Toward Shabbat – Vayechi – “To Life”

The title of this week’s Parsha, ‘Vayechi- And he lived,’ contrasts sharply with its opening theme which begins with a deathbed scene. Jacob is finally taking his final leave from his family. He blesses his children and grandchildren. “And when Jacob finished blessing his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed and died, and was gathered unto his people”(Bereishit, 49:33). The Torah then describes Jacob’s burial and the period of mourning which both preceded it and followed it.
Perhaps that in this title of the Torah portion dealing with death , our tradition wanted to attenuate the pain of loss by focusing on life-‘Vayechi-And he Lived.’ When a loved one dies, we are overwhelmed by the awareness of what death has taken from us. At such a time our Tradition would have us also remember the gift that we had sharing our years together. Death can take from us what might have been. It cannot take from us what has already been. It cannot rob us of our past. The days and years we shared, the adventures and joys, the acts of kindness and love; all these are part of our everlasting memories. Even death cannot erase them. Our loved ones will always remain living presences. Thus, we say Kaddish on the date of our loved one’s passing every year, light a yahrzeit candle, say the Yizkor Memorial prayer during High Holiday services. Life transcends even death, and we are taught to honor our beloved family members and friends through acts of memory and rituals that support that. We are taught of the soul’s invincibility, its permanence and are sustained by the faith that even though the body dies, the soul lives on in our memories.
Another reason that is given for our Parsha beginning with ‘And Jacob lived,’ is that for 22 years Jacob had lived in mourning the loss of his precious son Joseph, believing him dead. During those years, ‘Ruach Hakodesh-The Holy Spirit,’ which is manifest only upon one who is in a state of joy, did not rest on Jacob. When the brothers returned from Egypt and reported that “Od Yoseph Chai- that Joseph is alive,” the Torah relates, “And the spirit of their father Jacob was revived.” Jacob was once again in a state of joy, and Ruach Hakodesh returned. Human nature is such that when a person comes upon something precious after having been deprived of it for a period, there is a heightened joy and affection, a reduction of anxiety and a replenishing of equanimity. When Jacob felt his soul once more becoming bound up with the divine spirit, after a separation of so many years, his soul became ignited once more with a great spiritual ebullience and he soared to new heights of inner faith and gratitude. He ‘lived’ again for living in harmony with the soul brings revivified energy and joy. He was even able to reach new levels of spirituality while surrounded by the moral decadence of Egypt. In being truly ‘alive’ again, his feelings were revivified to a true realm of ‘living.’ For to feel is to live, and to reject feeling through fear is to reject the life process itself. He may have reviewed at this time his life experiences, his questionable choices, his numinous dreams, all that he had suffered, the losses of Rachel and Joseph, the deceptions of Lavan and he was now ready to manifest his future in harmony with his soul satisfaction. Beneath Jacob’s fears in his life, was his inner ‘knowing’ and he could now LIVE out his life with serenity and heightened faith. Personal growth always results when you let yourself expand beyond the farthest borders of what your life has been so far.
When Jacob called his sons to give him their blessings, he uses the words; “Heosfu-GATHER TOGETHER”, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the end of days”(49:1). Jacob in his prophetic vision entreated his sons to ‘gather together’ to live together in harmony and not be torn by conflict and dissension. He knew that the exile in Egypt evolved from the quarrelling and discord between Joseph and his brothers. Later in history , the destruction of the Holy Temple and the subsequent exiles were also brought about by unwarranted hatred (‘Sinat Chinam’) between fellow Jews. So, he urged them to see the harm done by discord, lack of respect for one another, placing one’s needs and views above others, and that the antidote to discord must be abundant love (‘Ahavat Chinam’) togetherness, recognizing that we are each unique but interconnected as G-d’s children.
Rashi (49:1) points out that Jacob also wanted to reveal to them the truth of what would occur in the world ‘at the end of the days’ (Talmud Pesachim, 56A).He wanted to tell them that all would be well, that despite all the strife and discord, the Messianic era would emerge. But Jacob was prevented to do so by the Heavenly realm for if they KNEW this truth a complacency might emerge, an attenuation of the hard work and struggle necessary to create such a Messianic world. Ultimately, the heavenly court decreed that this absolute TRUTH (EMET) could be a detriment to their development. And therefore, the element of FAITH (EMUNAH), not truth must be the determining trait to own to create this future world of TRUTH. Ours must be a world of journey TOWARDS truth, a world of faith, and the ultimate truth can only be discovered through the STRUGGLE of faith. Without the struggle the strength remains dormant, and one is ultimately weakened. Therefore, the revelation by Jacob could not come too early. It would best be revealed as a result of the struggle. For then the necessary development will occur, and the purpose of struggling and suffering will be revealed. Every day we must seek out the truth through our faith, (Sfat Emet), create truth in the world, STRUGGLE to make it a better world and then the truth will emerge. If we pretend that truth is already here, we will not progress to elevate our world to all that it can be and is meant to be. But the path to create this world, (the journey TOWARDS truth) is through our faith (Emunah). This is the strongest weapon, and contains struggle, doubt, risk, and courage, but G-d will bless our determined struggle and we will ultimately discover truth at the end of our days as Jacob did, in this our world of FAITH.
May we all enjoy a Shabbat of Living Soul, of abundant Love for others, and with the strong Faith that will lead us to the discovery of truth.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Mel