that Hashem acts with those close to him like a hairsbreadth and punishes them for even the slightest infraction - that which for others may not be so sinful.
I used to wonder, how can it be that the Jewish nation passes by Kever Rachel on the way to Bavel? Is Bavel not in the North and Kever Rachel not South of Yerushalayim? We can answer this difficulty based on a Rashi elsewhere. Rashi teaches us that the Jewish nation asked Nebuzadradan as he was sending them into exile, if he could be so kind as to take them past the sons of Yishmael, thinking that perhaps the Arabs would have mercy on the Jewish people. Nebuzadradan agreed hoping he could make a profit by selling some of the Jewish people to the Arabs.
Perhaps we can offer another explanation. When Andaryanus took over Yerushalayim on Tisha B'Av during the reign of Tzidkiyahu, one and a half years later during the month of Tevet the enemy made a big feast in honor of their conquest. The trip from Yerushalayim to Bavel should not have taken a year and a half, what then took so long. Perhaps we can explain that they first went southward before proceeding towards Bavel in the North.
They arrived on the fifth of Tevet. There is an opinion in the Gemara that the fast we are observing this week should be on the 5th of Tevet rather than the 10th (we do not follow this opinion). This was a terrible day for the Jewish nation. On the one hand the Jewish people had no choice but to honor the king and attend his victory celebration. On the other hand, they heard about the terrible destruction which took place in Yerushalayim for which they wished to weep. They wore sackcloth, the clothing of mourners, underneath their festive clothing. They could not show their clothing of mourners in public while the local people were celebrating. This indeed was a very difficult day for the Jewish nation.
Chazal tell us "whoever said Reuven sinned is simply mistaken" (Shabbat 55b). What does this mean? Was Reuven not punished for his actions in the incident involving Bilha? What is their intention when they say: "whoever said Reuven sinned is simply mistaken? What Chazal mean is that whoever says that Reuven sinned in the manner that appears from the simple reading of the Torah is simply mistaken. Reuven was only guilty of moving his father's bed.
We are not speaking of a person whose act stemmed purely from lust. Chazal explain that: "Reuven sought (to right) the affront to his mother, he said if my mother's sister was a rival to my mother, shall the maidservant of my mother's sister be a rival to my mother?"(ibid.). Rachel may have been worthy of rivaling my mother Leah, for she too is counted among the matriarchs. But Bilha - Rachel's maidservant! What right does she have to take the place of Rachel, she is not one of our holy matriarchs! He therefore went and moved his father's bed.
When Chazal said "whoever said Reuven sinned is simply mistaken", they meant that even if he acted as the text implies, he was not motivated by what motivates others to act in such a manner. He was out to defend his mother's honor (though this was not the correct way to go about it).
This leads us to a deeper understanding of "whoever said Reuven has sinned is simply mistaken". Chazal are telling us that one with such a view is not only mistaken in his understanding of the incident involving Reuven and Bilha but in his approach to the ENTIRE TORAH. He "is simply mistaken" in his understanding of the Torah, for the Torah teaches us the vast distance between holiness and impurity - an entire world separates them and they cannot coexist. A man who sins with his father's wife giving in to his base desires, is not worthy of having his name appear on the Choshen and Ephod stones worn by the Kohen Gadol as a remembrance before Hashem (see Shmot 28:12, 29). Chazal teach us that had Yoseph sinned with the wife of Potiphar his name would not have been on the Choshen. One who does not understand this has missed the point of the entire Torah. Reuven certainly was mistaken, his attempt to protect his mother's honor meant slighting his father's honor.
While it is true that Reuven repented, undergoing a total tshuva that will eradicate all the damage caused by the sin is very difficult. On the one hand we are told how easy it is to repent: "the matter is very near to you - in your mouth and your heart - to perform it" (Devarim 30:14) (see Ramban there), yet tshuva is "a ladder set earthward, its top reaching heavenward" (Bereishit 28:12). Climbing the bottom rung of the ladder is an easy task, but ascending to the top rung is very difficult. Reuven may have repented, but Yaakov learned through Ruach HaKodesh that Reuven had not succeeded in completely cleansing himself from this sin, and he therefore rebuked him.
Even spiritual giants of the world were unable to reach the top of the tshuva ladder. Adam HaRishon, for example, violated the "easy Mitzvah" that Hashem gave him - not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge (see Shabbat 55b). Chazal tell us: "Adam HaRishon was an exceedingly pious man, when he saw that the world had been penalized with death because of him (note: for his sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge), he fasted for one hundred and thirty years, and abstained from marital relations for one hundred and thirty years, and wore belts of fig branches on his skin for those one hundred and thirty years" (Eruvin 18b). Adam's tshuva certainly was effective, for it was able to grant him life in the Next World, yet it was not sufficient to return the world to its state prior to this sin. His tshuva was unable to rescind the decree of "for you are dust, and to dust shall you return" (Bereishit 3:19) - people still die at the end of their days. The decrees of "by the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread" (ibid.) and "I will greatly increase your suffering and your childbearing" (ibid. 16) were not retracted either.
Yeshayahu HaNavi's sin, on the surface, also appears to be insignificant. He said regarding the Jewish nation: "I dwell among a people with impure lips" (Yeshayahu 6:5). The very next pasuk describes his immediate atonement: "One of the Seraphim flew to me and in his hand was a coal; he had taken it with tongs from atop the altar" (ibid. 6). The coal was so hot that even a seraph (an angel who is completely fire) was unable to hold onto it with his hands but needed tongs to grasp it (i.e. the coal was on a higher spiritual level than the angel - from my Rebbe HaRav Dessler zt"l). "He touched it to my mouth" (ibid. 7) - the angel took from the high spiritual level of the coal and placed it on Yeshayahu's lips. "He said: 'behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity has gone away and your sin shall be atoned for'" (ibid.). Yeshayahu's transgression has effectively been removed and his sin has been atoned for.
Immediately thereafter Hashem asks him "whom shall I send, and who shall go for us"  (ibid. 8) - who will go to rebuke the Jewish nation (see Rashi there). We must realize that a prophet's joy was not an easy task that simply meant being honored with Shlishi or Shishi each Shabbat. The job involved admonishing the Jewish nation and often included much suffering and persecution. Yeshayahu himself said: "I submitted my body to those who smite and my cheeks to those who pluck; I did not hide my face from humiliation and spit" (Yeshayahu 50:6). I have taken upon myself the mission of prophecy despite knowing that I opened myself up to being smitten, to having my beard torn out, and to being spat at. Although other prophets such as Moshe Rabenu, Yirmiyahu, and Yechezkel, tried to avoid such a mission, Yeshayahu volunteered his services: "and I said: 'here I am! send me!'" (Yeshayahu 6:8). He was willing to suffer all the persecution and suffering involved in carrying out this mission as a means of eradicating his sin. This is what Yeshayahu did for eighty years (it seems that he was not persecuted the entire time, for he prophesied during the reign of Uziyah, Yotam, and Chizkiyahu who were righteous kings of Yehuda. These things probably occurred when the wicked king Achaz ruled over Yehuda). The Beit HaMikdash was standing for those eighty years, and therefore eighty Yom Kippurs had passed in which there were eighty "seir hamishtale-ach's" had been dispatched. (The "seir hamishtale-ach, literally "the goat that was dispatched (into the wilderness) comes to atone for the nations less severe sins even when not accompanied by tshuva - see Rambam Hilchot Tshuva 1:2). (There may not have been a "seir hamishtale-ach" during the entire eighty years for Achaz put a stop to the service - see Sanhedrin 103b, but certainly during the reigns of the righteous kings the "seir hamishtale-ach" service was carried out). In addition there is no doubt that Yeshayahu repented.
All this, however, did not grant Yeshayahu complete atonement, for at the conclusion of this eighty year period, Menashe king of Yehuda smote him in the mouth and killed him. This was in retribution for that same less than honorable way he spoke of Am Yisrael (see Yevamot 49b). All of Yeshayahu's tshuva, his persecution and suffering, the eighty Yom Kippurim that had passed from the time of the sin, and the eighty seirim that were offered, were not sufficient to provide a complete "tikkun" for his sin. Complete erasure of a sin is very difficult, even as small as Yeshayahu's.
A similar phenomenon occurred during the generation of Moshe Rabenu as well. Moshe meted out justice against those who had worshipped the Golden Calf - three thousand people were killed. In addition, Moshe ascended to the top of Har Sinai to pray to Hashem that He forgive the Jewish nation for this sin. Hashem granted his forgiveness, yet the nation did not return to the level it was on prior to this sin. The tshuva and "tikkun" of Moshe and other tzaddikim of the generation - Aharon, Yehoshua, and others, was not enough to entirely cleanse the people of this sin. It was sufficient to save Am Yisrael from destruction and to be given the second set of Tablets, to bring us into Eretz Yisrael and build the Mishkan, but it did not manage to return us to the situation we were in before - in which we were free from the clutches of the angel of death and free from the oppression of other rulers (see Shmot Rabba 32:1).
It was due to this infraction and lack of total repentance that Reuven forfeited the double portion of the firstborn (given to Yoseph), the Kehuna (given to Levi), the kingdom (given to Yehuda). Yaakov Avinu says to Reuven "Reuven, you are my firstborn, my strength and my initial vigor, foremost in rank and foremost in power" (Bereishit 49:3). As the first born you were worthy of receiving a greater share than your brothers - the kehuna and the kingdom, but because "water-like impetuosity, you cannot be foremost" (ibid. 4). Your acting in haste was responsible for that additional share being taken from you and granted to others (the kehuna to Levi and the kingdom to Yehuda). Where do we find your impetuosity? "Because you mounted your father's bed" (ibid.), referring to the incident related in Parshat Vayishlach: "Reuven went and lay with Bilha, his father's concubine" (Bereishit 35:22).
Tshuva is something we should all strive for and we must believe that Hashem grants atonement, but to reach the high levels is very difficult. Reuven did manage to have his name on the Choshen along with the other holy tribes. Tshuva is something very close to us, it is easily attainable, it is reaching the higher levels which is difficult.
- "Numbers", Transitions and Spiritual Scaffolding: Netziv on Sefer Bamidbar