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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi 5779

Parashat Hashavua: Not How You Start but How You Finish

Harav Yosef Carmel

Parashat Vayechi begins with a clear understanding that Yosef was (in several ways) the leader among his brothers and that he was treated like a firstborn who receives a double portion (see Bereishit 48:22). At the end of the parasha we also see that Yosef is in charge and holds the “keys to liberation.” Yet, when it comes time for Yaakov’s berachot, there is a big surprise: kingdom in Bnei Yisrael will go to the family of Yehuda in a permanent manner (see ibid. 49:10).

When one looks through the beginning of Navi to see how things played out, he will notice that until the time of David, the only leader from Yehuda was Otniel ben K’naz. To the contrary, the most influential tribe was Ephrayim. They were powerful enough to try to return Bnei Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael before Hashem sent Moshe. Moshe’s assistant, Yehoshua bin Nun, from the Tribe of Ephrayim, went on to be the leader after him, The Tribe of Yehuda was actually downtrodden during the time of the Judges. There are many signs that they were under the control of the Plishtim. For example, Devorah does not mention them in the list of tribes that fought along with her or even those who were asked to do so. Even as late as the time of Shaul, there were Plishti governors in the Judean city of Beit Lechem. When the Plishtim needed a launching spot to take on Shaul’s troops at the time of Goliat, they did so in the Judean town of Socho, showing that the Plishtim were at ease there. So does it make sense that the tribe which was supposed to provide eternal leaders had so little prominence all of this time?

The Ramban on our parasha explains as follows. Yehuda was not promised to always be kings. The Torah, after all, prophesies that there would be times when kingdom would be taken away from the nation due to sin. Furthermore, the Torah just says that it would not be taken away, meaning that the promise began only after they received the kingdom, which happened at the time of David. At that time, it was said that Hashem “gave kingdom to David over Israel forever, for him and his offspring” (Divrei Hayamim II, 13:5).

David did not only begin a monarchal dynasty but also built Jerusalem and set it as the present and eternal capital of the nation, both from the religious perspective and from the political perspective. One can ask why David “gave up” Jerusalem to the rebellious Avshalom so easily, despite his fear that the city would be destroyed (see Shmuel II, 15:14). The answer comes a few p’sukim later. David declared: “If I find favor in the eyes of Hashem, He will return me and show me His dwelling place. And if He says: ‘I do not want you,’ then He can do to me what is good in His eyes.” In other words, David saw his life project of building the city and preparing the Mikdash as something that should stand the test of time. Whether or not he would merit to preside over it beyond that point was of limited import to him.    

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