At a glance, this Parsha
spells trouble! That's because it starts off with that worrisome
word "Vayehi." Now, literally, "vayehi" is
harmless. It means "and it came to pass." Simple enough! But when
"Vayehi" comes at the beginning of a Perek (chapter)
it translates to doom and gloom! Usually, "Vayehi" is
paired off with "bimay" as in "and it happened in the
days." But don't let that double dose trick you - "Vayehi"
is trouble enough when it appears alone! "Vayehi" is
a contraction of the words "vay" and "haya"
(a bad event happened). In Parshat Shmini, the zing zooms
in on Aharon's two sons, Nadav and Avihu. They get caught up in
the dedication celebrations, and in a drunk stupor, light the
Mizbayach with their own fire. Well, those two zealous
Kohanim get fired.... literally! Hashem sends
a swoop of Heavenly fire and burns them inside out.
Here are some more examples of tough times on the "Vayehi"
1. "Vayehi Bimay Amrafel" - "And it came
to pass in the days of Amrafel" (Bereishit 14:1). Even
if you don't know Amrafel, you can be sure that there's trouble
a-brewing! In this Perek, it's the four kings vs. the
five in a major canaanite war that puts Lot right in the center
of the battle. During the course of this war, Lot is captured.
Tragic, huh? Well, anyone who knows Lot knows that he might
be worth a "Va" but not a "vayehi bimay!"
The real tragedy lurks around the bend as Lot is used as bait
to draw Avrohom into the conflict. The true intention is to
kill Avrohom. Now that would be a tragedy! Little do these gentile
kings realize that Avrohom is the light of the world. It goes
to show us readers the greatness of Avrohom - a true "vayehi-worthy"
2. "Vayehi bimay Achaz Ben Yosam..."...-
"And it came to pass in the days of Achaz, son of Yosam, ...,
King of Yehuda, that Retzin, king of Aram, and Pekach, son of
Rimalyahu, king of Israel, went up to Yerushalayim, to
wage war against it..." (Yishayahu 7:1). Well, so much
for the obvious! True, waging war on Yerushalayim is tragic,
but Chazal (our sages) attribute the "Vayehi bimay"
to a sign of the times: Achaz was one wicked idol-worshipping
king! He was bent on driving the Shechinah away from
the Jewish people. Achaz locked up all the Yeshivas,
houses of learning and Batei Midrash. Learning Torah
was forbidden. He especially made sure that the children remained
ignorant. That way the next generation of Torah leaders
wouldn't know Adam from Adam.
Baruch Hashem, his plan failed and Torah
triumphed. Still, the unbroken chain of tradition was weakened
and much Torah was lost in the process... a terrible
3. Then there's the most famous "Vayehi Bimay":
"Vayehi Bimay Achashverosh" - "And it came to pass
in the days of Achashverosh." Surely you recognize the opening
line to Megillat Esther! Haman plotted to destroy the
Jewish people on the 14th of Adar. And he almost succeeded!
Unfortunately for him, Hashem planted Esther in the
palace and Haman's plan went kaploowie!
Now, the "Vayehi (Bimay)" connection is a good general
rule for tracking tragedy. But be warned that some sages say
that it doesn't have a 100% track record. Rabbi Yishmael, however,
is a firm believer in the "volatile Vayehi." And so,
when some sages challenged him to explaim the tragic score of
"Vayomer Hashem Yehi Ohr, Vayehi ohr" ("and Hashem
said let there be light, and there was light"). Where's the
tragedy in the light of creation?, they wondered.
Well, Rav Yishmael was well prepared. He explained
that the light of "vayehi ohr" never made it to the
sixth day of creation. This light was deemed to be too wonderful
for this world. One day into creation, Hashem has already
determined that mankind is not going to be worthy of greatness!
(How do you like that? Doomed before the first man even makes
an appearance!). So Hashem took away this heavenly
light and replaced it with a dimmer bulb. The original light
is reserved for Tzadikim to enjoy in Olam Habah
(the next world).
Okay, that clears up
"Vayehi ohr." But why does each day of creation wind
up with a "vayehi" (as in "vayehi erev, vayehi
boker yom revii; and it was night and it was day, a fourth
Rav Yishmael explained
that these "vayehis" teach us that this world was not
created in a state of perfection. For example, grains grow from
the ground, but you've got to grind and bake them before you
can eat them.
When Hashem zapped Nadav and Avihu, the heavenly fire burnt them from the inside, sparing their bodies and the clothing of the Kehuna that they wore. Like clockwork, the dedication continued on. Perhaps this hints at the true meaning of "vayehi." In every case of calamity, there is always a hint that hope looms on the horizon: Avrohom defeated the kings and rescued Lot; Achaz could not extinguish the light of Torah; As hard as he tried; Haman's plot was foiled; Hashem will once again reveal His wonderous light in the future when Moshiach comes; and finally, although this world is not perfect, Hashem has revealed the secret to achieving perfection - Torah, the light of all creation!