Parshat Vayechi 5777: Yaakov/Yisrael; Progenitor of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua Vayechi is being co-sponsored by R’ Rafael and Vivianne Willig and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh in honor of the upcoming Bar Mitzvah of R’ Rafael’s nephew, Menachem Willig of Passaic, New Jersey, and by Matt and Ilana Bornstein and family to commemorate Matt’s Bar Mitzvah parsha and in honor of the Chicago Cubs’ first World Series Championship since 1908. To the Willig and Bornstein families, many thanks for your sponsorships and your continued kindnesses.

Friends, you can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Vayechi 5777: Yaakov/Yisrael; Progenitor of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael

by Moshe Burt

The title to this Parshat HaShevua contains a word: progenitor, whose definition may not readily known by many. defines progenitor as follows:

1. a biologically related ancestor: a progenitor of the species.

2. a person or thing that first indicates a direction, originates something, or serves as a model; predecessor; precursor: the progenitor of modern painting.

In approaching our Parshat, we note a phenomenon unique in Torah; the “Closed Parshat” where the beginning of Parshat Vayechi is separated from the conclusion of Parshat Vayigash by a mere single space, rather than by a number of blank spaces as separate the other parshiyot from each other.

The concluding posuk of Parshat Vayigash reads:

“Thus Yisrael settled in the land of Mitzrayim, in the land of Goshen; they took holdings in it and they were fruitful and multiplied greatly.” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posuk 27 — Parshat Vayigash)

A single space later, Parshat Vayechi commences:

“Yaakov lived in the land of Mitzrayim seventeen years; and the days of Yaakov — the years of his life — were one hundred and forty-seven years. The time approached for Yisrael to die…” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posukim 28-29 — Parshat Vayechi)

Notes in The Sapirstein Edition: “The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary” explain (page 522, notes 1-2 on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posuk 28):

The text in the Torah is divided into paragraph-like passages , which are separated from each other by a number of blank spaces. According to the Mesorah (tradition of the Oral Law), the words “Vayechi Ya’akov” mark the beginning of a new passage. Yet in this case, there is a space of only a single letter separating “Vayechi” from the word which precedes it. Rashi, based on the Midrash, asks why this passage is “closed” in this sense. (Mizrachi; Sifsei Chachamim)

Breaks between passages are intended to provide a pause for contemplation (Rashi to Sefer Vayikra, perek 1, posuk 1). The absence of a break indicates that with the death of Ya’akov, “the eyes and heart of Israel were closed” — the change in their relationship with the Egyptians came so suddenly that they did not have the opportunity to pause and contemplate their situation. (Be’er BaSadeh)

Although Rashi to Sh’mot Perek 6, posuk 16 says that the enslavement did not begin until the last of the sons of Ya’akov had died, that refers to the enforced enslavement. With the death of Ya’akov, the Egyptians began to cajole the Jews into hard labor. (Mizrachi; Sifsei Chachamim)

Rashi offers an alternative explanation of the lack of the normal break between the two parshiyot in his commentary on our parshat’s opening posuk (The Sapirstein Edition: “The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary”, page 522, Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posuk 28):

The passage is “closed” because [Ya’akov] wished to reveal the end to his sons, but it was closed off to him. (Breish’t Rabbah)

Note 3 on Rashi’s commentary (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posuk 28) defines “end”:

The ultimate end of all of the exiles of the Jewish people. (Gur Aryeh)

But there seems a question to be asked on these first two posukim of our Parshat Vayechi which seems to point to this author’s use of the term “progenitor.” Why, after explaining that “Yaakov lived in the land of Mitzrayim seventeen years; and the days of Yaakov — the years of his life — were one hundred and forty-seven years” does Torah relate to Yaakov as “Yisrael”: the name given Yaakov by the moloch who fought him, in the context of the next posuk: “The time approached for Yisrael to die…”?

The sefer “Torah Gems”, by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg (page 337) cites Ta’anit 5 in providing a possible explanation alluding to “Yisrael”:

Our Sages stated: Our father Ya’akov never died. It appears that the answer to this seeming contradiction is that Yaakov did not die, because he left descendants after him who were like him, with Yosef like his father. Yosef, though, only attained the level of “Yaakov,” and not the level of “Yisrael.” Thus we are told, “The time approached for Yisrael to die…” — only Yisrael — not Yaakov — died.

A commentary in the Artscroll Stone Chumash regarding Parshat Vayishlach where the moloch renamed Yaakov as Yisrael (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 32, posuk 29 and commentary):

“…No longer will it be said that your name is Yaakov, but Yisrael, for you have striven with the Divine and with man and have overcome.”

…Yaakov would receive the additional name Yisrael… prevailing, superiority…. that he received the blessings because he prevailed in an open competition to demonstrate which… was more deserving (Rashi). [More deserving than whom? This author is not sure if Rashi meant: More deserving than the moloch or Eisev.]

Commentary in the Artscroll Stone Chumash seems to provide another explanation (pages 268-269):

…Yaakov sent for Yosef — the only one of his sons who held power — and asked Yosef to swear that he would bring him to Eretz Yisrael for burial in the Cave of the Machpela, in Hevron.

The commentary then provides explanation of Yaakov reasons for insistence on burial in Eretz Yisrael: that one day, a plague of lice would strike Mitzrayim and would swarm beneath his body if he were buried there, that he knew that those buried outside of Eretz Yisrael would not come to life at T’chiyat HaMeitim (Resurrection) until they rolled through the earth to Eretz Yisrael and that Yaakov did not want the Mitzrayim to worship him as a “deity”, a source of idol worship.

But the commentary also explains that Yaakov/Yisrael wanted to establish a principle for his offspring — ultimately the Am Yisrael, that Eretz Yisrael was their heritage. No matter how successful or comfortable they became while dispersed and sojourning in any other land, in any other nation, their one and only true home and heritage is in Eretz Yisrael.

Yaakov’s requirement of burial only in Eretz Yisrael provides a crucial lesson for our time, for our brethren sojourning, yet believing themselves to be living, in venues outside of Eretz Yisrael.

This author concludes that Torah seems to indicate, by the posuk: “The time approached for Yisrael to die…”, that Yaakov, with his new Divinely-given name: Yisrael, indicating prevailing, superiority, is the first of a species. With the passing of Yisrael comes the birth of a superior nation who ultimately prevails, despite all travails, for all time.

May we, the B’nei 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 brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of two and a half years ago. 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 prevent Chas V’Challila 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 Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — 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.

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