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Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Vayechi) Staying Alive!
This week’s portion tells us that our forefather Yaakov lived the last years of his life in Egypt. The title of this week’s Portion is Vayechi - and he lived.

The Torah draws our attention to the word “and he lived” to indicate that during the final seventeen years of Yaacov’s life he truly lived – because he experienced total tranquility.

During this idyllic time Yaacov was reunited with his son Yosef and was not subject to the many challenges which he had faced during course of his life.

Commentators ask that the first seventeen years of Yosef’s life when he was together with his father – before he was sold – should also be included in the years of Yaacov’s tranquility.

An answer offered is that these years are also included by the way of a hint. The Gematria – numerical value of the word Vayechi is 34. Thus the word Vayechi alludes to the 17 years Yaacov spent in Egypt plus the 17 years before Yosef was sold.

The Zohar – our Kaballah has a different approach. Yes, during the 17 years before Yosef was sold it was a tranquil period for Yaacov, however, during the 22 years that Yaacov believed that Yosef was dead he mourned and cried over the 17 years he had with Yosef. Therefore it was considered as though they were erased.

G-d in his goodness returned those 17 years to Yaacov after he and Yosef were reunited in the Land of Egypt and for those 17 years Yaacov lived in total happiness, splendor and completeness.

This is not the first time the Torah uses the root ‘Chi – life” in connection with Yaacov. From the moment Yaacov assumed that Yosef was dead, he threw himself into a state of mourning. Yaacov had a tradition that he would be eternally doomed if any of his 12 sons would die during his lifetime. This mournful feeling prevented him from accessing prophecy.

The moment Yaacov received the news that Yosef was alive, the Divine spirit rested upon Yaacov, and the Torah says, “Vatichi ruach Yaakov” – and the spirit of Yaacov became alive.

Yes, Yaacov was physically alive during the 22 years of mourning; however, his lofty spirit was missing until it became alive once again when he heard Yosef was alive.

In the creation of man, the Torah tells us that G-d call man, “Adam”– which means “earth” because he was formed from earth. The Torah also tells us that G-d instilled him with a ‘Nefesh Chaya’ – a soul that was alive.

Rabbi Yonason Aibeshutz o.b.m. asks, if man is unique because he has a spiritual soul, it would seem more appropriate that man should have been called Nefesh or Neshama which is associated with his loftier spiritual soul, rather than Adam which reflects his physical creation.

Reb Yonason explains that the Torah highlights the physical component – Adam – in man’s name, to teach us that the goal and greatest testament to man, is when he transforms and uplifts his physical being into the spiritual. Thus the name Adam is appropriate – we are always a work in progress.

In regards to performing the commands, the Torah instructs us, “A person must perform and live (V’Chai) by them.”

The Shelah Hakodosh homiletically explains this verse as an instruction how we are to perform the commands. We are to infuse them with energy, enthusiasm, passion, happiness and excitement. If we do so we are guaranteed to see lively results.

When the Torah relates the event of Yaacov’s passing, it does not specifically mention the word death. Based on this omission, our Sages teach us that Yaacov never died!

The Talmud tell us that the wicked are called dead even while they are still alive, however, the righteous are called alive even after they pass away.

The constructive and positive example of the devout, pious, kind and spiritually connected lives of our righteous people lives on forever!

I want to share this story written by Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman, featured in Mishpocha Magazine:

I made a shiva call just days before Yom Kippur. The son of the man who had passed away told the story
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