Parshat Vayehi

Torah Reading for the Week of December 23-29, 2012


“And Jacob lived”
By Rabbi Eli Schochet, PhD, AJRCA Professor of Talmud

When I attained the ripe old age of “retirement” and retired from my congregation, I received a phone call from my friend and senior colleague, Rabbi Jacob Pressman.

“Eli, let me pose a question to you,” he began.  “Do you know what the best thing about retirement is?”

Various images floated through my mind as I considered the question…leisure reading time, taking vacation trips, wearing shmatte shirts, spoiling grandchildren more effectively than ever before, etc., etc.

Rabbi Pressman interrupted my reverie, “The best thing about retirement is that you will now have all the time you need for your medical appointments.”

He was 100% correct.  My medical date book of today is by far busier than is the most attractive Hollywood starlet’s social datebook.

However, when I am not in doctors’ offices, I am blessed in being privileged to spend my hours teaching at the AJRCA.  This is by far the best thing about old age and retirement for me.

This week’s Torah reading, Vayehi, commences with a simple sentence: “And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years.”  The elderly patriarch settled in Egypt to live out his years there.  However, the phrase “Vayehi” is subject to deeper interpretations as well.  The aged Jacob did not simply “live” in Egypt.  His life there took on a special quality.

According to the Sefat Emet, the text connotes his being able to live on a deep spiritual level.  Tanna d’vei Eliyahu comments that during the years of Jacob’s sojourn in Egypt he was blessed with me’in olam habaah…with a semblance of the peace of mind and equanimity of soul that characterizes dwellers in the world to come.

It is a fact that sometimes our best years in life are the twilight years, medical trials and tribulations notwithstanding.  There are blessings attendant in old age; one permits oneself the leisure contemplation of ideas and ideals through older (if not wiser) spectacles.  One is ever more appreciative of the gifts of health which one still possesses.  One is touched by and treasures all the more the companionship of friends and family.

But one is especially blessed if one can immerse oneself in the world of Torah.  Teaching Talmud to the special and sensitive students at the AJRCA is a true spiritual high for me.  I can identify with Father Jacob.  Certain Torah experiences are, indeed, a foretaste of the world to come.  They enable one to truly live in the fullest sense of the word.  It is the very best part of retirement.

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