Parsha Halacha

Parshat Parshat Vayechi – Shabbat Chazak

Machir ben Menashe

And Yosef as his son’s Sandak

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The Torah portion of Vayechi ends by describing the end of Yosef’s life. The verse says,[1] וַיַּרְא יוֹסֵף לְאֶפְרַיִם בְּנֵי שִׁלֵּשִׁים גַּם בְּנֵי מָכִיר בֶּן מְנַשֶּׁה יֻלְּדוּ עַל בִּרְכֵּי יוֹסֵף which literally means, “Yosef lived to see children of the third generation of Efrayim; the children of Machir, son of Manasseh, were likewise born upon Yosef’s knees.” The commentaries, however, do not take the words “born upon Yosef’s knees” literally as obviously Yosef was not a midwife who assisted in the birthing of his descendants.

Brought Up his Great-Grandchildren[2]

Rashi (based on the Targum Onkelus) interprets the above expression to mean that Yosef brought up the children of his grandson Machir between his knees (גִּדְּלָן בֵּין בִּרְכָּיו). Rashi uses the expression “between his knees” rather than the literal translation of “on his knees” to indicate that Yosef taught them and was involved in their education all the way into their adulthood,[3] well beyond the age when they could be on his knees in a literal sense. This understanding of these words is implicit in the verse itself as it first states that Yosef saw the children of Efrayim’s grandchildren, i.e., his great-great-grandchildren[4] from his younger son, and then it says that he “also” brought up the sons of Machir, the son of Menashe i.e., his great-grandchildren from his older son. If the sons of Machir were young it would mean that Yosef only saw three generations from Menashe but four from Efrayim. It is difficult to understand why the verse would consider this to be an additional accomplishment (“also the sons of Machir…”). This is why Rashi interprets the verse to mean that he brought them up between his knees, i.e., until they were full adults. Thus, we find that while he only “saw” his great-great-grandchildren from Efrayim (as babies) while his great grandchildren from Menashe he was also able to educate and influence until their adulthood.

Which Child of Machir did Yosef Teach?

According to Rabeinu Bachye, Yosef gave special attention to the descendants of Menashe since he was the firstborn. Specifically, the verse that indicates that he brought up the son(s) of Machir is referring to Gilad who was the grandfather of Tzelofchad,[5] whose famous and righteous daughters were the first females to inherit in Jewish law. Their righteousness can be traced back to their great-grandfather Gilad, who was educated by Yosef.

The other child of Machir that we know of is a daughter who married Chetzron of the tribe of Yehudah.[6] Some say she was the ancestor of Yair who conquered parts of the Gilad in Transjordan.[7] It has been suggested[8] that she was imbued with the love of the land of Israel from her great-grandfather Yosef[9] (who brought her up) and that she passed that love to her grandson Yair who was one of the first warriors to conquer a portion in Israel. Similarly, it can be said that the love exhibited by the daughters of Tzelofchad for the land (in asking for an inheritance) can be traced back to Gilad their great-grandfather, who received it from Yosef.

Taught Torah

When the Torah says that Yosef brought up the sons of Machir it must be referring to teaching them Torah since the basic parenting tasks were no doubt performed by the children’s parents.[10] Although Machir (and Menashe) must certainly have also taught them Torah, Yosef had the unique advantage of having learned all of Yaakov’s Torah from him and was therefore in a position to pass on that unique knowledge. Although Yosef was generally not the Torah teacher of the Jewish people, a position held by Yehudah, he made time to teach his great-grandchildren as there is a special mitzvah to learn with one’s grandchildren and even with one’s great-grandchildren.[11] Some say that, if necessary, a person should even financially support the Torah study of their great-grandchildren if they can afford it.[12] Yosef’s behavior is a support for this view.

Machir, a Man of War

Here is some information about Machir, son of Menashe and father of Gilad:

The verse says[13] that half of the tribe of Menashe took their portion on the east bank of the Jordan River due to the fact that it was conquered by Machir, who was a man of war (i.e., a mighty warrior), together with his children. Machir survived the desert and entered into the land of Israel as the decree that the generation of the Exodus should die in the desert did not apply to those over 60.[14] Machir was at least 169 years old at the time of the Exodus.[15]

Why in Transjordan?

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin questions[16] why half of the tribe of Menashe was given an inheritance in Transjordan seeing that they had not requested it. The fact that they had been involved in the battles is not a sufficient reason since they were doing so as agents of Moshe and the Jewish people and were not acting in their own capacity. He explains that since they were very righteous men and their descendants were great Torah scholars,[17] Moshe wanted them to be an inspiration to the tribes of Gad and Reuven who would be physically distant from the rest of the Jewish people.

What about Yair’s Children?

It is noteworthy that there is no mention of Yosef bringing up the children of Yair, the son of Menashe who is mentioned (see above) regarding the conquering of Transjordan.[18] Two explanations are given for this: According to Rashi,[19] he did not have any children. In addition, some say that Yair was a descendant of Menashe but was not his son. Specifically, he was a direct descendant of Yehudah and was also a descendant of the daughter of Machir, son of Menashe (as mentioned above).[20]

Yosef Was the Sandek

The Targum Yonatan translates the words יֻלְּדוּ עַל בִּרְכֵּי יוֹסֵף as כַּד אִתְיְלִידוּ גְזִירִינוּן יוֹסֵף which means that when they were born Yosef circumcised them. This has been understood to mean that Yosef was their sandek,[21] i.e., they were spiritually born on his knees when they had their bris. This interpretation dovetails with the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav that a baby boy’s G-dly soul begins to enter him when he has his brit milah and that one should therefore, preferably, begin washing the baby’s hands in the morning (negel vasser) from that time.[22]

Twice a Sandek

The Ashkenazi custom is that one person should not be honored to be a sandek twice, within the same family (i.e., for two siblings). In this respect, being a sandek is like offering ketoret which each kohen could do only once in his lifetime.[23] In addition, both of these activities are considered a segulah (spiritually influential) to become wealthy. As such we must understand how Yosef could be a sandek for the children (plural) of Yosef. An answer can be found based on a responsa of the Chatam Sofer[24]who explains that an exception is made for the Rav of a community (Mara De’atra) who may be the sandek twice (or more) in one family. This is similar to the Kohen Gadol who was able to bring the ketoret as many times as he liked.

Importance of a Sandek

The importance of being a Sandak is mentioned in the Midrash[25] where it enumerates how one can use each of one’s limbs to perform a mitzvah. As for the knees it says, “I use them to be a Sandek for babies during their brit.”[26]

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach

[1] Gen. 50:23

[2] This explanation of Rashi as well as that of Targum Yonatan (below) is from the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Likutei Sichot, vol. 20, pg. 243 and on.

[3] See Gen. 48:12 that Yosef places Efrayim and Menashe “between the knees” of Yaakov even though they were at least 19 years old (see Gen. 41:3, 45:6 and 47:28)

[4] See Ibn Ezra and Rabeinu Bachaye on the verse. But see Chizkuni who understand the verse differently.

[5] See Numbers 27:1.

[6] Divrei HaYamim I 2:21

[7] See Ibn Ezra and Ramban on Numbers 32:42.

[8] Be’inyan Hanachalot Be’eretz Yisrael (Benei Berak 2010) by Rabbi Yitzchak Tzvi Ceitlin, page 32 and on.

[9] See Rashi on Numbers 27:1 “(“Yosef loved the land…”).

[10] Likutei Sichot vol. 9, pg 31, footnote 39

[11] See Hilchot Tamud Torah of the Alter Rebbe 1:8 and 9

[12] Shach on Y.D. 245:1

[13] Yehoshua 17:1 as explained by Radak. See Numbers 32:39 and 40

[14] Ramban and Tur Ha’Aruch on Numbers ibid

[15] Machir had grown children at the time of the passing of Yosef. So, we can assume he was at least 30 years old at that time. Since Yosef passed away 139 years before the Exodus, Machir must have been at least 169 at that time.

[16] In Ha’amek Davar on Deut. 3:16

[17] See Shoftim 5:15 (“From Menashe will descend lawgivers”) and Sanhderin 5a.

[18] Numbers 32:42

[19] On ibid

[20] Ramban and Ibn Ezra on ibid

[21] Midrash Sechel Tov quoted in Torah Shleima. See also Midrash Tehillim on Tehillim 35

[22] Mahadurah Batra 4:2. Although there is no explicit early source for this ruling (other than this verse), the Lubavitcher Rebbe also cites the Menorat HaMaor, Vol. IV, chapter of Gidul Banim who writes that a child has a portion in the World to Come from the time of their brit milah.

[23] Rama Yoreh Deah 265:11 see also Tzava’at Rabbi Yehudah HaChassid, 40

[24] O.C. 158 and 159

[25] Yalkut Shimoni on Tehillim Remez 723

[26] Here is a paraphrase of the full list of limbs and how they can be used to serve G-d as given in the Midrash: (Please note that some of these examples are only applicable to men. Other examples can be found for women.)

I serve G-d

  • With my head, by waving it when I read the prayers
  • And by putting Tefillin on it
  • With my hair by not cutting my Peyot
  • With my neck when I put on my Tallit
  • With my eyes when I see my Tzitzit
  • With my mouth when I speak G-d’s praises
  • With my lips when I express gratitude to G-d with them
  • With my beard when I do not shave the corners of the beard
  • With my tongue when I use it to express Your righteousness
  • With my heart when I guard Your sayings (Torah) in it
  • With my chest when I cover it with a Tallit while saying the Shema
  • With my front and back when I wear two tzitzit in the front and two in the back while I pray
  • With my right hand when I use it to write (Torah) and to show people the words of the Torah
  • With my left hand when I tie Tefillin on it and use it to hold the tzitzit while saying the Shema
  • With my nails to perform the brit ceremony and to slaughter sacrificial birds
  • With my thumb to look at the light during Havdalah
  • With my kidneys to straighten my path to serving G-d
  • With my innards by guarding the Torah in them
  • With my internal organs by praising G-d with them
  • WIth my right foot by performing chalitzah (should it be necessary, G-d forbid)
  • With my left foot by using it to step back after the Amidah (before the right foot)
  • With my legs to bow during prayers
  • With my male organ by having a brit milah
  • With my knees to be a sandak for babies during the brit milah

Thus, the verse (Tehillim 35:10) says, “All of my bones proclaim, ‘G-d, who is like You?’”

Chazak, Chazak VeNitchazek!

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