Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Vayechi.

The Three Lives of Jacob

Jacob’s life in the Holy Land empowers us to experience moments of true freedom—moments in which we assert our true will over all forces, both external and internal, that seek to quell it.

Jacob’s years in Haran with Laban where Jacob married and built a family. Inspire and enable us to not only persevere in our struggles but to revel in them, to experience them as vibrant and exhilarating periods in our lives.

And Jacob’s period in Egypt teaches us how to deal with situations in which we feel overpowered by forces beyond our control. It teaches us that these times, too, are part and parcel of our lives: that these times, too, can be negotiated with wisdom, dignity and integrity. That these times, too, can be realized as vital and productive seasons of our lives.
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Jacob and Rachel

Intrinsic to our nature is a perpetual striving for self-improvement. The human being is never content to just be: the very thought of a missed opportunity or an unrealized potential gives him no rest, spurring him to the ceaseless toil and unremitting ambition he calls life.

He, we said. For though the drive for self-betterment is present in every individual of our species, it belongs to our “male” or active-assertive aspect. But no less integral to our being is our “female” element—our capacity for receptiveness and sacrifice, our conviction that there is no greater greatness than the abnegation of self to a higher end.

Man is thus a creature with not one, but two centers to its being. Man is spirit revolving upon an axis of fulfillment-seeking selfhood, as well as a soul centered upon a core of selflessness.

As Jews, we inherit this duality from Jacob, the choicest of the Patriarchs, and Rachel, the quintessential mother of Israel. From Jacob, whose life of accomplishment is crowned by a royal procession to the heart of the Holy Land where the founders of Israel are enshrined, we derive our potential for self-perfection. And from Rachel, the young mother who died in childbirth and who dwells in a lonely wayside grave in order to better bear witness to the suffering of her children, we receive our capacity for commitment and self-transcendence.
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Eternal Life

The name of this week’s Torah reading raises an obvious question. Vayechi means “And he lived.” Nevertheless, the entire Torah reading focuses on the very opposite of life: Jacob’s final sickness, his farewell blessings to his children, and his burial.

By choosing this name, the Torah teaches us fundamental lessons about life and death. Life is eternal, continuous, and ongoing. There is no way it can pause for a moment.

Once we understand what life is, it’s understandable why life is identified with G‑d, as it is written: “And G‑d the L‑rd is true. He is the living G‑d.” For He is the only entity whose existence is truly continuous. Everything else flashes momentarily on the screen of time and then passes on.

How can a mortal share in eternal life? Through clinging to G‑d, as it is written: “And all of you who cling to G‑d... are alive.” Otherwise, our lifetimes are fleeting shadows, brief and flickering moments.

This was our Sages’ intent when they said: “Jacob our ancestor did not die. Since his descendants are alive, he is alive.” Jacob was alive, for he was connected to G‑dliness in a complete manner. He had no individual existence of his own; every element of his life was lived for G‑d’s sake.

In his passing, Jacob showed the eternality of his life, how he had tapped the spark of G‑d within his soul and taught his children how to perpetuate this legacy. By naming this passage Vayechi, the Torah highlights this quality, showing each of us how we can step beyond our mortality and connect with the infinite.
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Ephraim & Menasheh

When Joseph brought his children to his father so that he bless them, he positioned them before Jacob according to their order of birth. Jacob, however, crisscrossed his hands and placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head.

The key to understanding this narrative lies in the names of the two brothers. Menasheh was given his name because “G‑d made me forget... the totality of my father’s house.” Menasheh refers to a Jew who continually reminds himself that he does not belong in the land that he lives, that his true home is “his father’s house”. This distinguishes him, setting him apart from the people among whom he lives.

Ephraim was given his name because “G‑d made me fruitful in the land of my oppression.” He is conscious that he is in “the land of my oppression,” but that does not bother him. Instead, he is “fruitful,” transforming the darkness of that environment into light.

For this reason, Jacob gave Ephraim the greater blessing, for the ultimate intent is to make the exile itself shine. If the only point of the exile is to recall our previous situation, then G‑d would not have sent us there. He sent us because there is an advantage that can be gained from the exile itself. Using its elements for a spiritual purpose brings the G‑dliness latent within them into expression. This is the purpose of the Jews being sent into exile and it is Ephraim who brings that purpose into realization.

On a consummate level, we must carry out the Divine service of both Menasheh and Ephraim. We start our day with prayer and study, connecting to our Jewish identity, the service of Menasheh. We then set out to accomplish our daily activities, carrying out the service of Ephraim and transforming darkness into light.
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