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Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another

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.



Yaakov Lives

The Torah portion Vayechi begins by saying:9 “And Yaakov lived.” Why does it begin in this manner when the entire portion deals with Yaakov’s demise and the events surrounding it? Additionally, since the title of a Torah portion relates to the entire portion,10 why the title “And he lived,” if the whole portion speaks of dying?

The true meaning of life is eternal. This is why true life exists only in relation to G-d, as the verse states:11 “G-d, the L-rd is Truth, He is the Living G-d.”

Truth is not subject to change; if something is genuinely True it will remain so forever. Since G-d is Truth, never ceasing and never changing, He is also the true aspect of life.

Created beings, however, are not true entities, for they do not exist in and of themselves; they had to be created, and as such are intrinsically subject to change and decay. Only by cleaving to and uniting with G-d can they be invested with true life.

Indeed, the Jewish people are called “alive”12 precisely for this reason, as the verse states:13 “And you who cleave to the L-rd your G-d are all alive today” — the Jewish people are alive in an eternal manner only because of their unity with G-d.

However, in order for this dimension of “life” to be perceived in a physical world, it is necessary to encounter obstacles to one’s attachment to G-d and nevertheless remain steadfast and whole in the performance of Torah and mitzvos. Only then is one’s true “life” fully revealed, for it is then obvious that nothing can stand in one’s path and affect one’s unity with G-d.

The connection of “And Yaakov lived” to the entire portion, as well as the reason for the whole portion being titled “And he lived” — although its main theme is Yaakov’s demise — will be understood accordingly:

During all of Yaakov’s years before his descent into Egypt it was not clearly seen that his existence was one of true “life,” a life of “And you who cleave… are all alive.” For the principle of “Do not be sure of yourself until the day you die”14 applies even to the very righteous.15 Thus Yaakov’s degree of attachment to G-d throughout his life was not sufficient proof of “life.”

Even the fact that Yaakov’s conduct caused his children and grandchildren to be righteous as well does not prove that he was truly “alive,” for Yaakov and his entire family lived in the Holy Land; and one could not be sure about their conduct in a coarser country.

Only when Yaakov approached the time of his death, having meanwhile descended uncorrupted with his family to Egypt, was it revealed that his entire life, although externally filled with pain and suffering, was true life — “And Yaakov lived.”

This also explains why the portion is titled “And he lived,” notwithstanding the fact that it describes Yaakov’s demise and the events that transpired afterwards:

The Gemara states:16 “Our father Yaakov did not die; as his progeny lives on, he too lives on.” Since the true aspect of life is eternal, Yaakov’s existence can only be judged after observing its perpetual effect.

This effect is perceived when one realizes that not only did Yaakov’s own soul continue to cleave to G-d, but that his children pursue the true life led by their father.

The above provides an additional reason for the Torah portion being titled “And he lived.” The title not only emphasizes that even after Yaakov’s passing it is still possible to say that he lives, but that it is specifically after Yaakov’s demise that one can say he lives on.

Compiled from Likkutei Sichos , Vol. XV, pp. 427-430.



FOOTNOTES

1. Avudraham , Seder Hotza’as Sefer Torah; Responsa MaHaram Mintz sec. 85; Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chayim 139:15: Keser Shem Tov (Gagin), 1:38.
2. 50:26.
3. Bereishis 42:9; ibid., verse 12; See also Koheles Rabbah, conclusion of 1:4.
4. Ibid. 47:29.
5. See Shmos Rabbah 1:4; Torah Or , beginning of Shmos.
6. Bereishis 15:14.
7. Ibid. 50:24.
8. Ibid. 41:44.
9. Bereishis 47:28.
10. See Likkutei Sichos V , p. 57ff.
11. Yermiyahu 10:10.
12. See Avos d’Rebbe Nassan conclusion of ch. 34: “Ten are called ‘alive,’ G-d, Torah, Jews….”
13. Devarim 4:4.
14. Avos 2:4; Berachos 29a.
15. See Berachos ibid.; Zohar III , 285a.
16. Taanis 5b.

   
 

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