Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
PARSHAT VAYICHIB'rayshit (Genesis) 47:28-50:26
Haftorah Kings I 2:1-12
Parshat Vayichi is the last Parsha in B'rayshit, bringing us to stage two of the Biblical narrative: Israel's exodus from Egypt. To review, the book of B'rayshit began with the origins of mankind and traced the battle which takes places when choosing between good and evil. It then dealt with the role of Israel as "G-d revealers," a role that was originally given to all mankind, but man failed three times:
1. in the Garden of Eden
Avraham and his descendants were "chosen" to reveal Hashem, and how His holiness is accessible. They were also mandated to obliterate evil, both from within and without. The reward for fulfilling this role was twofold:
1. They would inherit Eretz Yisrael.
The Or Hachayim states in Parshat Lech Lecha, that in order to establish any dominion over an object, territory or "peoplehood," one must acquire Chazaka (authority) over the possession through a three-fold or three-time control. Even the establishment of a national identity needs the Chazaka of three generations to become formed. Before Avraham could be established as the first of the patriarchs, there had to be a distinct separation from his previous generations. That is why Avraham couldn't have begotten Yitzchak until he could no longer naturally father children. And, in each of the first three generations, there was an active power struggle to obtain control.
Avraham and Sarah went into the world and successfully revealed Hashem to all with whom they came in contact. They had two sons, Yitzchak and Yishmael, but Yishmael is rejected (B'rayshit 21:10) and only Yitzchak was retained as the second patriarch. Yitzchak's receives only territory for his inheritance, for the status of "chosen people" could only be obtained in the third generation.
Yitzchak, dedicated as a holy offering to Hashem (B'rayshit 22) spent his life destroying the evil that was around him. He and Rivka also had two sons, Ya'acov and Eisav. Once again, there was a struggle in this third generation. This time, Eisav is rejected (but he was entitled to receive the territory of Seir from his father), while Ya'acov received both territory and peoplehood. (As a footnote, isn't it interesting that the modern descendants of Yishmael and Eisav still are battling with Israel over inheritance. The Arab nation, descendants of Yishmael, claim that Eretz Yisarel is rightfully theirs. The Christian communities, descendants of Eisav also known as Edom, and always associated with the Roman Empire, and later the Holy Roman Empire, claim that they are the chosen people and not the Jews).
Ya'acov, of course, has 12 sons and a daughter, and even though there are conflicts, no sibling was rejected. Therefore, the children of Ya'acov are called the B'nai Yisrael (the children of Israel), a unified group - a nation, who have resolved their dissension and their differences and have joined their brother and their father in Egypt. Our Parsha begins with their tranquil life in Egypt. But, before we begin looking at our Parsha, one more piece of information is necessary.
The Torah was not written with designated chapters and verses. Each of the five books contains a series of major and minor paragraphs; some paragraphs are separated by nine character spaces and others by the beginning of a new line. The beginning of a Parsha almost always begins at one of the two forms of a designated new paragraph. Sentences and phrasing are inferred from the "trop" (musical notes) that appear with the vowels in the printed versions of the Torah. Parshat Vayichi is unique in that it is "Sa'tum" (closed), there is no separation between the beginning of this Parsha and the end of the last Parsha.
Let us begin. Rashi tells us two reasons why the Parsha is Sa'tum:
1. Since this is the last Parsha in B'rayshit, and Ya'acov dies in this Parsha, "...the eyes and the hearts of Israel were "closed" from the expectation of the suffering of the bondage (Rashi assumes that we know that as long as the son's of Ya'akov were alive, the physical bondage would not begin).
2. Ya'acov wanted to reveal the final redemption of Israel (B'rayshit 49:1), but that revelation was "closed off" from him.
As long as we keep the memory of Ya'acov alive through our actions (by continuing with his sacred mission), Vayichi Ya'acov - and Ya'acov lives. The Egyptian bondage passes, yet, the final redemption may take thousands of years to happen, that is of no concern, it is the mission that remains all important. Rashi teaches us that the Torah alludes to the vision of our national purpose by making this Parsha closed off from the others.
In fact, in chapter 49 prior to Ya'acov's death, he wished to inform his sons of the time of the final redemption. He gathered his children around his bed and suddenly his memory failed and Ya'acov was despondent. He thought that it was his sons unworthiness that caused Hashem to take away the memory of the redemption. The 12 sons of Ya'acov knew what their father was thinking and tried to reassure him that they fully believed in Hashem.
They said in unison;
Shema Yisrael - Hear us our father Israel,
When Ya'acov heard his son's response to his doubts, he knew that his lapse of memory had nothing to do with their worthiness, but, rather, it was Hashem who did not want this information to be revealed. With this realization Ya'acov replied;
Baruch Shaym K'vod Malchuto L'olam Va'ed - Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom, forever and ever.
These well known phrases became the mainstay of Jewish prayer for all time.
The Zohar, on the other hand, sees a different reason for the Parsha being Sa'tum. It explains that in last week's Parsha Ya'acov was despondent. He had suffered greatly: the struggle with Eisav his brother; the conflict with Lavan his father-in-law; the episode with his daughter Dinah's rape; and of course Rachel's premature death had not disheartened the life of our greatest patriarch. At each of his trials not only did he succeed, but he was able to see the good that came out of the experience for the future benefit of his family. Until the disappearance of Yosef. Then Ya'acov became despondent and lost his power of prophesy which was not returned to him until joy returned when he and Yosef were reunited.
But now in Egypt, Ya'acov experienced the seventeen happiest years of his life. As he watched his children and grandchildren grow in both material and spiritual wealth, Ya'acov experiences M'ayn Olam Habah (a taste of paradise). The Zohar explains that this direct connection with "real life," which Ya'acov had the privilege of experiencing in Egypt, is why the two Parshiot of Vayigash and Vayichi are linked together.
This Parsha, which tells of the death of our namesake is called Vayichi (and he lived). As we know, the material aspect of man is temporal while the spiritual is eternal. The body of Ya'acov can die and be buried, but the soul of Ya'acov lives on forever in the body and the soul of his descendants, Israel. Though we may endure the bondage of Egypt, or Babylonia, or Greece or Rome, our spirit will never dissipate, but will endure. Just as Ya'acov knew that the final redemption would occur and though he could not reveal it to his sons, they also knew that there would one day be a final redemption. So may we always be cognizant of our role in the final days and may we always find strength from our declaration of faith:
Shema Yisrael - Hear O' Israel,
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