Life, The Life Of A Jew
Sichos in English
Parshas VaYechi; 16th Day of Teives, 5750
Parshas VaYechi is the conclusion of the book of Bereishis, the first of the
five books of the Chumash. It is called, "The Book of the Just,"
"the book of Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov, who are called,
on the principle, "the deeds of the Patriarchs are a sign for their
descendants," this book outlines the totality of a Jew’s service. "Va’yechi"
means "and he lived." Thus, the lesson of Parshas VaYechi is
fundamental, centering around life itself.
Sages declared that the Jewish people are truly alive, their life stemming from
the Torah, which is "our life and the length of our days." If so, what
lesson can be learned from VaYechi? For, as it stands, a Jew’s existence is
one of life.
same question can be asked from a different perspective: The Alter Rebbe taught
that we must "live with the times," "with the weekly Torah
portion." What does it mean to live with VaYechi, to live with life itself?
the name VaYechi warrants explanation, since the parasha actually speaks
about the apparent loss of life, the life of Yaakov Avinu.
portion reveals how Yaakov’s life was eternal. Even after his passing he
remained alive because "his descendants are alive." Thus, all the
events related in the parasha are expressions of this life.
thought explains that a person cannot feel his own life-force. We are limited
human beings, capable of feeling and perceiving only that which is itself
limited. Since our life-force is of a general nature, above all particular
divisions, we cannot feel it. Though we do have certain powers we can feel and
take control of. For example, intellect, sight, and hearing. These powers are
limited in nature, revealed within the limbs of the body. Thus, we can perceive
above explanation, however, is problematic. We begin our day by reciting "Modeh
Ani," thanking G-d for our general life-force. Not only do we thank Him
for the particular expressions of His beneficence mentioned in the morning
blessings, we acknowledge that He has granted us the gift of life as a totality.
Indeed, this is the most prominent of our expressions of thanks, recited
immediately upon waking up in the morning.
this expression of thanks does not come because we understand and have meditated
upon the fact that G-d has returned our souls. On the contrary, we express our
thanks simply because we feel that our soul has been returned. If so, this
appears to contradict the statements made above that the soul cannot be felt.
contradiction can be resolved as follows: Since the soul transcends division, it
cannot be felt or perceived. This is true, however, only within the natural
order of creation. The connection of the body and the soul itself, however,
transcends that order. In fact, this connection is only possible by virtue of
G-d’s miraculous, unlimited power. Hence, the essence of the soul is able to
become connected and permeated through the body and our active consciousness
until it can actually be felt.
on the above, we can better understand the continuation of the "Modeh
Ani" prayer, "Your faithfulness is great." G-d’s
faithfulness is totally unbounded and thus, permeates even our conscious powers.
similar concept applies in relation to the blessing, "Elokai Neshama,"
which states: "My G-d, the soul which You have given within me is pure. You
created it. You formed it, etc." Several questions arise. Among them:
The order of the blessing’s phraseology is difficult: Before the soul was
created, how could it exist and be pure?
After addressing the blessing to "My G-d," why is it necessary to add
the word "Ataí" (You) in the expression "You created
it" (Ata barasa)"? The same concept is conveyed by "barasa"
without the pronoun "Ata"?
questions can be resolved as follows: The expression "the soul You have
given...is pure," refers to the soul as it exists in the world of Atzilus.
The three expressions "You created it, You formed it..., You..." refer
to the soul’s manifestation in the three worlds of Bria, Yetzira, and Asiya.
In order for the soul to descend to the lower levels, a source of influence
above Atzilus (the highest world) is needed. Thus, the liturgy reads "Ata,"
You, i.e., G-d’s essence. G-d’s essence is the force that makes the soul’s
descent possible. G-d’s infinite power causes even "the soul that You
have given within me," within this world, to be pure.
on the above, we can understand the lesson to be derived from Parshas VaYechi.
VaYechi refers to the essence of life, not only the life-energy that is revealed
by the soul. It refers to the life of the soul itself, the very source of life,
"the L-rd, your G-d, is true. He is the living G-d." The life-energy,
nevertheless, is extended until it serves as the source of life on the material
plane for a soul with a body.
this context, we can understand the opening phrase of Parshas VaYechi, "And
Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years." Each of the words
has unique significance.
can be broken up into "yud eikev." The soul, the Yud, is drawn
down throughout the individual’s total personality until it effects even its
heel, the very lowest part of the body.
the land" — Our Sages explain that the word "land" is connected
to the word "want." "Why was it called land (aretz)?
Because it wanted (ratzta) to do its Creator’s will." Despite the
great descent, there is still a desire to fulfill G-d’s will.
(Mitzrayim) is associated with the concept of boundaries and limitations (meitzarim).
In this context, however, it has a positive connotation — that the unlimited
life-force of the soul permeates the limitations of human personality.
is numerically equivalent to "tov" (good). The influence from
Above descends to become invested within a person’s being to the extent that
he consciously feels its goodness.
this verse clarifies and emphasizes that the life-energy of the soul, which is
unlimited and hence, reflected in the power of faith, becomes drawn down into
our conscious intellect and emotion. There is a parallel in our prayers, in
which the expression of thanks of "Modeh Ani" becomes
invested in the particulars of the morning blessings, which include all the
person’s needs throughout the day.
Torah is "our life and the length of our days," resembling the general
life-force that cannot be felt until it becomes internalized in a specific power
of the soul. Similarly, the influence of the Torah as a whole becomes apparent
when a person lives with the particular aspect of Torah that is relevant to the
time at hand, i.e., the weekly Torah portion.
combines the two, revealing the general life-force of Torah, drawing down the
unlimited Divine energy that is above the Torah. This allows the essential
life-energy, the essence of the Torah, to be drawn down into our consciousness.
"looked into the Torah and created the world." This statement implies
that the revelation within Torah brings about a revelation of the life-energy of
the world. Thus, it is apparent that "the heavens and earth and everything
they contain came into being only from the truth of His Being." This, of
course, will be obvious in the Messianic age when, "the earth will be
filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters fill up the ocean bed."
Therefore, Parshas VaYechi is an appropriate conclusion for the book of
Bereishis. Compare Bereishis and the other books of the Torah and you find that
there are many more mitzvos mentioned in the other books. This is because
Bereishis is the source and root of the other mitzvos. It represents the
middle column, which is above (not restricted by) the divisions of right and
left — the 248 positive mitzvos, which reflect kindness, the right
column, and the 365 negative commandments, which reflect the left column.
the book of Bereishis speaks about the lives of the Patriarchs, who reflect the
level of Atzilus. In contrast, the other four books reveal the mitzvos
which express G-dliness in the levels below Atzilus. Therefore, the book of
Bereishis, the essence and the source of Torah, concludes with Parshas VaYechi,
which reflects the essence and the source of life (of the Torah and of the
the book of Bereishis, we declare, "Chazak, Chazak, v’nischazeik,"
reinforcing the process of transition through which these essential powers
descend and are internalized within our consciousness.
Yaakov Avinu represents Atzilus, the highest of the worlds. His children (with
the exception of Yosef) represent the world of Bria. Yosef’s spiritual source,
however, is even beyond the level of Atzilus. Accordingly, it is within his
potential to draw down the revelation of Atzilus to the world of Bria, and thus,
to the other lower worlds.
refers to the soul as it exists within Atzilus, the essence of the soul, which
is beyond division. The tribes can be compared to the soul as it is revealed
within the body. But Yosef reflects the essential G-dly energy through which the
soul is brought down within the body, allowing for the essential life-energy of
the Jewish soul to be felt within the body even when the Jews are in a state of
this basis, we can explain the connection of VaYechi to the particular concepts
mentioned in the portion. The beginning of the Torah portion relates how Yosef
took his two sons, Ephraim and Menasheh, to be blessed by Yaakov. Similarly, the
conclusion of the portion mentions these two.
and Menasheh are representative of the entire Jewish people, as implied by
Yaakov’s blessing: "By you, Yisroel will be blessed. They will say,
‘May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe.’" In particular, Ephraim
and Menashe represent the Jewish people in exile. Thus, by bringing Ephraim and
Menasheh to Yaakov, Yosef was preparing for the influence of Yaakov to be drawn
down to the Jewish people in exile.
Yosef’s effort to sustain the Jewish people in Egypt involved giving them
spiritual, as well as material, nurture. This prepared them for the exodus from
Egypt, as we read in the book of Shmos, which we begin reading at Mincha.
must bring all the above to the level of deed for "action is the main
thing." On Shabbos Parshas VaYechi, a Jew should feel and express new life
in Torah and mitzvos. It is Shabbos Chazak, a Shabbos that should
strengthen him, his family, and his entire surroundings.
should be connected with a Chassidic farbrengen. In general, it is proper
to "gather the congregation together on Shabbos" through the
organization of a Kiddush. May this custom spread throughout the Jewish
community. This is particularly appropriate on Shabbos Chazak, when we celebrate
the conclusion of one of the books of the Torah. This celebration must reflect,
in microcosm, the celebrations of Simchas Torah.
uniqueness of the present time is emphasized because we are within 30 days of
Yud Shvat, the yahrzeit of the Rebbe Rayatz. Especially this year, the
40th anniversary of his passing. Just as Yosef gave the Jews the power to emerge
from the Egyptian exile, following the directives of the Yosef of our generation
will give us the potential to proceed to the Messianic Redemption. May it be
speedily in our days.