1. Parshas Vayechi is the conclusion of the book of Bereishis, the first of the five books of the Chumash. It is called “the book of the just, the book of Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov, who are called, ‘the just.’ ”

Based on the principle, “the deeds of the patriarchs are a sign for their descendants,” it follows that this book contains an outline for the totality of a Jew’s service. Vayechi means, “And he lived.” Thus, the lesson of Parshas Vayechi is of a fundamental nature, centering around life itself which is of fundamental importance to a person’s being.

A question arises: Life is fundamental to a Jew’s being. Our Sages declared that the Jews are those who are truly alive, their life stemming from the Torah which is “our lives and the length of our days.” If so, what lesson can be learned from Vayechi? As is, a Jew’s existence is one of life.

The same question can be asked from a different perspective: The Alter Rebbe taught that we must “live with the times, ‘with the weekly Torah portion.’ ” What does it mean to live with Vayechi, with “life” itself?

Also, the name Vayechi warrants explanation since the parshah speaks about the death, and not the life, of the Patriarch Yaakov. In this context, it is explained that this portion reveals how Yaakov’s life was eternal. Even after his soul departed from his body, he remained “alive,” because “his descendants were alive.” Thus, all the events related in the parshah are expressions of this “life.”

Chassidic thought explains that a person cannot feel his life-force. We are limited human beings, capable of feeling and perceiving only those entities which are themselves limited. Since our life-force is of a general nature, above all particular divisions, it is not able to be felt. We have certain powers which we can feel and take control of, for example, the powers of intellect, sight, and hearing. Since these powers are limited in nature, being revealed within the context of the limbs of the body, it is possible to feel their presence. In contrast, a person’s life-force is drawn down to his entire being as a whole. As such, it cannot be felt.1

The above explanation is problematic. We begin our day by reciting Modeh Ani, thanking G‑d for this life-force. Not only do we thank Him for the particular expressions of His beneficence mentioned in the morning blessings, we acknowledge that He has granted us the gift of life as a totality. Indeed, this is the most prominent of our expressions of thanks, recited immediately upon our awakening in the morning.

Thus, this expression of thanks does not come because we understand and have meditated upon the fact that G‑d has returned our souls. On the contrary, we express our thanks because we feel that our soul2 has been returned. If so, this appears to contradict the statements made above that the soul cannot be felt.3

This contradiction can be resolved as follows: The concept explained above, that because the soul transcends division, it cannot be felt or perceived, is true within the context of the natural order of creation. Nevertheless, the connection of the body and the soul itself transcends that order and is possible only because of G‑d’s miraculous power. That power is not bounded at all. Hence, it is able to cause the essence of the soul to become connected and permeated through the limits of the body and our active consciousness until it can actually be felt.

Based on the above, we can understand the continuation of the Modeh Ani prayer which concludes, “Your faithfulness is great.” G‑d’s faithfulness is totally unbounded and thus, permeates through and pervades even our conscious powers.

A similar concept also applies in relation to the blessing, E‑lohai, Neshamah, which states: “My G‑d, the soul which You have given within me is pure. You created it. You formed....” Several questions arise. Among them:

a) The order of the blessing’s phraseology is difficult: Before the soul was “created,” how could it exist and be “pure”?

b) After addressing the blessing to “My G‑d,” why is it necessary to add the word Atah (אתה) in the expression, “You created it”? In Hebrew, the same concept is conveyed by using the proper form for the verb’s conjugation whether the pronoun is mentioned or not.

These questions can be resolved as follows: The expression, “the soul You given... is pure,” refers to the soul as it exists in the world of Atzilus. The three expressions, “You created it, You formed..., You...” refer to the soul as it becomes manifest in the three worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah. In order for the soul to descend to these three lower levels, a source of influence above the realm of Atzilus is necessary. This is the meaning of Atah, “You,” i.e., G‑d’s essence. G‑d’s essence is the force that makes this descent possible. G‑d’s infinite power causes even “the soul that You have given within me,” within this world, to be “pure.”

Based on the above, we can understand the lesson to be derived from parshas Vayechi: Vayechi refers to the essence of life, not only the life energy which is revealed by the soul, but the life of the soul itself, the very source for life, “the L‑rd, your G‑d, is true. He is the living G‑d.” This life energy is, nevertheless, extended until it serves as the source for life on the material plane, for a soul with a body.

In this context, we can understand the opening phrase of Parshas Vayechi,4 “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years.” Each of the words has unique significance.

“Yaakov” (יעקב) can be broken up into Yud eikev (י עקב), i.e., the soul, the yud is drawn down throughout the totality of an individual’s personality, until it effects even its heel.

“In the land”: Our Sages explain that the word land is connected to the word “want;” “Why was it called ‘land’ (ארץ)? because it wanted (רצתה) to do its Creator’s will.”5 Despite the great descent, there is still a desire to fulfill G‑d’s will.

“Egypt” is associated with the concept of “boundaries and limitations.” In this context, however, it has a positive connotation, i.e., that the unlimited life-force of the soul permeates the boundaries and limitations of human personality.

“Seventeen” is numerically equivalent to “good,” i.e., the influence from above descends to the extent that it becomes enclothed within a person’s being to the extent that he consciously feels its “good.”

Thus this verse clarifies and emphasizes that the life energy from the soul which is unlimited and thus, reflected in the power of faith, becomes drawn down within the context of our conscious powers of intellect and emotion. We see a parallel to this in our prayers in which the essential expression of thanks of Modeh Ani becomes enclothed in the particular matters mentioned in the morning blessings which include all the needs of a person throughout the day.

In this context, we can understand the lesson to be derived from “living” with parshas Vayechi. The fact that the Torah is “our life and the length of our days” resembles the general life force which cannot be felt until it becomes internalized in a specific power of the soul. Similarly, the influence of the Torah as a whole becomes apparent when a person lives with the particular aspect of Torah which is relevant to the time at hand, i.e., the weekly Torah portion.

Vayechi combines the two, revealing the general life-force of Torah, drawing down within the unlimited Divine energy that is above the Torah. This allows the essential life-energy, the essence of the Torah, to be drawn down with the context of our conscious selves.

As implied from the statement, G‑d “looked into the Torah and created the world,” this revelation within Torah brings about a revelation of the true life energy of the world, making it apparent that “the heavens and earth and everything which they contain came into being only from the truth of His Being,” thus, reflecting the state of the world in the Messianic age when, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters fill up the ocean bed.”

2. On the basis of the above, we can also understand why Parshas Vayechi is an appropriate conclusion for the book of Bereishis. The contrast between the book of Bereishis and the other four books of the Torah can be explained as follows: There are many more mitzvos mentioned in the other books because: It (Bereishis) is a source and root for the other mitzvos.... It represents the middle column which is above the divisions of right and left,.. i.e., the 248 positive mitzvos which reflect kindness, the right column, and 365 negative commandments which reflect the left column.

Thus, the book of Bereishis speaks about the lives of the patriarchs which reflect the level of Atzilus. In contrast, the other four books reveal the mitzvos which express G‑dliness within the levels below Atzilus. Therefore, the book of Genesis, the essence and the source of Torah, concludes with Parshas Vayechi which reflects the essence and the source of life (of the Torah and of the Jews).

After we conclude the book of Bereishis, we declare, Chazak, Chazak, V’nischazaik — “Be strong, be strong, and be strengthened” — reinforcing the process of transition through which these essential powers descend and are internalized within our conscious selves.

3. Yaakov represents the world of Atzilus. His children (aside from Yosef) represent the world of Beriah. Yosef’s source is above even the level of Atzilus. Accordingly, it is within his potential to draw down the revelation of Atzilus to the world of Beriah and thus, to the other worlds on an even lower level.

This relates to the concept of Vayechi described above. Yaakov refers to the soul as it exists within Atzilus, the essence of the soul which is above division. The twelve tribes can be compared to the soul as it is revealed within the body. Yosef reflects the essential G‑dly energy through which the soul is brought down within the body, allowing for the essential life-energy of the Jewish soul to be felt within the body even when the Jews live in exile.

On this basis, we can explain the connection of Vayechi to the particular concepts mentioned in the portion. The beginning of the Torah portion relates how Yosef took his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe, to be blessed by Yaakov. Similarly, the conclusion of the portion mentions these two individuals.

Ephraim and Menashe are representative of the entire Jewish people as implied by Yaakov’s blessing: “Through you, Israel will be blessed. They will say, ‘May G‑d make you like Ephraim and Menashe.’ ”6 In particular, however, Ephraim and Menashe represent the Jewish people in exile.7 Thus, by taking Ephraim and Menashe to Yaakov, Yosef was preparing for the influence of Yaakov to be drawn down to the Jewish people as they exist in exile.

Similarly, Yosef’s effort to sustain the Jewish people in Egypt involved giving them spiritual as well as material nurture. This prepared them for the time when ultimately, as we read in the book of Shmos which we begin reading in the Minchah service, the Jews were able to leave exile entirely.

We must bring all the above to the level of deed for, “Deed is most essential.” On Shabbos parshas Vayechi, a Jew should feel and express new life in Torah and mitzvos. It is Shabbos Chazak, a Shabbos which should strengthen him, his family, and his entire surroundings.

This should be connected with a Chassidic farbrengen. In general, it is proper to “gather the congregation together on Shabbos” through the organization of a kiddush. — May this custom spread throughout the Jewish community. — In particular, this is appropriate on Shabbos Chazak when we celebrate the conclusion of one of the books of the Torah. This celebration must reflect, in microcosm, the celebrations of Simchas Torah.

Added emphasis on the uniqueness of the present occasion comes because we are within 30 days of Yud Shevat, the yahrzeit of the Previous Rebbe. This is particularly true this year, the 40th anniversary of his passing. Just as Yosef gave the Jews the power to emerge from the Egyptian exile, following the directives of the Yosef of our generation will give us the potential to proceed to the Messianic redemption. May it be speedily in our days.