The first of the five books of the Torah concludes with the portion of Vayechi. It is customary1 that when the Torah reader concludes a book of the Torah, the entire congregation exclaims: “Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another [in the Torah].” This pronouncement thus reinforces the Torah as a whole.

However, since this proclamation comes at the conclusion of a particular book, portion, and verse of the Torah, it also follows that it is particularly germane to that specific book, portion and verse.

The concluding verse2 of Bereishis reads: “Yosef died at the age of 110 years; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.”

This gives rise to a most perplexing matter. How is it possible to gain strength — “Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another” — from: a) Yosef’s demise , and b) from his interment in Egypt, a land known as “the abomination of the earth”?3 Yosef’s father, Yaakov, had begged that he not be buried in Egypt.4

It is obvious that before Jews enter a state of exile, they are in need of fortification and encouragement. Once they are strengthened in this manner they are able to overcome the trials and tribulations of exile and remain steadfast in their faith, Torah study, performance of mitzvos , and general service to G‑d.

Thus it follows that before the opening verse of the second book of the Torah — “These are the names of the Jewish people who came to Egypt” — describing the descent of the Jews into exile and servitude,5 it was necessary for the Jewish people to receive the strength needed to withstand the ordeal.

Indeed, the contents of Bereishis serve this purpose well, for its main theme is the story of the Patriarchs, whose service and personalities provide inspiration and encouragement to their progeny at all times.

Among the encouraging narratives of Bereishis are the promises made by G‑d to the Patriarchs that the Jews would leave exile in a more exalted state than when they entered it — “they will then leave [exile] with great wealth.”6

Moreover, the further one advances in the book of Bereishis , the more strength one finds being given to the Jews, who would eventually be exiled in Egypt. This encouragement reaches its high point in the concluding portion of Vayechi, wherein Yaakov blesses his children, drawing down sufficient strength for each tribe and its progeny that they will be able to withstand the test of exile.

Within the final portion of Vayechi itself, Yosef brings the blessings and words of encouragement closer to home by assuring the Jews that “G‑d will surely remember you and bring you out of this land, to the land that He swore to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.”7

The greatest degree of strength and fortitude for Jews about to enter exile, however, comes in the very last verse of the portion: “Yosef died… he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.”

The fact that Yosef’s coffin remained with the Jewish people in Egypt enabled them to have the courage not only to withstand the exile, but to utilize it for good. This was similar to — and derived its strength from — Yosef, who while in Egypt achieved a standing such that “without you no man shall lift a hand or foot in all Egypt.”8

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXV, pp. 474-479.