Parshat Vayechi 5773: “Yaakov is Alive” for “His Descendents are Alive”

by Moshe Burt

We hear it again and again, at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, from Fathers or Uncles or Grandfathers about how the young person carries the name, and indeed the midos and attributes of the one for which they are named. We hear how this young person carries the same attributes of Chessed, of dedication to Mitzvot, to Torah, to his fellow Jews as the Tzaddik/Tzadekket whose name he or she carries. And we learn that a Tzaddik, upon his earthly demise, lives on through the midot and kindnesses of descendents. It would seem that this recognition of inherited midos has its roots with Yaakov Aveinu.

Fifteen years ago, this author was zocha to have been handed a little Chabad booklet “Dvar Hamelech” dated in 5760 with Divrei Torah from the Lubavitcher Rebbe for the Torah Sedras leyned during Khodesh Tevet. The Rebbe makes a point (Dvar HaMelech 5760 Khodesh Tevet, Parshat Vayechi, pages 18-23) which should be self-evident to all of us; basically that:

“Yaakov is Alive” for “His Descendents are Alive.” Yaakov is alive because his people, who bear his name, Yisrael lives.

Our Parsha opens (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posuk 28):

“Vayekhi Yaakov…” = “And Yaakov lived…”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe cites Talmudic gemora tractate Ta’anit, page 5b which states:

“Yaakov, our ancester, did not die.” When a protest is raised, “Was it in vain that he was eulogized, embalmed, and buried?”, the gemora replies [citing Sefer Yirmiyahu Perek 30, posuk 10]:

It is written, “‘Do not fear, My Servant Yaakov,’ says Hashem, ‘Do not become dismayed, O Israel, I will save you from afar and your descendents from the land of captivity.'” An equation is established between Yaakov and his descendents.

Thus, Rashi explains [in tractate Ta’anit] “And Yaakov lived,” “Yaakov lives forever.”

The booklet explains the above:

The interdependence between Yaakov and his descendents is…emphasized by the fact that our Sages derived the concept that Yaakov did not die from the equation between him and his descendents, and not from the verse (Sefer Breish*t Perek 49, perek 33), “And he expired and was gathered unto his people.” Rashi (in his commentary on that verse, and… Tosafot in their commentary to Tan’anit…) notes that in contrast to the verses that describe the passing of the other Patriarchs, this verse does not say “And Yaakov died.” This omission teaches us that “Yaakov, our Patriarch did not die.” The fact that the Talmud… derives it from the equation that exists between Yaakov and his descendents, implies that Yaakov’s ongoing life is dependent on that of his descendents.

This concept of continued life is mentioned in regard to Yaakov and not in regard to Avraham and Yitzchak, because in a complete sense, theconcept that “his descendents are alive” applies only to Yaakov. As the Sages expressed it [Rashi’s commentary on Sefer Breish*t Perek 49, perek 31], “Yaakov’s bed was perfect”, i.e., all his sons were righteous and their offspring became the Jewish people. In contrast, Yishmael descended from Avraham and Eisev from Yitzchak. [cited from Pesakhim page 56a] Thus, the concept that he is “alive” because “his descendents are alive” is appropriate only for Yaakov. (Maharsha commentary to Ta’anit].

….Therefore, all of Yaakov’s descendents (including those born in every generation) are alive: they reveal the eternal dimension of Yaakov’s life in this world.

….Therefore, the Torah teaches us that “Yaakov is alive,” because “his descendents are alive,” since he is connected with the “Torah of life.”

Regardless of his present conduct, he has the potential — through turning to the path of Teshuvah, and subsequently through the observance ofthe Torah and its mitzvot — to reveal his true self. The awareness of this potential strengthens and encourages one to express this essential “life” in an open and revealed manner in his daily conduct.

These excerpts from a sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe might help us to better understand a profound vort on Parshat Vayechi, regarding Yaakov Aveinu’s relating to his sons regarding “The End of Days.” This vort was given over by Rabbi Harry Greenspan a few years ago at a Thursday night Mishmar and could be understood to amplify on a topic repeated on this blog numerous times over the years — that Jewish unity is prerequisite to bringing about a Halachic, Just State of Israel, the prerequisite to bringing about the Geula Shlaima — the Ultimate Redemption.

Rav Greenspan’s vort, spoken in the name of his Rebbe in Yeshiva University, R’Nissan Alpert z’l, spans some 40 years. R’ Alpert was a Shul Rav on the Lower East Side and gave shiurim at YU. It is said that he was the top Talmid of R’Moshe Feinstein, z’l.

R’ Greenspan related that while Torah, Rashi and other commentators rendered that Yaakov Aveinu called his sons together to tell them of “The End of Days” and then lost his Ruach HaKodesh, R’ Alpert suggested that one could perhaps say that Yaakov did actually tell his sons when the Geula Shlaima would occur.

Sefer Breish’t Perek 49, posuk 1 reads:

Hei-afsu — “Gather [Hei-afsu is rendered by Shimshon Inbal’s English-Hebrew, Hebrew-English Dictionary published by S. Zack & Co,: collect, gather, aggregate, provide shelter, public meeting] and I will tell you what will happen to you in The End of Days.”

Posuk 2 then reads:

Hi-kavtzu — “Gather [rendered by the same English-Hebrew, Hebrew-English Dictionary as; collect] and listen, sons of Yaakov, and listen to Yisrael, your father.”

The two loshonot of the word “Gather” could therefore be understood to mean come together as one. There are those who look around at the myriad of crises we currently face — droughts, deadly damaging fires in the North in recent years, sickness, the poverty faced by many, the petrified fear of those needing hospitalization in Israel but who are single with no one to watch their back or advocate for them when confronted by a seemingly insensitive, unfeeling, uncaring medical system, non-existent “law and order” administered by a police and internal security ministry concerned only with arresting and prosecuting Jews who love the land — we could go on and on. They hold that Hashem (kav’yokel — as it were) is as angry at us collectively for not bringing change in each of us ourselves as He is about the aveirot (the wrong) that we’ve done.

Rebbetzin Smiles makes note, in her sefer, “Torah Tapestries” on our parsha, of the gap between Yaakov’s calling on his sons to “Assemble and I will tell you what will occur to you in the end of days” and “Reuven, you were my first-born, my power and the beginning of my strength…” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 49, posukim 1 and 3 as rendered in “Torah Tapestries,” Parsha Vayechi, pages 183-184)

This author would like to suggest that the crises we face would seem directly attributable to our indifference, insensitivity and disdain for our fellow Jew within religious Jewry, i.e., he’s not like us, he’s not born here, he’s a late-life Ba’al Teshuva, he doesn’t dress like us, he doesn’t keep Rabbeinu Tam time for ending Shabbos and how dare his daughter travel to her Orot school, which stradles the border of their neighborhood and our neighborhood, everyday — LOOK: see how one religious sector’s unbridled hate for another is enblazened on Yahoo for all to see — potential new olim and well as the gentile world! And what about the attitudes of one Jew for another, i.e. he’s a friar waiting to be suckered — in business, in bureaucratic offices, by merchants toward potential buyers, etc? And each group vies with the other, as exemplified by the Rabbanim of the various sectors who refuse even to sit and talk with each other, for “who’s the most frum” and who will receive the coveted, strings-attached government funding. And he is no good because his party didn’t stand up for religious principles and, therefore, it serves him right if the government messes with him/them, expelling them or giving his/their money to my group instead.

Yes, Yaakov is alive because his descendents are alive. But when we meet the standard of “Yaakov’s bed was perfect”, i.e., all his sons were righteous, then Am Yisrael will truly be UNITED — AS ONE. Only then can the Geula Shlaima occur. Only when there is unity, a consensus of Halacha and Halachic fences, of checks and balances, of oversight, of transparency, of V’Ahavtah L’rei’cha Kamocha — wanting for your brother, for your brethren, what you want for yourself; will we have the courage to move to change Israel’s governance to a Torah governance.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.