Parshat Vayigash

Torah Reading for Week of December 20 – December 26, 2009

“A Day of Life”

by David Baron, AJRCA Third Year Rabbinic Student

Few sections in Torah compare in high drama and suspense to the story of Joseph revealing his identity to his brothers. I still remember the very first time that I heard the story read to us in installments by my second grade Torah teacher. The plot was still fresh and new, and I recall waiting with suspense each week to learn the outcome. Would the brothers get to Jacob to tell to him the news in time before his death? Jacob was so old – would he survive the journey to Egypt to see his son? The drama of life and death was quite alive in my young imagination.

Can the same story reread numerous times still garner such curiosity and excitement? Interestingly, this year the topic of life and death once again captured my heart, but this time the concern for life took on a different meaning.

The Torah recalls that upon receiving the news, “the spirit of Jacob was revived.” (Genesis 45:27) Rashi explains that at that moment the Shechinah, which had departed from him years before, now rested upon him again. As if to demonstrate this, three lines later we read that G-d speaks to Israel in visions saying, “Jacob, Jacob”, and he answers “‘Hineni!” (46:2) Rashi explains that G-d’s repeated address is a sign of loving affection. Not only did Jacob’s spirit revive, and not only did the Shechinah dwell with him once more, but all this was accompanied by a spirit of divine love.

Clearly there is a connection in Torah between being truly alive and living in relationship with G-d. Our parasha hints to this in the famous words of the first exchange between Jacob and Pharaoh. Pharaoh asks, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” (47:8) The questionable propriety and peculiar phrasing of the question “How old are you?” are significant. Jacob first answers a different question, saying that “The days of the years of my sojourns have been 130″, but then adds, “few and bad have been the days of the years of my life…”

The question of life’s deeper meaning is posed to each of us as well, and it is to this question that that Torah alludes to when it asks that we “Choose life.” (Deut 30:19) What makes an ordinary day into a day of life? In Jacob’s case, many were the days when the Shechinah was gone, when G-d did not seem nearby. This need not be so merely because life hits hard times. Sometimes it is in the depth of darkness that we encounter G-d’s presence in revealing, loving, and significant ways.

Our own Jewish prayer can be a guide towards this encounter each day. In blessed moments of deep devotion, words of the daily Amidah act as a climactic vessel of our yearning for G-d’s Presence. We pray the words, “Ve techezeina eineinu …”, “May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in compassion. Blessed are you, Hashem, who restores his Shechinah to Zion.” This is a powerful request. Beyond its literal or messianic connotation, this is also a personal plea:
Just as you return to Zion, the heart of Israel, to the heart of Jacob…

Return to dwell in our own hearts each day

Is today one of those days that counts as a day of life in our life? Each according to our own way, a day of life may be one where we live in harmony with our own divine purpose. Or it might be a day when a familiar portion of Torah is studied once more with renewed curiosity.

May our spirits be revived anew again and again, and may our own lives be a source of contagious inspiration to enliven the spirit of all we meet.

Shabbat Shalom

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