Does “Vayehi” Always Mean Oy Vey?

Parshat Shmini (Vayikra 9:1) which talks about the dedication of the Mishkan begins with the word “Vayehi” (And it was). “And it was on the eighth day (bayom haShmini) that Moshe called to Aharon and to his sons and to the elders of Israel”.


Megillat Ester also begins with the word “Vayehi”. “And it was in the days of Achashverosh…”


The Tamud, Megilla 10b states that there is a tradition passed down to us from Anshei Knesset HaGedola (The Men of the Great Assembly) that the term “Vayehi” introduces a painful narrative.


According to the Maharsha, “Vay” means woe and “hi” means mourning.


The Gemara lists painful narratives that come after the word “Vayehi” including, Vayehi, in the days of Achashverosh, Haman sought to destroy the Jews. Vayehi, in the days when the Judges judged, Shfot HaShoftim (Megillat Rut), there was a famine. Vayehi, man began to increase on the earth (Breisheet 6:1), God saw that the wickedness of man was great. Vayehi, when they journeyed from the east (Breisheet 11:2) they said let us build a city (the Tower of Bavel.).


The Gemara challenges this assertion by bringing the first pasuk from Parshat Shmini:

Vayehi, “And it was on the eighth day”. It was taught in a Braita: On the day of the dedication of the Mishkan, there was much happiness before God as on the day when the heavens and earth were created.


On the first day of creation it said “Vayehi Erev Vayehi boker…” It was evening, it was morning one day.


From this Braita it seems that the word “Vayehi” could also be used for fortunate times as both the dedication of the Mishkan and the creation of the world were happy occasions.


The Gemara explains that since Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s sons died on the day that the Mishkan was dedicated, the term Vayehi is appropriate on account of the tragedy.


According to Rav Ashi, there are some instances in the Torah where Vayehi refers to fortunate times (like during the creation of the world) and there are other instances where it refers to painful times. The words “Vayehi Biymei” (and it was in the days of), always introduce a painful narrative.


There are five instances of “Vayehi Biymei” in the Tanach and they all refer to painful times:

“Vayehi Biymei Achashverosh”, “Vayehi Biymei Shfot HaShoftim”, “Vayehi Biymei Amrafel” (Breisheet 14:1, when the four kings waged war against the five kings and as a result, Lot, Avraham’s nephew was captured), “Vayehi Biymei Achaz” (Yishayahu 7:1, a war against Jerusalem), “Vayrhi Biymei Yehoyakim” (Yirmiyahu 1:3, the exile from Eretz Yisrael and the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash took place during his lifetime).


Although Purim is a happy time for us now, if we really focus on the story we see what a painful time it was for the Jews who were living at the time of Achashverosh.


The dedication of the Mishkan in Parshat Shmini was also bittersweet. It was a happy time to celebrate yet the happiness was dampened by the fact that two of Aharon’s sons died.


Let’s hope and pray that we can return to the true happiness from the days of the creation when the word “Vayehi” was not followed by negativity but was rather followed by a description of the wonderful world that God created for us.