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True Life

True Life

Vayechi; Genesis 47:28-50:26

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Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. X, p. 160ff; Vol. XV, p. 422ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vayechi, 5751

Yaakov’s Best Years

When the Tzemach Tzedek was a young boy, his cheder teacher taught him the verse: “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years,”1 explaining that these were the best years of Yaakov’s life.2 The Tzemach Tzedek asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe: How was it possible that the best years of Yaakov’s life would be spent in a depraved land?

The Alter Rebbe answered him: Even before he arrived, Yaakov sent Yehudah to Egypt to establish a yeshivah.3 When one studies the Torah, one comes close to G-d. This closeness allows one to live with true and genuine vitality, even in Egypt.4

Indeed, the depravity of Egypt enhanced the vitality experienced by Yaakov. For the transformation of darkness reveals a higher quality of light. Yaakov’s establishment of Torah life amid the darkness of Egyptian society expressed the essential vitality he possessed and endowed to his children.

To Live with the Torah

True life can be ascribed only to G-d, as it is written:5 “And G-d your L-rd is true; He is the living G-d.” Just as Truth is uninterrupted and unchanging, so too life is in essence unchanging and eternal. Thus our Sages describe6 a stream as “living water” only when it flows constantly.7

Mortal existence, by contrast, is ephemeral and subject to change.8 Nevertheless, by drawing close to G-d through Torah study, a person can tap a dimension of G-d’s immortality, as it is written:9 “And you who cling to G-d your L-rd are all alive today.”

This was the thrust of Yaakov’s entire life. When the Torah sets out to convey the nature of his personality, it describes10 him as “a simple man, dwelling in tents,” i.e., the tents of Shem and Ever,11 the leading houses of study of that age. In these domains, Yaakov’s character was shaped and molded.

And yet Yaakov did not remain in these houses of study forever. His life encompassed a variety of circumstances and challenges, allowing him the opportunity to prove that the connection to G-d he established through Torah study was genuine.

Light in Darkness

Yaakov reached the pinnacle of this lifetime journey in Egypt. There he was presented with challenges of a different nature than he had experienced previously, for he dwelt in fabulous wealth amid a land of decadent people. But as mentioned, even before Yaakov entered Egypt, he anticipated these difficulties by sending Yehudah to establish a yeshivah there. By this act, he set the tone for his future in Egypt.

Moreover, not only did Yaakov himself study, he involved his children and grandchildren. Rather than accept the values of the surrounding culture, Yaakov’s descendants joined him in study. For them, the descent to Egypt represented a radical transition; the majority of their adult lives had been spent in Eretz Yisrael. Yet motivated by Yaakov’s example and guidance, they were able to extend the holy atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael into Egypt.

Yaakov’s unchanging and uninterrupted commitment to the Torah demonstrates the true life with which the Torah endowed him. His connection with G-d was all-encompassing.

Yaakov Still Lives

The above enables us to understand why the Torah reading is named Vayechi “And he lived” although it speaks of Yaakov’s death. As the events of the reading demonstrate, Yaakov’s life was one of connection to G-d that transcended material settings. And since he shared this quality with his descendants, it was perpetuated beyond his mortal lifetime. As our Sages say:12 “Yaakov, our ancestor, did not die. As his descendants are alive, he is alive.”

This concept applies to all Jews at all times. The vitality we experience in our Divine service today is made possible by the life of Yaakov our ancestor.13 And conversely, the connection to the Torah which strengthened Yaakov is the source of life for all his descendants throughout the generations.

True, within Jewish history, there have always been some Jews who at least to outward appearances do not conduct their lives according to the directives of the Torah. But that is merely the external reality. The truth is that they are alive inside, and their vitality stems from the Torah and its mitzvos.14

Our Sages state:15 “Although a Jew sins, he remains a Jew” and the Rambam rules:16

A person whose evil inclination compels him to negate the performance of a mitzvah or to commit a sin… [still] wishes to be part of the Jewish people and desires to fulfill all the mitzvos and separate himself from sin. It is only his [evil] inclination which forces him [to do otherwise].

Regardless of his conduct, every member of our people remains a Jew and shares a connection to the entire Torah. “The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.”17 This is the spiritual legacy which Yaakov bequeathed us, the sign of his continued life and of our own vitality.

(The above also encourages us to help each other express a connection to the Torah. Any potential tends to seek expression, and that tendency is enhanced by the very knowledge of its existence. Spreading the awareness of the inner nature of every Jew will spur the desire to have that nature realized through observance of the Torah.

This is more than theory; it is borne out by experience. Conversely, an approach which castigates Jews who do not observe the Torah and its mitzvos, threatening them with Divine retribution, does not encourage greater observance. Quite the contrary, it weakens many people’s feeling for Judaism and moves them further from teshuvah.18)

Egypt is not Forever

Although his ability to create a Torah center for his descendants in Egypt is a sign of Yaakov’s life, it is not the culmination of his achievements. For the ultimate place for Yaakov and his descendants is not in Egypt, but in Eretz Yisrael.

Therefore, Yaakov called his sons together with the intent of revealing the time of the Redemption to them.19 He assured them that they would be redeemed from Egypt, promising:20 “G-d will be with you, and He will bring you back to your ancestral land.” For it is in Eretz Yisrael and more particularly, in the Eretz Yisrael of the Redemption that Yaakov and his descendants will truly flourish.

Strength and Encouragement

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Chazak, “the Shabbos of reinforcement,” because of the custom21 of declaring, Chazak, Chazak, Vinischazaik (“Be strong, be strong, and may you be strengthened”) at the conclusion of the Torah reading, in acknowledgment of the completion of the Book of Genesis.

The awareness nurtured by the reading of Vayechi generates strength. When a Jew knows he has been granted a heritage of life expressed through a connection with the Torah, and that there will come a time when this connection will blossom, he will acquire the inner strength to confront the challenges presented by his environment.

By heightening the expression of this potential in our people as a whole, we hasten the coming of its fruition in the Era of the Redemption. May this take place in the immediate future.

FOOTNOTES
1. Genesis 47:28.
2. Baal HaTurim on the above verse. This is reflected in the fact that 17 is numerically equivalent to the Hebrew word ???, meaning “good” (Or HaTorah, Vayechi p. 354a).
3. Rashi, Midrash Tanchuma to Genesis 46:28.
4. HaYom Yom, entry for the 18th of Teves.
5. Jeremiah 10:10.
6. Parah 8:9, using the terminology of Numbers 19:17.
7. To be considered “living water,” a stream may not dry out within a seven-year period. This limit was chosen because our world is structured in cycles of seven. Since our existence as a whole is temporary, the timelessness of “living water” need not be absolute.
8. Note the distinction made by the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodai HaTorah 2:10) between G-d’s life and mortal existence. G-d’s life is one with Him, while a mortal is, by nature, separate from his own life-force.
9. Deuteronomy 4:4. See also Avos deRabbi Nassan, ch. 34.
10. Genesis 25:27.
11. Bereishis Rabbah 63:10, and Rashi on the above verse. The connection of Yaakov with the Torah is also emphasized by the verse (Psalms 78:5): “He established statutes in Yaakov and placed the Torah in Yisrael.”
12. Taanis 5b.
13. This concept of continued life is mentioned with regard to Yaakov and not with regard to Avraham and Yitzchak because, in a complete sense, the concept that “his descendants are alive” applies only to Yaakov. “Yaakov’s bed was perfect” (Rashi, Genesis 47:31), i.e., all his sons were righteous. In contrast, Yishmael descended from Avraham and Esav from Yitzchak (Pesachim 56a). (See also Maharshah to Taanis, ibid.)
14. A parallel exists with regard to Yaakov himself. In the Talmudic passage which states: “Yaakov, our ancestor, did not die,” a question is raised: Was he not mourned, embalmed, and buried? Our Sages answer: “It only appears that he died; in truth, He is alive,” i.e., here too, there is a spiritual reality which runs contrary to outward appearances.
15. Sanhedrin 44a.
16. Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Gerushin 2:20.
17. Deuteronomy 33:4.
18. See the essay “Every Jew Has a Silver Lining” (Sichos In English, Vol. 47, p. 11ff) and the sources mentioned there, in which these concepts are explained at length.
19. Rashi, Genesis 49:1.
20. Genesis 48:21. See also Rashi, Exodus 3:18, which relates that the promise (Genesis 50:24): “ G-d will remember and bring you out of this land,” which served as the code for the redemption, was originally conveyed to the Jews by Yaakov.
21. See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim in the conclusion of Chapter 139. See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 25, page 474.
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Discussion (3)
January 7, 2012
a couple things
1. When Joseph First went out to meet Jacob his father who arrived in Egypt, Joseph cried on his dad's shoulder. At the time Jacob was saying the Shema in its entirety. On his deathbed Jacob is relieved about the preservation of Torah because all 12 sons recited the Shema in unison. In this we can see that Torah was known to Jacob and his sons, and a curriculum was possible.

2. R. Touger shares an important wisdom with us. Any Jew who would dare invoke the possibility of Divine retribution on another Jew for Torah observance only shoves and alienates that Jew away from the religion of Judaism. As Touger says, it is a truism borne out of experience. It causes severe division.
Anonymous
January 13, 2009
RE: Judah's Yeshiva in Egypt
There were traditions which were known to man since Adam. These traditions had been passed down for generations starting with Adam and continued until the giving of the torah.

We are told that our forefathers kept the laws of the torah, albeit in a more spiritual form. So we know that they must have studied them. They also were aware of many of the mystical teachings which are now part of what we call kabala.

So what changed at that morning on the mountain?

G-d met His people and heaven kissed earth. Our actions received meaning. Please see The Breakthrough to learn more about this incredible phenomenon:
Menachem Posner for Chabad.org
January 9, 2009
Judah's Yeshiva in Egypt
Jacob sent Judah ahead to establish a Yeshiva in Egypt. What was the curriculum then? There was only 3/4 of Bereshis, no rest of Tanach,no Mishna, no Gemara.
Chaim
N. Potomac, MD
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