Parshat Vayechi 5769- Rav Shames
(This is being written in the early part of the week, by the time you read this I hope the situation has improved both for the residents of the South of Israel and for our soldiers).
I would like to dedicate this shiur to all of the residents of the southern part of our country who have been subject to missile attacks in the last week. When I refer to those in the south it includes large areas of the country in addition to those in Sderot and the surrounding area who have been suffering similar attacks for years.
The areas that are being targeted this week belong to a combination of two tribes, Yehuda and Shimon. In general, the area south of Yerushalayim was given to Yehuda which is recorded in great detail in Yehoshua (15). In sharp contrast we read about Shimon that “their portion was within the portion of Yehuda” (Yehoshua 19/1). If you open a map of the division of Eretz Yisrael during the time of Yehoshua you will not see any specific area designated as the territory of Shimon, instead they received a series of cities that are located within the territory of Yehudah, in general in the more southern areas.
This discrimination against Shimon dates back to this week’s parsha. When Yaakov was blessing his children there were those that did not exactly given the most upbeat messages. Shimon and Levi were rebuked by their father for their role in the incident in Shechem, their anger was cursed and they were told that they were to be “divided in Yaakov and dispersed in Yisrael” (Breshit 49/7).
Neither tribe was awarded a specific independent homestead in Eretz Yisrael. Levi was given cities spread out throughout the entire land and Shimon was secondary to the tribe of Yehudah. Rashi points out that it was not simply the geography that lead to the dispersion, but rather economic factors played a role as well. In Shimon’s case they were to choose professions (teachers and scribes) that would be in demand in every locale causing them to live amongst all the other tribes, and in Levi’s case the tithe system, in which the Levites were able to be supported required them as well to reach each and every corner of the country.
What was it that caused such a situation? Yaakov was concerned about the possibility of the two brothers living together. He disapproved of their actions in the killing of the people of Shechem and wanted to make sure that the destructive forces would not combine again in a similar manner. Nechama Lebowitz notes that Yaakov had two different objections to their actions. At the time of the event Yaakov rebukes them on practical grounds; by doing what they did they placed the entire family in jeopardy, as the surrounding people would attack them. This fear of Yaakov was no longer relevant when he was on his death bed years later in Egypt, the father of a central figure in the government. Nonetheless Yaakov once again takes note of their actions and this time he is making an ethical statement that despite the fact that no actual danger arouse as a result of the incident he is still opposed.
Many of the commentators are bothered by two issues. Firstly, why is what they did seen so negatively when one of their descendants, Pinchas, also acted in a very zealous manner and was rewarded for doing so. How does their act differ from his? In addition, if Yaakov was so concerned about the negative effect of their behavior why would he want them spread throughout the entire nation? Wouldn’t this just produce an opposite result, spreading radicalism wide and far?
All of the answers revolve around one idea (despite the fact that they each apply it in different ways). Violence is not a good thing, however there are times in which it is needed and there is no choice. Yaakov did not want warfare to be a way of life for his children, however he clearly understood that there would be occasions that they would be called on to take up the sword to protect themselves. It was important that there be people capable of doing so in each and every location. The decision to use force is a very complicated one but when we make that choice because of the situation that we find ourselves in, it is the right choice and it needs to be done professionally and efficiently.
The Ramban explains Yaakov’s introduction to his rebuke where he says “Shimon and Levi are brothers…”. The Ramban says that Yaakov was pointing out the positive side of the two brothers. They did what they did because of their commitment to their brothers and sister. They refused to abandon their sister, which is exactly the message they presented on their behalf after Yaakov scolded them at the time- “Should our sister be made a prostitute?”
Shimon represents action when his brothers are being threatened. The action may take on violent proportions but when there is no choice it is the right decision and needs to be done right.
I am sitting and writing this shiur in my home, in Bet Shemesh (one of the cities given to Yehudah) just 46 Kilometers from the border of Azza. As of now the sirens sound only up to a 40 Kilometer distance, based on the range of the enemy’s missiles. My brothers in Sderot, Ashdod, Netivot, Beer Sheva and many other cities belonging to Shimon will spend the night in protected rooms and bomb shelters. This cannot be the right thing. We cannot be threatened by viscous terrorists and forced to live in fear.
May Hakdosh Baruch Hu give us the strength to stand up for our brothers and use the qualities that Shimon represents in our efforts to once again live peacefully in our own homes. At every given moment we witness miracles as the missiles fall and our casualties could be much worse. We ask Hashem to help us and continue to experience such miracles.
In every single teffilah of ours during this time we must pour out our hearts to God to help each and every soldier fulfill his mission to the best of his abilities, and we must beg Hashem to bring each and every one of them home safely.
May we all merit the bracha that we will hear at the end of the reading this Shabbat- Chazak, Chazak V’ Nitchazake.