One of the Chassidim of the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Reb Shalom Dov Ber, was a successful entrepreneur who made vast fortunes in the lumber industry.
So faithful was the Chassid that he sought the Rebbe’s advice and instruction in all his life’s affairs, including matters of commerce. Never would he make a business decision, large or small, without the Rebbe’s advice and blessing.
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity had one day presented itself in which he stood to amass tremendous profits. This was to be his largest venture ever. It required the commitment of his entire capital but the profit was so enormous, he could double or even triple his entire worth in this single transaction.
After examining it from all sides, it appeared to him that the deal was a no brainer. So as usual, he was off jovially to seek the blessings of his sainted Rebbe. But to his dismay, after listening to all the details, the Rebbe recommended against the deal.
The chossid’s attempts to educate the Rebbe on the positive indicators and exceptional profits were to no avail. Dejectedly the chossid returned home feeling like he had lost fortunes on account of the Rebbe.
Upon declining the offer, the presenters of the deal were aghast that he would allow this opportunity to slip through his hands. “Perhaps you failed to impart the information properly,” asserted the capitalists. “We are certain that were you to describe the nature of the transaction accurately and the exceptional returns, the response would have been different”
Their words penetrated the heart of the chossid who reluctantly returned to Lubavitch and with difficulty received another audience with the Rebbe. “Rebbe”, wailed the chossid, “Apparently in our previous meeting I failed to describe the exceptional potential of this venture. We are talking about enormous profit, it is an opportunity to multiply ones wealth overnight. I am convinced that had the Rebbe recognized the conditions, he would have advised me otherwise.”
The Rebbe listened patiently to his passionate presentation and in the end responded, “In my opinion it behooves you to pass up this offer.” The chossid returned home bewildered and distressed, the signs were clear that this was an exceptional opportunity to compound his wealth many fold.
Once again pressure was placed on him by family and friends to return to the Rebbe and plead the case. Extremely hesitant and embarrassed, he found himself standing before the Rebbe for the third time begging for his consent. The Rebbe heard him out and said, “No! it is not beneficial.”
Back home he could not withstand the overwhelming pressure from friends and family and proceeded with the deal despite the Rebbe’s advice. But lo, just as the Rebbe advised the venture went up in smoke and with it his entire worth.
After learning the hard way how foolish it was not to heed the advice of his holy Rebbe, he returned to Lubavitch again, this time in a state of humility and complete regret. His audience with the Rebbe lasted longer than the usual few minutes which was ordinarily granted due to the Rebbe’s weak health. Much of his conversation with the Rebbe has not been revealed, however, upon the request of fellow Chassidim, our chossid has shared the following words of the Rebbe:
“I am frequently visited by Chassidim amongst whom are big merchants. They request my advice in matters of business something which neither I nor my fathers have been involved. Why then do they seek my counsel?” In answer to this question, the Rebbe explained that there are three types of Chassidim. “The simple type who are also referred to as ‘fools’ so to speak maintain quite innocently, that the Rebbe is the Rebbe! He has Ruach HaKodesh, he possesses prophecy, therefore one must obviously follow his instruction, there is no room for ‘wise guy’ mentality.
“The Chassidim who are not as ‘simple minded’ or self-effaced, do not accept my words as being completely beyond reason, they maintain that since the Rebbe is constantly involved in the study Torah, Chassidus and the service of G-d. His thought and intellect are naturally in tune with that of the Creator, therefore, his advice will certainly come to fruition.
“There is yet a third category who are more worldly or ‘wise’, their approach is of an even more logical nature: ‘The Rebbe,’ they argue, ‘comes in contact with people of all walks who share with him their life experience, he thus acquires knowledge in a vast spectrum of issues that no other person possesses. It is hence entirely logical to follow his advice.’”
The Rebbe concluded: “No matter which category of chossid you might be, you should not have proceeded with the venture after I have conclusively advised you three times against it.” The Rebbe continued to bless the chossid with the regaining of his wealth.
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The dramatic events surrounding the deathbed blessings bestowed upon Yosef’s two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, tend to reveal vast cosmic secrets regarding the future of the two burgeoning tribes. Moreover, this narrative seems to alert the reader to uncanny insight on behalf of the purveyor of the blessings, our saintly forebear Yaakov.
When Yaakov was 147 years old, he sent word to his son Yosef that he was feeling ill. Yosef took his two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, and rushed over to visit his father. Although he was very weak, Yaakov strengthened himself in order to sit upright.
Given that he was not able to see very well, he asked Yosef who the children were. Yosef explained that they were the two sons born to him in Egypt, Menashe and Ephraim. Yaakov then indicated to Yosef that he wished to bless his two sons before he passed-on. In preparation of the blessings Yosef took Menashe and Ephraim and placed them in front of Yaakov.
Our Parsha continues to describe how Yosef positioned his sons before Yaakov in a way that Menashe the older of the two stood across Yaakov's right hand and Ephraim the younger opposite his left.
According to Jewish tradition the right side is considered the more dominant. Given the fact that Menashe was the older of the two, Yosef logically positioned him in front of Yaakov’s right hand so that he would receive the more prominent blessing. Ephraim who was younger was to be blessed with the left hand.
But to Yosef's chagrin, Yaakov maneuvered his hands in such a way that his right hand ended up on the head of the younger son and vice-a-versa. Quite certain that his father switched his hands in error, Yosef attempted to redirect them, saying: “Not so father, this is the older son, place your right hand over his head.”
Un-swayed by Yosef’s well meaning efforts, Yaakov refused to be corrected. He assured Yosef that he deliberately arranged his hands in that manner, stating: “I know my son, I know. Although the older brother, Menashe, will be great, the descendants of the younger Ephraim are to be even greater.”
This account gives rise to a number of perplexing issues, not the least of which is the thought of yet another sibling rivalry. So much of our early history has been fraught with sibling dissonance and conflict as a result of one child currying more favor than the other. Haven’t we already witnessed the destructive results of preferential treatment on the part of parents? Have we not seen the consequence of tampering with the first born rights? Why does this scenario keep reoccurring in our ancestral family?
Most puzzling, however, is the notion that Yaakov would himself participate in this type of activity. The casualty of a bitter rivalry with his own brother, Yaakov was keenly aware of the ensuing pain and anguish. Having furthermore been the victim of an ugly competition among his own sons, he was clearly mindful of the untold misery and grief left in its wake.
Given the above, one might expect that he would be more sensitive than to plant the seeds of further sibling discord in a new generation. Why would Yaakov of all people stir up more trouble, this time among his grandchildren?
It is quite plausible that this is precisely what was going through the mind of Yosef, the consummate victim of sibling enmity, in his passionate protest: “Not so father! Must we really go through this? This is the older son; place your right hand over his head.” In other words: “Oh father, not again! Hasn't this family suffered enough as a result of sibling rivalry?” But rather than address Yosef's concerns, Yaakov seems to dismiss him with a “this is how it is” and “papa knows best” type of reply. What do we make of this bizarre phenomenon?
The deeper Chassidic interpretation regarding the essential qualities of Menashe and Ephraim can help decipher the puzzle.
Menashe, as the name implies, represents the ability to survive and overcome the hardship of adversity and exile, as Yoseph declared upon choosing the name: “G-d has made me forget my hardship.” Ephraim, on the other hand, signifies the capacity and function of growing through pain and adversity – Galus: “G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.“
Accordingly, there was deep cosmic significance in Yaakov's insistence that Ephraim be the principal recipient of the blessings. By this Yaakov set out to insure that it not sufficient to survive Galus – to endure and forget – but that we enjoy the capacity to grow and reap the rich rewards of the bitter exile.
“As much as I understand where you're coming from,” insisted Yaakov, “as much as I share your passion for brotherly love and sibling harmony, there is something infinitely greater at stake here. The entire remuneration and bounty intrinsic to adversity and exile hangs in the balance.
You can be certain that of all people I share your frustration. Still, sometimes one must look at the bigger picture. Although from your vantage point my actions may seem unreasonable and even objectionable, it does not mean that there is not a deeper reality. Just because there is strife on the outside, does not mean there is not even greater love and good on the inside.”
True wisdom is to know that one's own perception and paradigm is not the ultimate (Divine) truth and reality, but rather the margins of one's very own intellectual limitations and mortality. This knowledge is the means, the only means, by which these limitations can be straddled and transcended.
The dramatic narrative vis-à-vis the blessings that the ailing Yaakov bestowed upon Yosef’s two sons, contains fundamental insights regarding the need to have complete sub-ordinance and faith in Divine reality as conveyed by a Tzaddik and to never question his judgment, even when it seems difficult and absurd. We are certainly never to maneuver his hand and (heaven forbid) twist his will towards our own interests, even when we have the most high minded and noble intentions. We must follow his every directive at all cost notwithstanding the fact that we may be exceptionally wise and powerful like Yosef.
The name of our Parsha is ”Vayechi” – And he lived, referring to the life of Yaakov. Yet in actuality it discusses his demise and the events that preceded his final days in this world. However, since the life of a Tzaddik is not defined by his physical existence but rather by his holy accomplishments and impact on humanity, the events in our Parsha represent Yaakov's true and eternal legacy, in spite of their connection with his physical demise.
In fact, his final acts in the physical world are most reflective of his spiritual and eternal essence; hence it is specifically this final chapter of his life that is given the name Vayechi. It is likewise the chapter over which we chant the words: “Chazak. . .” Be strong, be strong and may we be strengthened!
Accordingly, the lessons derived from the blessings that Yaakov bestowed on Menashe and Ephraim, and the surrounding events, one of the final acts of his life, embodies his innermost legacy –the notion that there exists a reality beyond our physical comprehension.
This message, the ultimate gift to his progeny, contains the secrets of how to survive and prosper in Galus, despite its intensity, as well as, the key to the final redemption. May it be very soon with the coming of the righteous Moshiach BBA.