When discussing Emunah, Tefillah, and the Parsha, really this week is one of the best times to do it.
In the sidra, Vayechi, we see the shevatim are given their brachos from Yaakov Avinu. Every Friday night a father recalls the brachos given to Menashe and Efraim. There’s so much here to cover.
Rabbi Akiva Bruck, in his sefer From Behind the Curtain, points out that the Mei Hashiloach, Reb Mordechai Yosef of Izhbitz, identifies Yaakov as the highest level of the Avos, in that he was the pinnacle of emunah.
Avraham and Yitzchok, as Yaakov states, walked before HaShem. In contrast, he describes his own walk as being shepherded from birth onward. This is the highest level. Whereas Avraham and Yitzchok had to forge a path and build trust in HaShem, Yaakov followed only the path HaShem laid out for him.
Through this statement, Rabbi Bruck points out that Yaakov Avinu is telling Yosef that when one doesn’t want to pray, that’s when they should, that we should turn to HaShem alone for our path and have emunah on the highest level.
This is what Dovid HaMelech means in the Tehillim we recite during Maariv leading into Shabbos, “HaShem is my shepherd.” Dovid is begging HaShem to guide him step by step just like Yaakov Avinu. Perhaps when we recite this Tehillim this upcoming Shabbos night, we can keep this in mind that by reciting it, we too, want to be led only by HaShem.
Also in our night kiddush we see the blessing over the children. Fathers bless their sons to be like Menashe and Efraim. Why is this? Rashi points out these children of Yosef were unfit for blessing. The Bobover Ruv looks to B’derech Tzachos for insight. When a boy is bar mitzvah, the father rises to the Torah and recites a bracha, “who has released me from the punishment of this boy.” Until bar mitzvah, the father is held accountable for the boy’s misdeeds. In the case of a boy being pure, however, the Ruv clarifies, one should not recite the bracha. It is only for a boy who has sinned. Thus, when Yaakov asks regarding Menashe and Efraim, he is pointing out they are pure and unfit for this particular blessing.
Menashe and Efraim grew up in the culture of the Mitzri. They were exposed to immorality and spiritual emptiness. Around them was a life of gashmius and excess. It’s very easy to draw a comparison to the American culture today, not just in the excess and physicality, or lack of spiritual sensitivity, but also the core values of enslaving yidden to be estranged from Torah and mitzvos (cancel culture, gender confusion, Open Orthodoxy, and more are some easy examples of values so contrary to Torah that one cannot align to them and competently serve HaShem).
This is why we bless our children to be like Menashe and Efraim. The shtuss is around us, and we want them to grow up as tzaddikim, protected from our American Miztri culture. And to accomplish this, we need emunah and tefillah.
The Bobover Ruv has two questions on this blessing we recall every week. First, why say “on that day?” Second, why repeat “saying?”
Rebbe Benzion of Bobov, the Kedushas Zion, gives us a foundational idea regarding tefillah. HaShem wants our tefillos. It’s a conversation with Him, part of the relationship to be connected to HaShem. Thus, to ensure we daven, HaShem withholds blessing until we do so. The Medrash on Shemos confirms this, pointing out that the Krias Yam Suf could not be realized until Klal Yisroel cried out to HaShem. A preordained miracle set up in the creation of existence, held back until we spoke to Borei HaOlam.
The Kedushas Zion points out this concept on tefillah applies unilaterally to us all over everything. Our success, our parnassah, our shidduchim and more, is reliant on our tefillos.
- A life of emunah is the highest level
- Tefillah is essential and the spigot of blessings
Regarding the brachos on the shevatim, the Zohar asks why the brachos of Zevulun always precede the brachos of Yissachar. Yissachar studied Torah, and shouldn’t Torah come first?
The Gemara in Bava Kamma, also found in our morning seder of davening, states that the study of Torah is the greatest mitzvah. And yet, when the blessings are given, the tribe that does physical mitzvos is given precedence over the tribe that learns Torah.
There’s a second half to the Gemara that’s not often quoted, and it’s a good idea to look at it. It says, 17a, that Torah study is great because it leads to performance of mitzvos. So it’s a circular argument. Torah study is the greatest mitzvah because it leads one to do other mitzvos, so thus it would seem doing mitzvos is the ikar over the study. And while one should not use this as an argument to lessen or ignore study, that is the correct understanding. In fact, Chazal in Avos 1:17 clearly state that “study is not the main thing, but actions.”
Chovos Halevavos instructs us regarding work to choose a job that is natural, pleasurable, and congruent with observant life. For some, that is being a Torah scholar. For others, that’s being a surgeon, a writer, a teacher, a bus driver, nearly you name it. Those that choose the path of labor and invest in the Torah scholars, according to the Zohar, are given double favor, one for giving Tzedakah and two for investing in limud HaTorah.
Part of emunah, part of tefillah, goes back to what Dovid HaMelech pleaded for. He pleaded HaShem would guide him, and that he would not take matters into his own hands. We need to build this ourselves, which is the purpose of our discussion on Emunah, Tefillah, and Parsha.
May we be zoche to grow in our emunah and merit to live as Yaakov Avinu, fully reliant on only HaShem for our derech.
To help you in your growth in this area, I have some resources available for you:
- Weekly Class at Portland Kollel Night Seder
- My website with articles on the Parsha and Torah thoughts
- My podcast covering Emunah
- I’m also available for chavrusas, questions, and further conversation (and WhatsApp)
Going forward, in the weekly class, iy”h we will be able to work through material on emunah and tefillah, tying in the parsha as we do so.