שביבי אש
לסדר ויחי

וְעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת אַל נָא תִקְבְּרֵנִי בְּמִצְרָיִם

And deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I beg you, in Egypt (Genesis 47:29):

In the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah Jacob's request of Joseph is explained to mean: "that the Egyptians not use me as a medium of redemption" for it is written (Exodus 13:13): "And every firstling of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb" (וְכָל פֶּטֶר חֲמֹר תִּפְדֶּה בְשֶׂה). The Egyptians are considered asses, as it is written (Ezekiel 23:20): "whose flesh is as the flesh of asses" (בְּשַׂר חֲמוֹרִים בְּשָׂרָם) while I am considered a sheep, as it is written (Jeremiah 50:17): "Israel is a scattered sheep" (שֶׂה פְזוּרָה יִשְׂרָאֵל).

And it appears to our master to explain the Midrash in view of the danger that the character trait of kindliness presents to a person. Although this trait may lead a person to do good for others and to care for them, the trait may also lead a person to a forbidden desire to engage in immoral relationships and to consort with adulterers. For the source of kindliness is an uncontrollable impulse, which is why the Scripture writes (Leviticus 20:17) in reference to one of the forbidden relationships, "חֶסֶד הוּא" (it is a shameful thing). Now we, the Children of Israel, are kind and we are merciful ones who are descended from merciful ones. Nevertheless, we are very far removed from forbidden relationships, and we flee from them to the furthest possible extent as required by the Torah which is called Truth. This was the trait of Jacob, who took pride in saying about his first-born son (Genesis 49:3): "my might and the first-fruits of my strength" (כֹּחִי וְרֵאשִׁית אוֹנִי). However, the Egyptians were licentious and lusted after forbidden relationships. By the same token, they were also good-hearted and so full of kindness that the Scripture writes (Deuteronomy 23:7): "You shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land" (לֹא תְתַעֵב מִצְרִי כִּי גֵר הָיִיתָ בְאַרְצוֹ). This means that, despite his tendency to immoral conduct, we should not abhor an Egyptian totally, because he also has a good side, which is that he arose to save our fathers who were strangers in his land, which became their refuge in their time of distress.

In making his request to Joseph, Jacob was in fear for his soul, because he understood that the Children of Israel and the Egyptians had a character trait in common, namely the trait of kindliness. He feared that perhaps the Children of Israel would also deviate from the path of truth, the trait of Jacob, and would become dissolute like the Egyptians. They might, G-d forbid, stumble and not be able to get up. Was it not, in fact, precisely because they avoided illicit relationships that they were saved from Egypt? This is what Jacob said to Joseph (Genesis 47:29) "and deal kindly and truthfully with me" (וְעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת) by which he meant to say: "perform kindness in a way that is consistent with the Torah which is truth." Jacob continued, "bury me not in Egypt" by which he meant "do not abandon my trait of faithfulness while you remain in Egypt by committing adultery as the Egyptians do. For then my hopes will be destroyed. How will we be different from them, because they are also as kind-hearted and generous as we?" This was the meaning of the words the Midrash attributes to Jacob.

"That the Egyptians should not use me as a medium of redemption" - in other words, that they should not be able to say that the children of Israel are, as are they, adulterers. "Whose flesh is as the flesh of asses" - in other words, that the Egyptians are licentious. "And I am a sheep." The Midrash explains elsewhere that Israel is compared to a sheep, because just as the whole body of a lamb shakes if one of its limbs is touched, similarly if one Israelite is endangered then the whole people are aroused. This reflects their trait of kindness, which is easily awakened. However, they are also scattered, meaning that when it is necessary to remain aloof and detached, they have the self-control to withstand temptation, which is the trait of might (הגבורה) and restraint (והצימצום). Israel is therefore called a scattered lamb. But if they were just a lamb, then they could, G-d forbid, be exchanged for an ass, "for every firstling of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb" (וכל פטר חמור תפדה בשה). And then how would these (the Israelites) be different from these (the Egyptians)?

חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת

Kindly and truly (Genesis 47:29)

Rashi comments: Kindness and truth: the kindness that is shown to the dead is the "kindness of truth" (חסד של אמת) since one cannot hope for any reward.

The Siftei Hakhamim writes that Rashi's reference to the kindness shown to the dead was not meant to imply that kindness to the living could not also be completely disinterested, but, in fact, any kindness done without the expectation of any reward could be called "kindness of truth" (חסד של אמת). For Eliezer also said to the family of Rivkah (Genesis 24:49) "And now if you will deal kindly and truly with my lord" (וְעַתָּה אִם יֶשְׁכֶם עֹשִׂים חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת אֶת אֲדֹנִי) when he asked them to give him Rivkah without compensation or any expectation of reward.

It thus appears that Rashi's opinion is that the only act of true kindness is an act performed without expectation of any reward. But this is difficult because the Sages in Nedarim 83b deduce from the verse (Ecclesiastes 7:2) "And the living will lay it to heart" (וְהַחַי יִתֵּן אֶל לִבּוֹ) that the living should bury and eulogize the dead so that they in turn will be buried and eulogized when they die. If so, the living do have some expectation of reward for their acts of mercy to the dead. Nor can one distinguish between whether the expectation is that the beneficiary of the act of kindness will reciprocate or that third-parties will reciprocate, because the one performing the act of kindness still expects to be rewarded in the end, so his kindness is not truly disinterested (חסד אמיתי). And even Joseph acted in this way when he requested that his brothers take his remains with them from Egypt.

It therefore appears to our master that, but for the words of Rashi, we could have said the opposite: that kindness refers to any act done with no expectation of reward. But if an act is done in the expectation of reward, it is not kindness (חסד) but truth (אמת) that is done only for the sake of compensation. Jacob therefore told Joseph that the act of kindness that he was requesting from him was not an act of pure kindness, but also an act of truth, because Joseph would eventually also have to request from his brothers that they take his remains with them when they left Egypt. Joseph therefore performed an act of kindness, because he received no immediate compensation, but it also had an aspect of truth (אמת), because he hoped eventually to be compensated. Similarly, Eliezer, in saying, "if you will deal kindly and truly" with Abraham, meant that it would be a kindness to Abraham, because it was Abraham's desire that Isaac should marry a member of that family. But it was also "truth," because what greater reward could they have than to be related by marriage to Abraham who has been blessed by G-d with everything.

בִּנְיָמִין זְאֵב יִטְרָף

Benjamin is a ravenous wolf (Genesis 49:27):

Rashi comments: He (Benjamin) is a wolf that will tear. He prophesied that the descendants of Benjamin will be rapacious in the future, for they were told as it is written (Judges 21:21) "and seize each man his wife" (וַחֲטַפְתֶּם לָכֶם אִישׁ אִשְׁתּוֹ) after the incident of the concubine of Gibeah.

The Siftei Hakhamim writes that "יִטְרָף" is not an adjective modifying "wolf" (i.e., "a wolf that tears"), because every wolf tears. Rather it is a verb "יִטְרָף" whose subject is Binyamin. So the opinion of Rashi is that Benjamin is a wolf that will tear. And the Siftei Hakhamim should have elaborated further to say that if "יִטְרָף" were an adjective, the text would have been written in the present tense (טורף) not in the future tense (יִטְרָף).

And our master observed that there is a wonderful symbolism in this verse, because we know that when the children of Israel gathered together after the incident of the concubine of Gibeah to formulate a plan to allow the four hundred men of Benjamin to take wives from the other tribes so that the tribe of Benjamin should not be completely annihilated, they decided to let them catch wives from the tribe of Ephraim. And the reason that they designated the tribe of Ephraim was that Ephraim was descended from Joseph the brother of Benjamin. But there was also a hidden reason for this, which is that Joseph had been supposed to have twelve sons like Jacob. But, as a result of being in Egypt, he only had two sons instead of twelve. But those sons were in a spiritual sense restored by Benjamin through the birth of his ten sons each of whom he named in memory of his Joseph, as is explained well in the Midrash and in the kabbalistic books (ספרי חן). It was a kind of יבום to name the son in memory of the dead brother. Therefore, just as Benjamin restored the loss of Joseph by naming his sons in Joseph's memory, so too at the time when the tribe of Benjamin was threatened with extinction, it was appropriate that he should claim his reward by catching wives from the tribe of Ephraim the son of Joseph.

This is what Jacob meant in his holy spirit by saying, Benjamin is a wolf, because he snatched the ten souls from the void and returned them to a place of holiness in the name of his brother. What is more, the numerical value of זאב is ten! But in the future Binyamin will tear (יטרוף) in the incident of the concubine of Gibeah when he will receive his reward for what he did for Joseph.

According to this, we can well understand the words of the אור החיים  who wrote concerning the verse (Genesis 30:23-24): "and Rachel said, G-d has taken away my reproach. and she called his name Joseph saying May the Lord add to me another son" (אָסַף אֱלֹקִים אֶת חֶרְפָּתִי וַתִּקְרָא אֶת שְׁמוֹ יוֹסֵף לֵאמֹר יֹסֵף יְהוָה לִי בֵּן אַחֵר). And these are his words: The letter aleph is composed of a vav and two yods. She took one yod from it, leaving one yod and one vav. That is why she called him Joseph and not Asaph. And the yod which she took from Joseph she gave to Binyamin, which is written with an extra yod.

Rachel spoke correctly in saying that G-d had taken away her disgrace, because Joseph was destined to have twelve sons like Jacob. But then she saw through the holy spirit, that ten would be lost. She therefore took a yod from Asaph and hid it in the name of Benjamin. This is why the Scripture says, "And she called his name Joseph: and said, may the Lord add to me another son" who will recover the ten that were lost.