Parshas Vayechi and Chumash Bereshis come to an end with; “And Joseph died at the age of one hundred ten years, and they embalmed him and he was placed into a coffin in Mitzraim.” (50: 26) It is a strange and surprising choice of a posuk to make the siyum of the very first sefer of the Torah. More so when this is followed by a happy and loud call in joy and in unison “Chazak, Chazak Venischazek.” After all Yosef wasn’t even buried properly or given any posthumous honors. He was just placed into a coffin that ended unceremoniously at an unknown site at the bottom of the Nile, and left hanging in a limbo without any closure. Yosef’s levaya would better fit at the beginning of Shemos, by the mention of the death of all his brothers. Would it not be more appropriate to finish the Chumash with the pomp and circumstances of one of the greatest funerals of ancient times, the burial of Yakov Avinu so amply described almost at the end of this same parsha?
Parshas Vayehi is usually read on the week after the taanis of Asara BeTeveth, and there are several correlations between them. A most interesting point about this taanis, that clearly elucidates the essence of the day is mentioned in Bais Yosef (O.H. 150) in the name of the Avudraham. Namely that if this day would fall on Shabbos, unlike any other rabbinical fast-days we would actually fast on Shabbos. The reason, he explains, is that the term “Be’etzem Hayom Haze” (on this day) appears in regards to it, just like in Yom Kipur.
Chasam Sofer (Droshos, Adar) further clarifies that there are two kinds of days of fasting, the historical and the prospective. The first kind, which includes nearly all of them, commemorates a most catastrophic and tragic historical event, such as the Churban Beis Hamikdosh or the breaking of the luchos. The second kind is preventive, like Yom Kipur, where the objective of fasting is not mourning, but rather it is used as an instrument for engendering feelings of repentance and teshuva. We also fast a Taanis Chalom on Shabbos, not because we commemorate anything, but rather to forestall a bad dream from happening. Chasam Sofer argues and proves that on Asara BeTeveth, Hashem and His Celestial Court judge and decide if Moshiach will come and the Geula will happen on this year. Asarah BeTeveth is a prospective taanis, with a vision to the future and we would therefore fast on Shabbos.
A funny story is told about a four-year-old sitting on a supermarket cart and screaming his head off, while his mum very patiently keeps on filling up the cart with groceries. A sympathetic fellow approaches the child and asks him why are you crying? Are you in pain? Something hurts you? Surprisingly the kid answered; nothing hurts. My mum always buys me ice cream but last week she forgot. This is just a reminder of what will happen if she forgets again.
We could actually scrutinize every single Yom Tov, Simcha or occasion to determine to which category they belong. Some, as weddings or a bris, seem to face mainly the future. Others, like a yortzait or a taanis basically commemorate the past. Most, as Rosh Hashana or other Yomim Tovim, include both elements. It would seem that a levaya clearly fits in the historical group. However, Yosef Hatzadik, with his great courage and sacrifice for his people, changed and redefined the basic nature of what a levaya can be. He set it with trust and Emuna into the yet-to-come, thus giving future and hope to a nation about to be enslaved and tortured, stating that he would not rest in peace and be buried properly, until they all would be saved from slavery and they inherit the land. For that mesiras nefesh, of millennia gone, we all stand up in recognition, and proclaim together Chazak, Chazak Venischazek.
Gut Great Shabbos – Binyomin Gestetner