1. 1 This week’s Torah reading, Parshas Vayechi, concludes the reading of the first Book of the Torah, the Book of Bereishis.2 This book is called Sefer HaYashar, “the Book of the Just,” referring to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, who were just.

“The deeds of the Patriarchs are a sign to their descendants,” providing them with lessons to apply in their service of G‑d. Their influence begins from the Book of Shmos and continues through the entire Tanach until the Book of Divrei HaYomim. Furthermore, the name Divrei HaYomim means “chronicles,” implying that this influence continues through the chronicles of the Jewish people in all subsequent generations.

Our Torah reading begins, “And Yaakov lived,” implying that Yaakov’s life represents the conclusion of “the Book of the Just.” He thus becomes a medium to convey the influence of the Patriarchs to all their descendants, the Jewish people in the subsequent generations.3 This is reflected in the content of the Torah reading which describes Yaakov’s blessings4 to his sons and to Yosef’s children (for “Ephraim and Menashe will be like Reuven and Shimon for me”), who form the twelve tribes of the Jewish people.

This is reflected in our Sages’ teaching, “Yaakov our Patriarch never died. Just as his descendants are alive, he (Yaakov) is alive.” Yaakov’s life is eternal, for he is identified with the Torah, “our life and the length of our days.” And he also endows his descendants with life, the everlasting life that stems from the Torah and its mitzvos.

2. The content of the weekly Torah reading relates to the time of the year when the portion is being read. Thus there is a connection between the lesson of Parshas Vayechi and the fast of the Tenth of Teves which was observed in the previous week and the fifteenth of Teves, the night on which the full moon shines, which is on Saturday night.5

The Tenth of Teves possesses a unique dimension, reflecting how in a way it is more severe than the other Rabbinical fasts, even Tishah BeAv.6 For all the other fasts are postponed if they fall on Shabbos. In contrast, were the Tenth of Teves to fall on Shabbos,7 it would be necessary (according to the Avudraham) to fast on that day, for in regard to this fast it is written, “On the essence of this day....” Herein, we see a connection to Yom Kippur, for the same phrase is used in regard to it, and it is on the basis of that phrase that our Sages declared that the fast of Yom Kippur should be held on the Sabbath if it falls on that day.

What is the source for this extra measure of severity? The four commemorative fasts associated with the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash follow a historical sequence. It was on the Tenth of Teves that Nebuchadnezzar began the siege of Jerusalem, the Seventeenth of Tammuz commemorates the breaching of the city’s walls, Tishah BeAv, the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, and the Third of Tishrei, the assassination of Gedaliah ben Achikam when “the flickering sparks of the remnant of Israel were extinguished.” Since the Tenth of Teves represented the first and the beginning of these national tragedies, it has an added dimension of severity than the subsequent events. And this dimension is reflected in its observance as mentioned above.

The Rambam relates that ultimately all the fast days will be transformed into festivals and days of celebration, implying that their inner message is positive. Indeed, as the Alter Rebbe mentions in Iggeres HaTeshuvah, a fast day is a “day of will.” Based on the above, it follows that this positive dimension is stronger on the Tenth of Teves than other fasts. From a certain perspective, it is even stronger than the inner positive dimension of Tishah BeAv which, as explained on previous occasions, is significant because it is the birthday of the Mashiach.8

Among the positive dimensions of fast days are that they are days of teshuvah. Teshuvah has the power to end the exile and bring the Redemption, for “Israel will be redeemed only through teshuvah.” “The Torah has promised that ultimately, Israel will turn [to G‑d] in teshuvah,... and immediately, she will be redeemed.”

We see this positive dimension in regard to the Tenth of Teves. For although it reflects a tragic event, the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem, nevertheless, at that time, Jerusalem, its walls, and surely, the Beis HaMikdash, remained untouched. The city remained intact. What was the intent? That the Jews be aroused to teshuvah and had that happened, none of the subsequent tragedies would have occurred. Thus on the Tenth of Teves, there is a greater emphasis on the concept that the entire purpose of the fast is to motivate the people to teshuvah.

The verse, “Take you an iron pan and place it as a wall of iron between you and the city... for it shall be besieged,” reflects another unique dimension of the Tenth of Teves. The siege is associated with iron, for iron reflects the direct opposite of the Beis HaMikdash. Indeed, our Sages note that no iron was used for the construction of the Sanctuary, because iron was used as an instrument to destroy the Beis HaMikdash. Similarly, the Tanach emphasizes that “[the sound of] an iron utensil was not heard in the House (the Beis HaMikdash) while it was being built.”

The negative dimension associated with iron can be corrected by the use of iron (and the strength it symbolizes) in the sphere of holiness. Thus Eretz Yisrael is described as “a land whose stones are iron.” Furthermore, our Sages (noting the connection between avenehoh (אבני') “whose stones,” and bonehoh (בוני') “whose builders,” a reference to Torah scholars), emphasize that a Torah scholar9 must have “the strength of iron.”

The connection between iron and the Beis HaMikdash and the positive dimension of iron which will be revealed in the Third Beis HaMikdash can be understood through the development of the connection between the three Patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and the three Batei Mikdashos. Similarly, we find an association between the three Patriarchs and the three precious metals, gold, silver, and brass used to construct the Sanctuary.

In regard to Yaakov, we find a paradox: On one hand, he is associated with the Third Beis HaMikdash, the most perfect of all three structures. Conversely, he is associated with the least valuable of the metals, brass.

This paradox can be explained as follows: Brass, nechoshes (נחושת) relates to nachash (נחש), the snake, the source of all evil. For this reason, brass is also a simile for the exile. Yaakov who represents the quality of the Torah, has the potential to transform even the negative influence of the snake and bring about the ultimate perfection of the Third Beis HaMikdash.

To develop this concept further: Our Sages explain that nechoshes is an acronym for the Hebrew words meaning, “The gift of a sick person who says ‘give.’ ” Thus it is a far lower level than gold, whose Hebrew name zahav (זהב) serves as an acronym for the Hebrew words (זה הנותם בריא) meaning “the gift of a healthy person,” and silver, whose Hebrew name kessef (כסף) serves as an acronym for the Hebrew words כשיש סכנת פחד meaning, “One who redeems [himself] when he sees danger.”

Gold can be interpreted as a reference to the First Beis HaMikdash and silver to the second (for as gold is more precious than silver, similarly, the holiness of the First Beis HaMikdash was far greater than that of the second). Brass, refers to the exile, an era in which the Jewish people are like “a sick person who says ‘give’ ” נתינת חולה שאמר תנו. But their request is directed to G‑d, and He will surely give generously, bringing the Third Beis HaMikdash.

In a similar way, we can explain that our service in exile will represent a transformation of the negative influence of iron. As a preface: It is known that the Hebrew for “iron,” barzel (ברזל) serves as an acronym for the names of Yaakov’s wives, Bilhah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Leah. Significantly, in this acronym, the maidservants Bilhah and Zilpah are mentioned before their mistresses, Rachel and Leah.

The implications of this can be understood by the explanation of the advantage the Matriarchs possessed over the Patriarchs. G‑d told Avraham, “Listen to whatever Sarah your wife tells you.,” for to quote our Sages, “Avraham was subordinate to Sarah in regard to prophecy.” Similarly, in the Era of the Redemption, “a women of valor will be the crown of her husband,” i.e., the feminine dimension will surpass the masculine. In Kabbalistic terms, this is interpreted to mean that the Sefirah of Malchus will ascend higher than the other Sefiros. Since G‑d “gave the Patriarchs a foretaste of the World to Come,” they were also given the potential to anticipate the supremacy of the feminine dimension.

This same principle, that a recipient has an advantage over the source of influence, is reflected in the mention of the maidservants before their mistresses in the acronym barzel. The mistresses, Rachel and Leah, refer to the Sefirah of Malchus in the realm of Atzilus. The maidservants, by contrast, refer to Malchus as it descends into the lower realms of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah. Nevertheless, it is through this descent that Malchus ascends to a higher rung.

To explain how these concepts relate to the Beis HaMikdash: In Chassidic thought, it is explained that the Beis HaMikdash was made of stone, inert matter, as opposed to wood in the Sanctuary,10 because it reflected the ultimate perfection of the Era of the Redemption. Stone represents the Sefirah of Malchus, and wood, the level of Za’er Anpin. Although ordinarily Malchus is lower than all the other Sefiros, as mentioned above, in the Era of the Redemption, it will ascend to a level surpassing them all.

Nevertheless, this refers only to stone, Malchus as it exists in the realm of Atzilus. The dimension of Malchus which descends into the worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah (and is identified with iron) was not elevated at that time. In the Era of the Redemption itself, however — not only will stone, Malchus in the realm of Atzilus, but also iron — Malchus as it descends into the lower realms, will be elevated.

This is also alluded to in the description of the Third Beis HaMikdash as “an eternal structure.” Iron was not used for the Sanctuary or for the first two Batei HaMikdashos, because at that time, the negative forces associated with iron were still empowered (and ultimately, they led to the destruction of these structures). In contrast, in the Era of the Redemption, not only will the negative dimension of these forces be nullified, they will be transformed into positive factors. This will be reflected in the fact that iron will be included in the Beis HaMikdash in the Era of the Redemption and will strengthen that structure.11

Based on the above, we can conceive of the Tenth of Teves as the beginning of the process of the construction of the Third Beis HaMikdash. The process of destruction which began on that day was intended to ultimately lead to the building of the Third Beis HaMikdash. Thus, the “wall of iron” mentioned by Yechezkel can be appreciated as a reference, not only to the destructive power of iron, but also, the positive dimension of iron that will be revealed in the Era of the Redemption.

In this context, we can appreciate the uniqueness of the date, the Tenth of Teves. When counting from Nissan, the “month of redemption,” Teves is the tenth month. The Torah teaches, “the tenth will be holy.” Furthermore, our Sages have associated the number ten with the Era of the Redemption. For then, the Jewish people will sing the tenth song, they will be counted in the tenth census, and the Land of Israel will be a land of ten nations.

Also, from a mystical dimension, the month of Teves relates to the Era of the Redemption. Our Sages describe Teves as “the month when the body derives pleasure from the body.” Chassidic thought explains that this means that in this month, G‑d’s essence derives pleasure from the service of the Jewish people within the realm of physical reality. This is the level of service which in a full sense will be realized in the Era of the Redemption, at which time, “the soul will derive vitality from the body.”

There is added significance to the above this year, for the Tenth of Teves falls on a Tuesday, the day on which the expression “And G‑d saw that it was good” was repeated twice. Furthermore, the second repetition of that phrase was mentioned in regard to the origin of plant life. In that context, the Torah emphasizes that “the grass produced seed of its sort and the trees contained seed of its sort.” For seed represents the potential for future growth. In this context, it can be explained that the Tenth of Teves contained the seeds which ultimately will come to fruition in the Era of the Redemption.12

3. Based on the above, we can appreciate the connection to Parshas Vayechi and the conclusion of the first of the Books of the Torah. This Book concludes with a description of the Jews’ entry into the Egyptian exile. Accordingly, there is a need for a strengthening and reinforcing influence to grant the potential to ascend from this exile.13

This influence comes from the expression, “And Yaakov lived.” Yaakov is identified with the service of Torah study, the middle vector which extends from the highest of all levels until the lowest depths without change. This reflects the quality of truth, as it is written, “He granted Yaakov truth” and eternity, as reflected in the statement “Yaakov our Patriarch never died.”

Yaakov endows all of his descendants, all Jews of subsequent generations, with this quality of eternal life, “his descendants are alive.” In particular, the word our Sages used for the term “his descendants” zar’o, literally means “his seed.” This implies that the potential for the revelation of this eternal life in the Era of the Redemption has already been implanted within the Jewish people and the growth and development of this potential is dependent on our service through the period of exile.

On this basis, we can appreciate the connection between the eternal life which Yaakov endows his descendants and the Tenth of Teves, for in both cases, the analogy of seeds is used. Similarly, there is a connection between Yaakov’s descendants and the concept of iron mentioned above, for it is the iron-willed dedication to Yiddishkeit which will transform the negative, destructive dimension of iron which was used to devastate the Beis HaMikdash into a force which adds strength and permanence to the eternal Beis HaMikdash that will be constructed in the Era of the Redemption.

The above is particularly relevant to our generation, the last generation of exile and the first generation of the Redemption. How much more so is this true after the Previous Rebbe announced that all the service necessary to bring the Redemption has been completed. This is particularly true in the present year, “a year imbued with wonders,” and “a year of wonders in all things.” These wonders refer to the miracles which Mashiach will perform in bringing the Redemption as it is written, “As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders.”

The expression “in all things” relates to the threefold expression of blessing associated with the Patriarchs bakol mikol kol. Commenting on this expression, our Sages explain that G‑d gave the Patriarchs a foretaste of the Redemption and thus, this is relevant to every Jew. Furthermore, our connection with the Patriarchs will be reinforced in the near future when we will see all the Patriarchs resurrected, and similarly, the Matriarchs will arise including Yaakov’s four wives whose names form an acronym for barzel, iron.

In the Era of the Redemption, instead of Jerusalem being put in siege, “Jerusalem will be unwalled,” for “Jerusalem will expand and encompass all of Eretz Yisrael.” And at this time, the negative influence of iron will be nullified and iron will be used to strengthen and reinforce the Beis HaMikdash.

Thus the lesson from Parshas Vayechi is the importance of strengthening of our thoughts, speech, and acts of the Torah and its mitzvos which will lead to the growth and blossoming of the Redemption. In particularly this involves working with Yaakov’s “seed,” Jewish children, realizing that the efforts invested in their education are like seeds that will flower in the future and will lead to new seeds in future generations.

Furthermore, every aspect of one’s thought, speech, and deed, should be seen as a seed that must be planted and will then produce fruit, allowing a person to continue living in an eternal way. For each of these acts will produce fruit, that will contain seeds for further growth. And thus each activity will lead to an infinite cycle of growth.

(This is alluded to in the name Yaakov (יעקב) which can be divided into yud eikev, (עקב) i.e., that the influence of G‑d, identified with the yud will permeate every aspect of one’s existence including the heel (eikev in Hebrew).

Furthermore, these positive acts will, to borrow the Rambam’s expression, serve as “the single mitzvah which will tip the balance and bring salvation and deliverance for oneself... and for the entire world.” And then we will proceed, without interruption, from the present era to the eternal life of the World to Come.

This will be hastened by our connection to the Nasi of the generation, Yosef. He is also connected to Yaakov for the Hebrew word Nasi is an acronym for the Hebrew words meaning, “the spark of Yaakov our Patriarch.”

In describing that era, the prophet states, “G‑d will again (yosif) extend His hand a second time to take possession of the remnant of His people.” And He will bring them, and the houses of prayer, houses of study, and houses of good deeds of the Diaspora — beginning with this building, “the house of our master in Babylon”14 — and together with all the private homes of the Jewish people to our Holy Land, to Jerusalem, and to the Beis HaMikdash.

This revelation is not a matter of the distant future. The table is already set for the feast of the Redemption,15 and soon we will celebrate together with Mashiach.