Torah Fax

Friday, January 9, 2004 - 15 Tevet, 5764

Torah Reading: VaYechi (Genesis 47:28 - 50:26)
Candle Lighting Time: 4:27 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:32 PM   

Real Good

In this week's parsha, the Torah recounts the final years of Jacob's life. The opening verse of the parsha is: "And Jacob lived ("Vayechi") in the land of Egypt seventeen years."  The fact that the Torah states the precise number of years that he lived in Egypt prompted the Ba'al Haturim  (fifteenth century commentator who, in addition to writing a fundamental commentary on the Torah, also tried to find the deeper meaning to the text by use of the method of gematria-numerology) to make the following observation: "These seventeen years-the gematria (the numerical equivalent) of the word tov-good-that he was reunited with his son Joseph, were the best years of Jacob's life."

It has also has been pointed out that Jacob's best years were also the seventeen years that he spent with his son Joseph before he was sold by his brothers. The total number of years that Jacob lived with his son Joseph thus was thirty-four. The opening word "Vayechi-And he lived," incredibly, has the numerical value of 34!

The implication of this hint is that true life-insofar as Jacob was concerned-was realized when he combined these two periods of goodness: The seventeen years he spent with Joseph before he was sold into slavery and the seventeen years that he spent with him after becoming viceroy of Egypt.

One basic difference between these two periods is that in the first instance Joseph was the recipient of Jacob's largess while in the last seventeen years of Jacob's life the tables were turned-Joseph was Jacob's provider.

Since Jacob is regarded as the prototype of all of his descendants, it follows that we too can only experience true life when we can both impart our beliefs and values upon our offspring - as Joseph did for the first seventeen years of his life-and also live to see how our children retain everything that they have learned after they have grown, even making significant contributions to the teachings of their parents. Indeed, as has been pointed out in earlier Torah Faxes, the very name Joseph means "may he increase" or "may he grow."
Another approach to the two seventeen-year periods of good Jacob spent with Joseph can be appreciated by referring to a Talmudic discussion concerning the significance of the third day of creation where G‑d declares twice "And it was good." This, the Talmud states, symbolizes one who possesses dual goodness: goodness for heaven and goodness for other creatures here on Earth. There are those who feel a very close relationship with G‑d; while others feel a sense of affinity and responsibility for others. Needless to say, any good one does in either of these two directions stands on its own, but falls short of its goal if it is not combined with the other. It is not simply that two is better than one, but that each one of these areas of goodness contributes to and enhances the quality of the other.

When one thinks about G‑d, it is crucial that they also think about the things that G‑d holds dear to His "heart." In the words of a great Chassidic Master, R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, "One who loves G‑d must also love those whom G‑d loves." If one loves G‑d but does not love those whom He loves, their love of G‑d is not as deep as when he loves the one whom G‑d loves. Conversely, when one is involved in the pursuit of helping others because he recognizes that his fellow possesses a Divine soul that shares a common G‑dly origin and bond with his own soul, then the assistance one renders is infused with a part of that soul, that will make the relationship endure.

The first period of seventeen years that Jacob spent imparting his spiritual legacy to Joseph parallels the concept of "good to G‑d." The second period of seventeen years in which he was the beneficiary of Joseph's beneficence represents the twin ideal of "good to creatures." Combined, the 34-the numerical value of "Vayechi-and he lived"-gave Jacob the dimension of life that transcends goodness.

Unlike the other Patriarchs, the Torah does not employ the word Vayamot-and he died for Jacob. This, the Talmud observes, is to teach us that Jacob, in truth, never died. One way of understanding this statement is that true life-the combination of "good to G‑d" and "good to creatures," that was experienced by Jacob did not cease with his passing; it was bequeathed to his descendants, the Jewish people. Jacob's ability to experience life in its fullest sense, the performance and experience of dual goodness, continues to this very day within the Jewish community.

And while exile conditions have occasionally weakened one of the two forms of goodness, this combination has remained a staple of Jewish existence to this very day and it is one of the important factors in paving the way for the coming of Moshiach, whom the prophet Isaiah describes as one that is imbued with a heightened sense of awareness of and reverence for G‑d coupled with a keen sense of justice and kindness.

Moshiach Matters

All of our actions should be permeated with the subject of Moshiach. In addition to the Mitzvos we do which should be done with the intent of hastening the redemption, even our eating and drinking should be filled with that spirit, for when we eat, we should be reminded of the great meal we will have when Moshiach comes, which will include the Livyson and the Yayin HaMeshumar (special fish and wine set aside from the beginning of creation to be eaten when Moshiach arrives). The Rebbe, Parshas VaYeira, 1991

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