The widow of renowned sculptor Jacques Lifchitz came for a private audience with the Rebbe shortly after her husband’s sudden passing.

In the course of the meeting, she mentioned that her husband had been working on a massive sculpture of a phoenix (a mythical bird) for the Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus.

A sculptor in her own right, Mrs. Lifchitz had considered completing her husband’s work, but had been advised that the phoenix is a non-Jewish symbol.

How could she complete such a sculpture and have it brought to Jerusalem?

The Rebbe called for his secretary, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, and asked him for the book of Job. When he received the sacred text, the Rebbe opened it to chapter 29, verse 18, which reads: “and I shall multiply my days like the chol.”

The Rebbe proceeded to explain the Midrashic commentary to the verse, which describes the chol as a bird that lives for 1,000 years, dies, and then is resurrected from its ashes. Clearly, the phoenix was a Jewish symbol!

Mrs. Lifchitz was delighted at the explanation, and dedicated herself to the project which she completed shortly thereafter.

The Rebbe had given her a gift of personal rejuvenation that enabled her to complete a symbol of rejuvenation for others.

The core of our vitality is G‑dliness. Through connection with Him, we can rise above our mortality.

Parshas Vayechi

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. For that reason, our Sages rule that mayim Chayim, “living water,” cannot be taken from a river that dries up even as rarely as once in seven years. If a river dries, it is improper to describe its water as “living.”

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.

We are not, however, doomed to an existential reality. We can endow our lives with a dimension of eternality by connecting them to G‑d and His truth.

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.

When did this become obvious? When he left a posterity that endures even though he personally passed away. When his sons and their descendants continue living in Jacob’s path, perpetuating the values and principles that he communicated, we see that Jacob truly lived. And hence, even now, he is alive, for his message is timeless.

Ordinary mortal wisdom is relevant at a specific time and place. If one’s insight is unique, his words can speak slightly beyond his immediate milieu. But the only way a person’s message can remain relevant to coming generations in different situations is when it has its roots in G‑dliness.

Indeed, we are living thousands of years after Jacob has passed away and most of us do not dwell in the lands in which he lived. Nevertheless, his message is still meaningful to us. This indicates that what he shared with his children was not ordinary mortal wisdom, but G‑dly truth.

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.

Looking to the Horizon

The closing passages of this week’s Torah reading describe how Joseph tells his brothers that ultimately G‑d will take the Jews out of Egypt. Moreover, as the commentaries explain, he gives them the code through which they will be able to recognize the prophecy of redemption.

Why is Joseph the one to communicate this message? Because his spiritual level transcended the exile. Yes, he descended to Egypt and was even enslaved there. But these external events did not change his inner makeup. Inside, he was a king and because he was a king inside, ultimately, his external circumstances changed to reflect this inner core.

This was the message Joseph communicated to his brethren: “You will live many years in Egypt and you will ultimately be enslaved, but that will not define who you are. Egypt is a land of limitations and you possess a Divine potential that transcends all limitations. Eventually, that potential will surface and you will be redeemed.”

This is a message not only for the Jews of Joseph’s generation, but also for the Jews of all time. A Jew does not belong in exile, for he possesses a soul that is an actual part of G‑d. As he realizes this potential and expresses it in his conduct, it surfaces and influences the external environment, causing redemption to become a tangible reality.