Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayechi

As Sefer Bereishis comes to a close, the parshah focuses on the last years of Yaakov’s life. “וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה“And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years” (Bereishis 47:28). The last seventeen years of Yaakov’s life were among his most pleasant. Finally reunited with Yosef and surrounded by his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, Yaakov at last had the tranquil life he had always wanted.

Before the parshah even begins, there is something that stands out about it. Parshas Vayechi is different from all the other parshiyos in the Torah because there is no break in the text between it and the end of Vayigash, last week’s parshah. Usually in the handwritten Torah there is a separation in between each parshah, Vayechi does not have this, making it appear as if it is actually part of Parshas Vayigash. Rashi on the first pasuk brings a medrash which brings two reasons for this anomaly. “שכיון שנפטר יעקב אבינו נסתמו עיניהם ולבם של ישראל מצרת השעבוד שהתחילו לשעבדם דבר אחר שבקש לגלות את הקץ לבניו ונסתם ממנו“…as soon as Yaakov died, the eyes and hearts of Yisrael were ‘closed’ because of the misery of the slavery, for they (the Egyptians) began to subjugate them. Another explanation: That Yaakov tried to reveal the End (of the Galus) to his sons, but it was ‘closed off’ from him.”

As we know, the medrash does not make up explanations, they must be learned out from the text. So where did these explanations come from? The Kli Yakar brings several answers for each one. The first answer he gives for the first explanation is that the last pasuk in Parshas Vayigash says, “וַיֵּשֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן“And Yisrael lived in the land of Goshen” (47:27). The language of “וַיֵּשֶׁב” is one of living in peace and tranquility. He connects it to the first pasuk in this week’s parshah to say that this period only lasted while Yaakov was alive, but once he died, the slavery of Bnei Yisrael started, thus “closing their eyes” because of the pain of the slavery.

The second reason is the opposite of the first. Instead of the slavery starting because of Yaakov’s death, Yaakov died because the slavery started. Similar to how Hashem did not allow Avraham to live out his allotted years in order to prevent him from seeing Esav sin (See Rashi on Bereishis 25:30), Yaakov died before his allotted time in order that he would not see his children enslaved by the Egyptians. He makes this connection in the pesukim the same way the first answer did. The last answer is from a positive standpoint. The pasuk says that Yaakov lived for seventeen years in Mitzrayim. In last week’s parshah, Yaakov tells Paroh that the first 130 years of his life were “מְעַט וְרָעִים “short and bitter” (47:9). The two parshiyos are connected to show us that Yaakov tranquil life in Mitzrayim was so pleasant that it “closed off” the pain of the previous 130 years.

In order to explain the second answer of Rashi, the Kli Yakar says a much sharper answer. When Yaakov first finds out that Yosef is alive, the pasuk says, “וַתְּחִי רוּחַ יַעֲקֹב אֲבִיהֶם“And the spirit of Yaakov lived” (46:27). Rashi explains that for the first time since Yosef left home, the spirit of Hashem rested on Yaakov. In our parshah, when the pasuk says “וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב” without the word “רוּחַ”, the pasuk is telling us that once again Hashem’s spirit had left Yaakov, this time for the entire time he was in Mitzrayim. When Yaakov sees Yosef for the first time, he says, “אָמוּתָה הַפָּעַם אַחֲרֵי רְאוֹתִי אֶת פָּנֶיךָ כִּי עוֹדְךָ חָי “…I will die this time, after seeing your face that you are alive” (47:30). Our medrash is explaining that before Yaakov died, he wanted to tell his children when Mashiach would come. Hashem did not want this to be revealed so he “closed off” that information from Yaakov.

Still, why was it so bad for Yaakov to tell his sons when Mashiach would come, that Hashem closed himself off from Yaakov for seventeen years? That is why the parshiyos are connected, to teach us that the reason Hashem’s spirit left Yaakov has to do with the last pasuk in last week’s parshah, that Yaakov dwelled in Mitzrayim.

The Sefer Akeidah explains that if we would have known throughout history exactly when Mashiach would come, for the thousands of years that have passed without his arrival, no one would have been seeking out Hashem! After all, if Mashiach isn’t coming anyway, why not just stay in Chutz La’aretz, do the mitzvos there, and let my children worry about mashiach? It doesn’t affect me anyway! This is bad logic because by doing mitzvos and davening for the Geulah to come, we can bring it even before the set time. Also, there is no comparison between doing the mitzvos in Eretz Yisrael and doing them outside of Eretz Yisrael. In order to prevent people from falling into this trap, Hashem “closed off” the time of Mashiach. He finishes off by saying how awful it is that even nowadays when we don’t know when Mashiach is coming, we still act like this! That those who live in Chutz La’aretz are very comfortable and build fancy houses made of precious and expensive stone and don’t even think of the Geulah coming. To this Hashem says, “If you are comfortable there, stay there!”

I do not believe that the Akeidah is saying that you are not allowed to build a house outside of Eretz Yisrael, obviously you are required to provide a comfortable shelter and life for your family. But what is your attitude towards your situation? Are you building this house because it is necessary? Or maybe it’s because you want to be comfortable; that your attitude is “I’m here for the long run, might as well build a beautiful house!” It’s important that we realize that no matter how easy life is right now and how many opportunities there are for religious Jews all over the world, we are still in Galus, we are not where we belong. Wherever we are and whatever our situation is, there is a direction we must strive in, and that is towards Eretz Yisrael, the Geulah, and Hashem. This was Yaakov’s problem, this was why he could not give over the time of Mashiach.

We must keep this goal in mind, that our end destination must be towards this final stage of Geulah. In order to do this, we cannot be comfortable in Galus, for as long as we are, Hashem will tell us “If you’re comfortable, stay!” Let us internalize the lessons of this week’s parshah and may we all merit the complete Geulah very soon!

Shabbat Shalom!


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