Commentary for Vayechi

2 Jan

One year Rabbi Aharon of Karlin went to the bimah to start leading the morning service on Rosh Hashanah, but as he uttered the very first word, ha’melech (“the king”) he fainted. He would later explain that as he said the word, he had thought of the famous Talmudic story (Gittin 56) of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai, whose disciples smuggled him out of Jerusalem during the Roman siege so that he could meet with the Roman general Vespasian. When Rabbi Yochanan saw Vespasian, he addressed him as if he were the emperor himself. Vespasian responded by informing Rabbi Yochanan that he was now deserved to be put to death, either because he had called Vespasian the emperor when he was not one, or because “if I am a king (and you already knew this) why did you not come to me earlier?” “’When I thought of that,’ Rabbi Aharon said, ‘I was terrified. Since I know that God is the One and Only King, why did I not come to him sooner in sincere repentance?’ (Art Scroll Machzor Yichron Yosef, p. 321)”


In this week’s parshah we see an opposite but equally important episode, as Joseph’s brothers finally apologize to him for selling him into slavery. The brothers and their families (along with Joseph and his family) have been living together in Egypt for seventeen years now, on land given to them by Joseph after he saved them from starvation… and yet in all this time they have not once apologized to him. Despite having had many years to stew about what his brothers had done to him, Joseph accepts their apology without hesitation.


Although we mark the High Holiday season on our calendars the “time of repentance,” repentance can be achieved at any time. There is no reason to wait until the High Holidays to rectify our misdeeds, and the Holidays are not a deadline that all sins must be atoned for by or else they become irreparable. We should strive to repent for our sins every day of the year, whether they were sins we committed days ago or years ago.

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