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A Grandfather's Blessing
Moshe Menachem Liberman
"So he (Yaakov) blessed them (Ephraim and Menashe) that day, saying, '( Becha yevaraych Yisrael ) By you shall [Bnei] Yisrael bless saying, 'May Hashem make you like Ephraim and Menashe' - and he put Ephraim before Menashe." Vayechi 48:20.
Rashi explains that Yaakov Avinu blessed Ephraim and Menashe that when a father will desire to bless his son, he will bless him that Hashem should make him like Ephraim and Menashe. How is this a beracha to Menashe and Ephraim? Generally, a "blesser" blesses a "blessee" that he should be granted an increase in some capacity, be it in health, wealth, children, intellectual capabilities, etc. Here, however, Yaakov Avinu's beracha appears to merely affirm Ephraim and Menashe's achievements thus far, deeming these accomplishments worthy of emulation by the children of the Bnei Yisrael.
Yaakov Avinu's use of the singular form of " Becha " ("By you") is also puzzling. Because he was addressing both Ephraim and Menashe he should have chosen the grammatically correct plural form of " Bachem "!
A further question involves the phrase, "and he put Ephraim before Menashe." Rashi explains that the Torah articulates the seemingly obvious fact that Yaakov Avinu placed Ephraim before Menashe in his beracha to show that the tribe of Ephraim's banner should precede that of Menashe's tribe in their encampment in the desert and that the korbanos of the prince of Ephraim's tribe which were offered during the inauguration of the Mishkan should precede those that were offered by the prince of Menashe's tribe. Why is this sequence relevant to the beracha of Yaakov Avinu?
An understanding of the nature of the banners of the tribes and the korbanos that were offered by their princes during the inauguration of the Mishkan can shed light on these questions. The Midrash says that Hashem displayed an abundance of love to the Bnei Yisrael by making for them banners so that each tribe has individual recognition. What is this individual recognition that the Midrash speaks of? The banners served as a guide to each individual tribe, directing each tribe in its unique mission of serving Hashem. Additionally, they gave recognition to the distinctive nature of each tribe's individual contribution to Bnei Yisrael's collective service of Hashem in that a given tribe's service could not be substituted by another tribe's service.
The importance of the individual tribes is also highlighted during the discussion of the korbanos that were offered by the princes of the tribes during the inauguration of the Mishkan. The Ramban notes that the Torah first details each korban of the different princes and then reviews the sum total of what was brought by the various princes to show that although each of the korbanos were identical to each other, each offering was important to and equally valued by Hashem.
This concept of the value and significance of the individual can perhaps shed light on the significance of Yaakov Avinu placing Ephraim before Menashe. Had Yaakov Avinu placed Menashe first, it would have been explained that he did so because Menashe was older. By switching the order in his beracha, however, Yaakov Avinu emphasized the unique missions of Ephraim and Menashe which were consistent with their individual strengths, and blessed them that each one should continue to carry out his special duty and that each one's individual contribution would be of equal value to Hashem.
Having different individual missions, however, leads to the risk of a weakening of the strong bond shared by brothers. Therefore, Yaakov Avinu used " Becha " the singular form of "By you," blessing Ephraim and Menashe with unity in the face of their individual missions and approaches in their service to Hashem. This unity, as well as having a unique mission and approach in serving Hashem, Yaakov Avinu declared would be the beracha with which Bnei Yisrael would bless their children.
May Hashem grant us the cognizance to know our unique mission in serving Him and yet remain united so that He can derive from us a true sense of nachas ruach.
License To Lie
Rabbi Moshe Menachem Liberman
"And they sent a message to Yoseph saying: Your father commanded before he died, saying: So you shall say to Yoseph: Please forgive now the transgression of your brethren, and their sin, for they did to you evil . . ." Vayechi 50:16-17.
Rashi points out that the brothers modified the words of Yaakov Avinu in this matter in the interest of peace because Yaakov Avinu had not actually commanded thus.1 The Gemara learns from these pesukim that there is a license to alter the truth in the interest of peace.2 This freedom to alter the truth is actually mandatory and not merely an authorization to alter the truth.3 Before we look at this obligation to alter the truth in the interest of peace, it behooves us to examine the general restriction against altering it.
The Torah states in Parshas Mishpatim, "From a false matter you shall distance yourself."4 Thus, halachic authorities hold that there is a biblical obligation to refrain from lying.5 Furthermore, Hashem exhorts us to speak the truth, as the Navi in Zechariah states, "Let one man speak with another in truth."6
The threshold for establishing what constitutes a falsehood, though, is very low. A mere omission is considered an alteration of the truth.7 The Chofetz Chaim deduces this from the Talmud in Yevamos 65b which states:
Peace is important because even Hakodosh Boruch Hu altered the truth in the interest of peace. Initially the Torah writes [that Sarah Imeinu, after hearing that she will give birth to a son to Avraham Avinu, said], "[After I am old shall my skin become smooth] and my husband is old?"8 And afterwards it writes [Hashem (only) told Avraham Avinu that Sarah Imeinu had said], "and I am old?"9
The only difference between what Sarah Imeinu said and what Hashem told Avraham Avinu that she said, was that Hashem omitted the comment that she had made concerning Avraham Avinu.10 This omission, the Gemara said, was permitted only because it was done in the interest of peace.11 Thus, even a mere omission of part of an otherwise true statement is considered a falsehood to which we are commanded to keep our distance.12
Although merely omitting is considered a falsehood, when altering the truth in the interest of peace, it is preferred to an outright lie.13 Of course, if merely omitting would be insufficient then he should outright lie.14 This obligation to lie in the interest of peace, however, does not sanction swearing falsely.15 Additionally, one may not lie concerning things which have not yet happened.16
There are other times when it is also appropriate to lie. If a person is asked whether he is knowledgeable in a certain Mesechta, he may lie and answer that he is not when in fact he is.17 However, if he is asked in order to provide an answer to a halachic query or to teach, then he must answer truthfully, consistent with his expertise in the Mesechta.18
If a person is asked in the presence of disreputable people concerning the graciousness of his host, he may lie and answer that his host was not gracious.19
The contemporary halachic authorities also permit altering the truth in the following circumstances:
¨ People may answer, "I don't know" when asked about a matter that is supposed to remain secret.20
¨ Wealthy individuals may lie about their wealth if they fear "the evil eye" (ayin hara) or if they do not want to arouse jealousy.21
¨ If one fears that a package will be mishandled, it is permitted to write "glass" on it, even though it does not contain any glass.22
1 Rashi al Hatorah, Vayechi 50:16 (beginning with the words "Your father commanded")
2 Yevamos 65b
3 Derishah al Choshen Mishpat 262:21
5 Rabbi Shmuel Hominer, Eved HaMelech, Parshas Mishpatim 23:7:1 (citing SMa"G at Esay 107 and SMa"K 226) (4th ed. 1998); but see Rabbi Menachem Trivash, Orach Maysharim 9:1:1 (noting that this verse is only a restriction on judges and witnesses in the judicial context) (3d ed. 1968).
6 Mesilas Yesharim Chapter 11 (quoting Zechariah 8:16 and other sources).
7 Chofetz Chaim Hilchos Rechilus 1:8:14.
8 Vayera 18:12.
9 Id. at 18:13.
10 Chofetz Chaim Hilchos Rechilus 1:8:14.
13 Chofetz Chaim Hilchos Rechilus 1:8.
15 Id.; but see Chofetz Chaim Hilchos Rechilus 1:8:15 (noting that if there is a foreseeable loss to the other person it is questionable whether swearing falsely may be permitted).
16 Magen Avraham 156:2 (citing Sefer Chasidim 426); but see Mishnah Berurah 156:4 (commenting on Magen Avraham 156:2 that it is questionable); see Rabbi Shmuel Hominer, Eved HaMelech, Parshas Mishpatim 23:7:2 (explaining that the Mishnah Berurah does not understand why there should be a limitation as to when one may alter the truth in the interest of peace).
17 Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 262:21.
18 Be'er HaGolah al Choshen Mishpat 262:9.
19 Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 262:21.
20 Rabbi Doniel Yehuda Neustadt, The Weekly Halachic Discussion, 47 (citing Titen Emes l'Yaakov at 76 (quoting Harav S.Z. Auerbach and Harav S.Y. Elyashiv)) (2d rev. ed. 2002).
21 Id. (citing Titen Emes l'Yaakov at 78 (quoting Harav S.Y. Elyashiv)).
22 Id. at 48 (citing Titen Emes l'Yaakov at 66 (quoting Harav S.Y. Elyashiv, Harav Y.Y. Fisher, and Harav C. Kanievsky)).