Food For the Soul
Why does this week’s Torah reading — a Parshah which describes the end of Jacob’s life, his death and his funeral — carry the title Vayechi, “And He Lived”? Let me be faithful to Jewish tradition and try to answer one question with another question. Interestingly, the Torah never actually states that Jacob died. It simply says that “he expired and was gathered unto his people.” This prompted one of the Talmudic sages to expound that “our father Jacob never died.” Whereupon his colleagues challenged him and asked, “Did they then bury Jacob for no reason? Did they eulogize him in vain?” To which the Talmud answers: “As his descendants live, so does he live.”
Life does not end with the grave. The soul never dies and the good work men and women do on earth continues to live on long after their physical passing. More particularly, if there is regeneration, if children emulate the example of their forbears, then their parents and teachers live on through them.
When Jacob was about to breathe his last, he called his children to gather round his bedside. Our Parsha recounts what he told each of them. But the Oral Tradition gives us a behind-the-scenes account. Apparently, Jacob was anxious to know whether all his offspring were keeping the faith and he put this concern to them at that time. They replied, Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad–“Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One.” They were saying that the G-d of Israel their father would always be their G-d, too. Jacob was comforted and responded, Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto L’olam Vaed–“Blessed be the Name of the glory of His Kingdom forever and ever” (or in plain English, Baruch Hashem! Thank G-d!) When all of Jacob’s children remained faithful to his tradition, that was not only a tribute to Jacob’s memory but the ultimate gift of eternal life bestowed upon him. His spirit lives on, his life’s work continues to flourish and he is still present in this world as his soul lives on in the next.
In following his path, Jacob’s children immortalized him. Ultimately, our children make us immortal. And so do our students, our spiritual children. May we each be privileged to raise families and disciples who will be true children of Israel, faithful to our father Jacob and the G-d of Israel. Amen.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
This Shabbat (14 Tevet) marks a special day in Jewish history: Purim Hebron. On this day Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob came to the rescue of the Jewish community of Hebron, after an evil Pasha imprisoned its leaders and threatened to sell the entire Jewish population into slavery. The Sephardic community of Hebron would celebrate this day to mark the great miracle which occurred.
For information about the significance of Hebron in Jewish history visit Chabad.org.
Mind Over Matter
Our own effort
Jacob wanted to reveal the end date (of the exile) to his children because he felt it was a worthwhile sacrifice to give up a bit of the perfection of their achievement for the sake of a shorter, more bearable exile. Nevertheless, G-d removed His Presence from Jacob. Completing the work of exile on our own, without a boost from above, is not just an “extra credit” but is essential to the process of redemption. If our work is aided from above, then as soon as the boost is removed, we drop back to where we were before. When we’ve completed the work with our own effort, it’s ours and can never be taken away.
When the pain is so strong that we cannot bear another moment, that’s when we turn to G-d and beg Him for Moshiach. And that, in itself, is what gives us the strength to overcome the challenge and get through the final moments of exile. This is true especially in our generation, when we have completed all the necessary preparations. At this point, it is inexplicable why there is any delay at all. All that’s left for us is to turn to G-d and say, “We are ready. Now.”
From an article by Chaya Shuchat
We want Moshiach now!
The contemplation on, and the active anticipation of, the imminent manifestation of the redemption, will of itself assist and encourage the service of G-d. This is evident in the fact that when making a Jew aware that “Behold, Moshiach is about to come!” and “We want Moshiach now!”-this message inspires and encourages him in his service of G-d to bring about this ultimate goal.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Shy to begin with, I found it a little embarrassing when I first started going to Orthodox Jewish weddings; right off the bat, people seemed to mistake me for being related to the bride or groom. As soon as I would walk into the room, strangers would approach and genuinely wish me, “Mazel tov!” “Thanks,” I would mumble, “but um, I’m not related to the families. I’m just a guest.” If anything, I am underdressed for posh affairs; I own no formal clothes, and nothing in my closet remotely passes for glamorous. I would have to upgrade my attire if I were a close relative. So why did this case of mistaken identity persist? Some of you may be laughing, as you understand the cause of my “newbie confusion.” You see, in Orthodox weddings and celebrations of any kind, everyone wishes everyone else “Mazel Tov” because the Jewish people are considered to be one big extended family. In my younger years, I experienced a sense of liberation and even personal power when I coined my definition of “family,” as those who felt pain if I were suffering and joy if I were happy. At celebrations, we remind each other (and ourselves) of this reality; your happiness is my happiness, and we share this collectively.
Klal Yisrael literally means “all of Israel,” and as such, it refers to the Jewish people as a whole. However, its deeper meaning is that despite individual and group diversity, we share a communal identity and destiny, where we celebrate and mourn as one. In Israel, weddings are often open affairs. Here, we call them wedding crashers, but over there, it’s more like an “open tent” policy. At the same time, it’s just as common for “strangers” to show up at funerals and to offer condolences at houses of mourning. When my daughter spent a gap year studying in Israel, it was not unusual for girls from her seminary to go in large groups to pay their respects. “Mom,” my daughter simply said. “You just go.”
When I was visiting another family in mourning this week, one of the sons acknowledged that while the four siblings had their share of squabbles and issues over the years, at the time of their mother’s death, they were all united as one, gathered around her bedside, escorting her in song and prayers to the next world. After he spoke, his sister tearfully begged the family to stay as one—to comfort and support each other in the weeks and months to come as they had to come to grips with the loss of the matriarch of the family who held them as one.
I have seen and experienced families, communities and the Jewish people rise to the occasion in solidarity, only to fall back into divisive and polarized factions. How can we hold onto the lofty ideals of unity and connection as operative principles in our daily lives? Just as peak emotional moments are not sustainable, the solidarity we may feel in times of crisis, disasters, terror attacks, etc., is situational and temporary. During calamities, we instinctively help our fellow neighbor without asking who he or she voted for. Afterwards, we go back to life as usual—the neighbor becomes the stranger, and we retreat into the proverbial “us and them.” Unity based on fear of hatred of a common enemy is not genuine, and when it’s situational (for good or bad), it’s not sustainable. How, then, does unity endure?
In the Parsha Vayehi, Jacob passes away. Surrounding him at his deathbed, are his sons—all of them, whom as we know, had some serious baggage. Jacob had received a prophetic vision in which he saw how the future would unfold, including the “end of days.” When Jacob wanted to relay revelation to his sons, however, the vision was no longer accessible to him. Somewhat frightened, Jacob asked his sons whether there was any negativity within them, which was blocking the signal, so to speak, to which the sons replied in unison: Shema Yisrael, Hashem, Elokeinu,, Hashem Echad—“Hear O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One.” And Jacob answered: Boruch Shem kavod malchuso, l’olam voed—“Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity.” This is the exact moment where the Torah teaches us the Shema—the “Jewish mantra” that we recite daily and, if we able, right before we die.
G-d is One, the ultimate Unity. Created in G-d’s image, our mission in life is to emulate our Creator, and it’s the struggle of a lifetime to unify ourselves in the service of G-d. Just as Jacob gave each of his sons distinct and individual blessings, we are unique, and we are to serve G-d in our singular capacities. That’s a tall order, but it’s not enough. The next time we read the words of the Shema in the Torah is when Moses teaches them to the second generation shortly before his death and their crossing over into the Land of Israel. As the Jewish people were about to leave the cocoon of the desert and spread out over the land, Moses was exhorting them to remember that G-d is One, and therefore, they must also strive to be as one—within themselves and within the nation, Klal Yisrael, as a whole.
The nature of the Jewish people is covenantal. United we stand, divided we fall. This requires a deep awareness of the unity and connection that at times requires self-sacrifice, displacing one’s ego and the open-hearted generosity of unconditional love.