Vayechi : Internalizing Rebuke

Thankfully, I have the opportunity to be learning the halachos of Shabbos in the morning.  Not just from the Mishnah Brura, but we start from the Gemara and move our way through the "years" to see how today’s halachah has been formed, and the basis for each one.  With this understanding, one has the ability to have ideas on what the halachah would be in different situations which you might not have thought of.  I found one halacha that I did not know (I won’t go into for brevity).  Officially, the Rema says many are lenient on not doing it, but one really should do so.  I thought of some people who I knew of, who would scoff at following such stringencies . . . but the source of this stringency is the exact same source of leniency that they would have no problem using and probably do use!


When going over the Mishnah Brura, I thought to myself, “How does a person fully understand the Mishnah Brura, if he has never learned the Beis Yosef?”  Then, I thought, “How do you understand the Beis Yosef, without understanding the Tur, Rambam, Rif, etc…?”  That was followed up with, “How do you understand THEM, if you don’t understand the Gemara, Rashi, and Tosfos?”  Then I thought to myself, “How in the world can I leave kollel when there’s SO MUCH TO FIGURE OUT???”  Then, I started getting depressed.  So, I fixed THAT up with a "shot" of Turkish coffee and got back to work.


Now, if I can solve why I seem to forget everything I learn . . . where's my coffee?


“Shimon and Levi are brothers . . . Cursed be their anger, for it was vehement, and their wrath, for it was cruel.  I will divide them in Yaakov, and scatter them in Israel” (Bereishis 49:4-7).

“For Shimon, this meant that his descendants would be teachers, scribes and beggars, forced to wander the Land of Israel looking for work.  Whereas for Levi, these words were fulfilled by his descendants traveling the Land to receive the priestly gifts of terumah, ma’aser, and priestly gifts” (Rashi).

This was the "blessing" that Yaakov gave Shimon and Levi shortly before he died.  It was a pretty harsh blessing if you ask me.  While many might actually think that this is a curse, we see that in reality, it truly was a blessing.  What became of Shimon and Levi?


Both were spread throughout Israel, as Yaakov said.  Later in the Torah, we see that the head of Shimon fell in line with Zimri, and led his fellow tribesman down the same path.  When the Jewish nation finally entered Israel, we see that Shimon never fully received his portion.  What he did receive was fully enclaved within the land of Yehudah.  We see that no kings or judges came from Shimon either.  Really, we don’t hear much from Shimon.


Levi, on the other hand, produced Moshe and Aaron, the Cohanim, and Leviim.  They produced prophets and famous Talmidei Chachamim.  While all the tribes, today, are known as “Yehudim,” from Yehudah, the Leviim are still called Leviim.


What, ultimately, was the difference between the two, who began on the same path, yet ended up on completely different courses in history?


First, we need to see what was going on when Yaakov was giving the brachos.  He wasn’t simply giving brachos, for Shimon and Levi, he was giving a rebuke.  Both of them received the same rebuke, but one internalized it and one did not.


What did Levi do when he internalized it?  Did he take this negative trait of violence and eradicate it?  No.  Instead he used it for good.  Rav Tzaddok HaKohen of Lublin explains that the only way we can overcome our Yetzer Horah is to use it in a positive way, as the Gemara (Tamid 32a) says, “What can a person do and live?  Let him kill himself in the study of Torah.”  By using that natural desire for war, Levi directed it at a real target, his Yetzer Horah.  Instead of fighting with others, he fought with him.


The difference between the two tribes was twofold.  First, the ability to receive, acknowledge, and internalize rebuke and constructive criticism.  This is difficult enough.  But that’s not enough.  One must also take his character traits that he used for the negative and turn it for the positive.  We see that even violent tendencies can be used in a positive manner. 


By following these two steps, the entire histories of two tribes were changed forever.  Can you imagine what we can accomplish if we keep this in mind?


Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner