- Parshat Vayechi
A life of purpose and meaning
The Parasha in the daily Life - Parashat Vayehi - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5780
Parashat Vayehi seals the book of Genesis and the period of the Patriarchs and is named after its opening:
וַיְחִ֤ייַעֲקֹב֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם שְׁבַ֥ע עֶשְׂרֵ֖ה שָׁנָ֑ה וַיְהִ֤י יְמֵֽי־יַעֲקֹב֙ שְׁנֵ֣י חַיָּ֔יו שֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֔ים וְאַרְבָּעִ֥ים וּמְאַ֖ת שָׁנָֽה׃ וַיִּקְרְב֣וּ יְמֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֘ל לָמוּת֒...
"Yaacov lived seventeen years in the land of Egypt, so that the span of Yaacov’s life came to one hundred and forty-seven years. And when the time approached for Israel to die…. (Bereshit 47:28)
Initially, the Parasha deals with Yaacov's death and burial in the Cave of the Patriarchs (Mearat HaMachpela), before his death, Yaacov gathers his sons around his bed, blesses them and gives each one of them an assignment, an objective within the House of Israel.
Later in the Parasha, the Torah mentions Rachel's death, and at the end Yosef's death and his will for burial in the land of Canaan. The Haftarah also deals with David's death and will. This is also the case with Parashat Chayei Sarah, which is named after Sarah's life and deals with her death and burial, and at the end also Abraham's.
Many ask why is it that the Parasha is given life themed titles when in reality it deals with death?
The Maharal mentioned the rule: "The knowledge about things comes from their opposite, because from the black prospect you can see the white one which is its opposite, and so on with all the opposites, from knowing one you know its opposite. And it is agreed that "the knowledge of opposites is one" (Netzach Israel - Chapter 1).
Parashat Vayehi, which deals with "death" and the finality of life, is a key to understanding life's meaning and purpose. Life has a purpose. Man did not just come into the world to exist, and life is not just a biological, mechanical process of the organism that at some point comes to an end. Life itself has potential, given by heaven, that allows one to act in this world, create meaningful things, influence and make a mark:
ימי החיים נתנו להוציא על ידם מן הכח אל הפעל בודאי איזה דבר ממשי
"Life-days were given to materialize something worthily" (Olat Reiyah Morning Supplications).
The purpose and mission of life constitute a "compass" that direct man to live life in order to put them into practice. The "quality of life" depends on the quality of work and creation that man has created for himself. In these actions, there are steps according to its valence that are measured considering G-d’s indices.
Chazal considered life 'without values and without meaning' as death. Although biologically they are alive:
״כִּי הַחַיִּים יוֹדְעִים שֶׁיָּמוּתוּ״ — אֵלּוּ צַדִּיקִים שֶׁבְּמִיתָתָן נִקְרְאוּ חַיִּים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וּבְנָיָהוּ בֶן יְהוֹיָדָע בֶּן אִישׁ חַי... ״וְהַמֵּתִים אֵינָם יוֹדְעִים מְאוּמָה״ — אֵלּוּ רְשָׁעִים, שֶׁבְּחַיֵּיהֶן קְרוּיִין ״מֵתִים״, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וְאַתָּה חָלָל רָשָׁע נְשִׂיא יִשְׂרָאֵל״.
"For the living know that they will die, these are the righteous, who even in their death are called living. An allusion to this is as it is stated: “And Benayahu, son of Yehoyada, son of a valiant man of Kabze’el, who had done mighty deeds, he smote the two altar-hearths of Moab; he went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow” (II Samuel 23:20)… In contrast to the righteous, who are referred to as living even after their death, the verse states explicitly: “The dead know nothing.” These are the wicked, who even during their lives are called dead, as the prophet Ezekiel said in reference to a king of Israel who was alive: “And you are a slain, wicked prince of Israel”. (Berakhot 18a:14)
Because of this, the sages also said that "Yaacov our father is not dead!", Although biologically he died:
יעקב אבינו לא מת אמר ליה וכי בכדי ספדו ספדניא וחנטו חנטייא וקברו קברייא אמר ליה מקרא אני דורש שנאמר ואתה אל תירא עבדי יעקב נאם ה׳ ואל תחת ישראל כי הנני מושיעך מרחוק ואת זרעך מארץ שבים מקיש הוא לזרעו מה זרעו בחיים אף הוא בחיים
"After they had eaten, Rabbi Yitzḥak said to Rav Naḥman that Rabbi Yoḥanan said as follows: Our patriarch Yaacov did not die. Rav Naḥman asked him in surprise: And was it for naught that the eulogizers eulogized him and the embalmers embalmed him and the buriers buried him? Rabbi Yitzḥak replied to Rav Naḥman: I am interpreting a verse, as it is stated: “Therefore do not fear, Yaacov My servant, says Hashem, neither be dismayed, Israel, for I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity” (Yirmiyahu 30:10). This verse juxtaposes Yaacov to his seed: Just as his seed is alive when redeemed, so too, Yaacov himself is alive." (Taanit 5b)
It is precisely when life comes to an end, that the extent of the done mission becomes clear and can be discerned to what extent it was significant, during their time and for the future.
וַיִּקְרְב֣וּ יְמֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֘ל לָמוּת֒. מהו ויקרבו? אמר הקב"ה: היום קובל עליך לומר כי הוא יקום, כאדם שאומר פלוני קרב על חבירו,
"And when the time approached for Israel to die", what does it mean approached? The Almighty said: The "day" is complaining about You. Just as a man approaches his friend. (Bereshit Rabbah 96). The Midrash explains the word "approached" - as a kind of 'battle' between the 'day' and Yaacov. As it was, on the day Yaacov was sentenced to die, the "day" came before the Almighty just "as a man who tells on his friend: 'until now was his own time to live and act in the world, and now it is someone else's turn; and if he does not leave, he is delaying someone else.
עַד שֶׁלֹא יִשְׁקַע שִׁמְשׁוֹ שֶׁל זֶה, הוּא מַזְרִיחַ שִׁמְשׁוֹ שֶׁל אַחֵר
"Not until someone's sun goes down, is it possible for another's sun to go up" (Kohelet Rabbah 1:5)
The Yefe To'ar has another explanation:
Completeness and perfection can be achieved with time if it's not wasted. And a wise person, when his time is over, and he's done his share, he still feels his life in this world was wasted.
This week, we commemorated the 10th of Tevet, marking the General Day of Holocaust Remembrance.
In his book 'The Man Seeking Meaning', the psychologist Victor Frankel, who survived the Holocaust concentration camps, notes that the meaning of life is what gave the power to live and cope with the inferno despite the physical weakness. Those who lost the meaning of life did not survive.
The Torah directs a person to maximize their inner potential in their lifetime and to give it a unique meaning, by studying Torah, observing the Mitzvot, doing valuable actions of kindness, etc.
In the postmodern era of the blurring of values and their validity, there has been an absolute erosion of the purpose of life, of valuable intentions. In addressing the challenges of the world of action, everyone needs to examine how he or she uses their life to make meaningful work that will advance the world and make its mark for the future as well.
…He bent his shoulder to the burden…
Parsha and its fulfillment - Parashat Vayechi - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5769
The story of last week's fall of Staff Sergeant Yuval Mor-Yosef, who was a student at the Kiryat-Ono Hesder Yeshiva, opens a window to the revolution that began about two decades ago. To the wonderful stories of religious high school graduates who did not study in high school Yeshivas and integrate wonderfully into Hesder Yeshivas.
At the end of the Parasha, Yaakov blesses his sons. In his blessing to Yissachar it is said: "Issachar is a strong-boned ass, crouching among the sheepfolds. When he saw how good was security, and how pleasant was the country, he bent his shoulder to the burden, and became a toiling serf". (Bereshit 49;14). Rashi explains two unique interpretations of Yissachar's achievements in the study of the Torah, in the merit of " He bent his shoulder to the burden." The second indicates the unique ability of the tribe of Issachar on the battlefield because of the same attribute: " He bent his shoulder to the burden - the yoke of Torah. And all his brethren Israel. And instruct them on the Torah, as it is written in Divrei Ha-Yamim 1,12:33- "of the Issacharites, men who knew how to interpret the signs of the times, to determine how Israel should act; their chiefs were 200, and all their kinsmen followed them", the two hundred heads of the Sanhedrin, and all his brothers, according to them. And Unkelos translated differently: Burden, as if he had to suffer - wars and conquest of districts that they were sitting on, and the enemy was occupied under him"(Rashi ibid.).
The willingness to make an effort, to cope with difficulties, and to bear the burden, is a quality that produces fruit in the world of Torah, and the growth of the sons of Issachar, as many Rabbis of Sanhedrin. And it also produces fruit in battle when a supreme effort is required.
It is not by chance that these two interpretations were given to the same Pasuk. These two areas derive from a common root. The heroism on the battlefield and the spiritual heroism required for growing up in the Torah are two sides of the same coin. This principle was also found in the First Amalek War, when Moshe commanded Yehoshua to choose the fighters for the mission: “Pick some men for us and go out and do battle with Amalek." (Shmot 17: 9). What are the characteristics by which the fighters were chosen? "Choose us men — brave men, and men who fear sin— choose these so that their merit may stand them in good stead". (Rashi, ibid.), Meaning that the fighters were chosen according to their physical courage and moral and spiritual qualities. The Netziv understood that they were two sides of the same coin of heroism: "'Choose us men' - heroes of war in the natural way. And heroes in the war for the Torah.
With the return of the Jewish people to Israel, we are re-discovering that there is a close connection between the two, between heroism in the study of Torah and heroism in the battlefield, and between strengthening the motivation for Torah study and strengthening the motivation for meaningful service in the IDF.
About 20 years ago, Rabbi Yehoshua Weizmann initiated a new course of action: open the gates of Hesder Yeshivas to the large public of religious high school graduates; to make the Torah world accessible and enable them to join a meaningful Torah study combined with high quality military service.
In the early years of the Hesder Yeshiva, religious high school students were unable to attend Yeshivas. There were technical and legal limitations, as well as learning gaps that prevented them from integrating. Only a few succeeded. Today, every year, there are hundreds of high school graduates who join Hesder Yeshivas. Some of them have become very successful and are currently serving as important Rabbis.
Yuval Mor-Yosef studied at a religious high school in Ashkelon and joined the Kiryat-Ono Hesder Yeshiva which is meant for high school graduates. His teachers testified that he had advanced as a Yeshiva student in a very special way. Yuval could have gotten rid of the army service in combat units because of his special family situation, but he was strengthened by his desire to serve in combat service and to serve the country in the maximum possible manner.
He was planning to return to Torah study in the Yeshiva after finishing the service. It is symbolic and chilling that Yuval volunteered to replace his friends in the mission he fell in. His noble figure as a Yeshiva student and warrior will inspire many more high school graduates to follow in his footsteps.
Hashem Yikom Damo.
Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald, Rosh Yeshivat Meir Harel Modiin-Ofakim
One important foundation of national strategy involves demographics and population settlement. In the Torah, this foundation is integral to the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel. Effective planning of demographics and settlement depends on a multitude of considerations: sociological-the characteristics of the population, economics, defense, politics, transportation, water supply and natural resources, agriculture, ecology, population density, etc.
Unfortunately, in recent years demographic considerations have been utilized primarily by forces interested in diminishing the dimensions of the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel.
Our parsha centers on Yaakov's parting with his sons and his blessing to each of them. Each son received a blessing that is special in many aspects. Each blessing expresses the specific son's spiritual character, touches on his past conduct, blesses him and his future tribe, and determines, through divine inspiration, what will be the inheritance of his tribe in the Land of Israel. The Kaftor Vaperach says "And when Yaakov blessed his sons he told them which part of land each was allocated: 'Zevulun will dwell on the coast and will be a harbor for ships, his border will reach Tzidon.' 'Yissachar rests between the extremes of the land…and that the land is pleasant.' Also 'From Asher will come rich bread (foods)' and we will come to Yehuda's land where wine will flow like a spring."
Even before the sons turned into tribes, and the tribes into a nation, it was determined that the demographic and settlement strategy of the Land of Israel would be the allocation of regions to tribes. Except for specific tribes, each tribe will be concentrated in a defined area and will retain its spiritual uniqueness. The match between the tribes and their regions wasn't arbitrary. This was a divinely inspired spiritual match (Chesed L'Avraham). However, the blessings of Yaakov, as written in the parsha (and explained by Torah sages over the generations) include references to demographic and strategic factors critical to the placing of each tribe in its inherited region.
We see the security consideration regarding the "frontier settlements" of the tribe of Gad: "Legions will form against Gad" – he will fight many battles (Ramban). Rashi on Devarim 23:20 says: "He is likened to lions because he is close to the frontier, and whoever lives near the frontier has to be courageous."
Also, regarding the tribe of Issachar, Rashi says: "He puts his shoulder to bear the burden of battles and conquer regions of the frontier, and he will subjugate his enemies."
Additionally, the tribe of Dan was located on the Philistine front: "For Your salvation I hoped, G-d" because Samson began to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines. (Lekach Tov)
The placement of the tribe of Yehuda in Jerusalem had political ramifications: "He will have a gathering of nations" ('yikhat', gathering also has a second meaning, gnash): "This is Jerusalem which is destined to cause the idol-worshippers to gnash their teeth.'On that day I will put Jerusalem as a weight-stone on all the nations'." (Yalkut Shimoni).
We see the sociological element coming into play in the separation between the tribes of Shimon and Levi: "Yaakov said: if these two tribes dwell together they could destroy the world, so I will disperse them - "I will separate them in Yaakov and scatter them in Israel." (Aggadat Bereshith)
Conversely, there is also a spiritual rationale for the dispersion of the tribe of Levi - so they can teach Torah on every place, and also in placing Binyamin in the location of the Temple: "Behold, we heard her in Efrata, we found her in the fields of the forest" by one who is compared to the animals of the field, as is written: "Binyamin is a predatory wolf" Binyamin merited to have the Divine Presence in his portion (Sifri on Devarim, Vezot Habracha). Also the tribe of Yehuda in the place of the Sanhedrin: "The scepter will not depart from Yehuda," this is Lishkat Hagazit which is Yehuda's portion. As it says in Tehillim: "And He despised the tent of Yosef and didn't choose the tribe of Efraim, and He chose the tribe of Yehuda."
We see the consideration of national resources in the settlement of areas with unique geographic and agricultural characteristics: Regarding Yehuda's portion-vineyards: "He prophesized that Yehuda's portion will flow with wine like a fountain." (Rashi) And Zevulun-shipping: "Zevulun will dwell on the coast." The Midrash Aggadah says, "Zevulun complained, 'Master of the world, You gave my brothers fields and vineyards, and You gave me mountains and hills. You gave my brothers lands, and You gave me rivers and seas. G-d answered him: "Everyone needs you for the snails they purchase (the special snails that are the source for Techelet, blue dye for tzitzit comes from the sea.) Regarding Yissachar, fruit: "Yissachar is a strong-boned donkey" the fruits of Yissachar are very large, and Zevulun took them and shipped them across the sea, and the nations of the world saw them and were amazed (Bereshith Rabbah). Additionally, "Yissachar is a strong-boned donkey" describes his region: just as a donkey is low in the front and back and high in the middle, so there is a valley here and a valley there and also a mountain. Yissachar "rests between the extremes of the land": these are two valleys, the valley of Paslan and the valley of Yizrael. (Bereshith Rabbah) Also we see that the proximity of Yissachar and Zevulun will create a partnership between them.
In Asher's inheritance – olive oil: "They supplied the holy anointing oil, as the Carmel was in his portion." (Lekach Tov) Also, "From Asher will come rich bread," this is Mount Carmel whose fruits are delicacies for kings, and therefore it says "Asher is blessed from the sons," that everyone blesses his land (Lekach Tov, Vezot Habracha). And in the inheritance of Naftali, irrigation-based agriculture near the Kinneret "The subject is his land, which is all irrigated, as it says (Devarim 3) 'from the Kinneret to the sea of the Aravah' (Bereshith Rabbah)." Additionally, "Naftali is a deer running free" – this is the valley of Ginnosar which blesses its fruit and hastens (their growth) like a deer. (Tanhuma Yayechi)
Yosef, as we read, was blessed by receiving the city of Shechem in advance: "And I am giving you Shechem above your brothers," meaning that he received Shechem in addition to what the brothers received. (Lekach Tov Vayechi)
At the conclusion of the blessings, Yaakov asked for the reciprocity and sharing of national resources of his descendants not to be impaired by the demographic division into tribes. "'And this is what their father said to them, and he blessed them, each man according to his blessing he blessed them.' It is written 'blessed them' and not 'blessed him': since he divided the land among them and gave Yehuda barley-producing land, and Naftali wheat-producing land, he nevertheless included them all at the conclusion so that each of them will eat from the others" (Bereshith Rabbah).