From the Nadir to the Zenith

In this week’s parsha, Vayechi, Jacob gives final blessings to each of his children. But some of the blessings seem a bit harsh.

Jacob starts out with his eldest son, Reuben, but the “blessing” brings up a past sin in which Reuben moved his father’s bed to the tent of his mother Leah, since Reuben felt he should be sleeping with her instead of Bilhah, the maidservant of Reuven’s late wife Rachel.

Not a good start to the blessings.

Next in order come Simeon and Levi. Jacob felt that neither son was worthy of leading the Jewish people because of the incident in the city of Shechem: After Shechem, the son of the ruler, defiled (raped) their sister Dinah, Simeon and Levi went through the city and killed all the men.

On his dying day, Jacob did not forget this incident, and gave them the following “blessing”:

Simeon and Levi are a pair;
Their weapons are tools of lawlessness.
Cursed be their anger so fierce,
And their wrath so relentless.
I will divide them in Jacob,
Scatter them in Israel.

Genesis 49:5-7

Not the greatest of blessings, though you can see that the curse was on “their anger” and not on Simeon and Levi themselves.

After blessing all twelve sons, Jacob was “gathered onto his people” (he died). The Jews remained in Egypt a total of 210 years, then spent 40 years wandering in the desert.

After all this time, Moses, the leader of the Jewish nation, is about to die. He then blesses the 12 tribes. And a curious thing happens. During this 250-year period, the two brothers Simeon and Levi went on different paths. When it came time for the tribal blessings from Moses, the tribe of Simeon were not even worthy of their own blessing!

But Levi was different, and this is part of the blessing that he received:

And of Levi he said:
Let Your Thummim and Urim (referring to the oracle nature of the breastplate worn by the High Priest)
Be with Your faithful one,… (let it be with the Priestly Class, or “kohanim”, who were all part of the tribe of Levi)
Your precepts alone they observed,
And kept Your covenant.
They shall teach Your laws to Jacob
And Your instructions to Israel.

Deuteronomy 33:8-11

My number one son read Parshas Vayechi for his Bar Mitzvah, and as he was practicing, this all clicked for me. My family is from the tribe of Levi, and we can see from the first “blessing” (and from other instances in the Torah) that the tribe of Levi is sometimes “hot headed” and has an “anger management problem.” I could definitely relate to an “anger” problem in my life.

What happened in the desert? Simeon and his descendants apparently did not work on their anger. The tribe withered away and didn’t merit a blessing from Moses.

But the Tribe of Levi understood that anger was a challenge (some call it a “gift”) that could be redirected towards holiness. In the desert they worked on themselves and became uplifted so much so that G-d made Aharon and his sons (who part of the tribe of Levi) into the Priests of the Jewish Nation, and gave the rest of the Tribe of Levi various holy jobs in the Tabernacle.

Do you have an “Anger problem”? I know I did. A person can allow his anger to control himself. The end for such a person is usually not very pretty, though.

Or a person can control his Anger. The Tribe of Levi turned the anger into zealousness for G-d and his Torah. A person can also subdue his anger and relax in the knowledge that everything that would have excited his anger is ultimately controlled by G-d, so why get angry at all?

But even if you feel you are at the lowest point possible, having destroyed everything around you due to anger, know that it is still possible to lift yourself up like the Tribe of Levi did, and reach the highest spiritual heights possible in this world!

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