Parshat Vayigash 5779: The Measure of Quality of Life; Peace and Quiet or Struggle and Challenge?

Shalom Friends;

Our Parshat HaShevua Vayigash is co-sponsored by Yossie and Elisheva Schulman and Shraga and Blimi Botwinick of Ramat Beit Shemesh in honor of the Chassuna of their children: Racheli and Chezki. To the Schulman and Botwinick families, many thanks for your sponsorship and your continued kindnesses.

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 Vayigash 5779: The Measure of Quality of Life: Peace and Quiet or Struggle and Challenge?

by Moshe Burt

In previous years this Parshat HaShevua dealt with the evolvement of brothers, due to their confrontation with the Viceroy (who unbeknown to them during the confrontation was actually their long-estranged brother Yosef), the impending incarceration of their youngest brother Binyamin, Yehudah leading his brothers in unity standing before the Viceroy in defense of Binyamin and Yosef tearfully revealing himself to his brothers.

What follows is the tearful reunion between Yosef and his brothers, the brothers return home with the news of Yosef’s survival and ascendancy to the position of Viceroy, the brothers returning to Mitzrayim with Yaakov and the rest of the family, Yaakov’s emotional reunion with Yosef, the settlement of the family in Egypt’s Goshen region and Yaakov’s encounter with Pharaoh.

This Parshat HaShevua will focus on the conversation between Yaakov and Pharaoh.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Breish’t, Parshat Vayigash, page 258) provides context, questions and understandings regarding the first and only recorded meeting between Pharaoh and Yaakov:

…Yosef brings his father before Pharaoh. The Patriarch [Yaakov] blesses Pharaoh who asks, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” Yaakov responds, The days of the years of my sojourning are one hundred thirty years. Few and difficult were the days of the years of my life and they did not reach the days of the years of my fathers, in the days of their sojourning.”

Yaakov blesses Pharaoh again, and the encounter ends. (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posukim 7-10 as summarized in sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Breish’t, page 258)

Rav Goldin indicates the significance of this momentous meeting, asks questions and develops possible approaches (ibid, page 258-260):

This is not only an encounter between two great world leaders but a confrontation between two vastly different, powerful cultures…. the monarch of the world’s greatest empire and the… progenitor of an eternal nation which will outlast countless empires beyond Mitzrayim.

Why is Pharaoh so concerned with Yaakov’s age? What is the real meaning of Yaakov’s… response to the king? Why the diplomatic doublespeak? Why not answer simply and directly? …If the conversation between Yaakov and Pharaoh was so banal, why does Torah bother to record it at all?

Carefully read, the dialogue actually reflects a vast philosophical divide between the participants. This rift becomes clear when Yaakov, responding to Pharaoh…, distinguishes between two concepts: chaim (life) and megurim (sojourning).

Pharaoh, king of an empire preoccupied with life, death and life beyond death, turns to the patriarch and, seeing a man apparently older than any he has met before, exclaims: “How many are the days of the years of your life?” ….How have you managed to attain the longevity we all seek? What is your secret?

Yaakov replies: “The days of the years of my sojourning are one hundred thirty years.” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posuk 9) Do not be impressed with my chronological age. Living long is, in and of itself, no accomplishment at all. There is a vast difference between living and sojourning, between living and existing. I have existed, but not lived, for one hundred thirty years. “Few and difficult were the days of the years of my life and they did not reach the days of the years of my fathers, in the days of their sojourning.” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posuk 9)

Do not envy me. My days of true life, of peace, comfort and ease, have been few and far between. Do not aspire to simple sojourning, to longevity alone. Be impressed, instead, by life — years of meaning. Chronological age is of little value when your days and years have been as difficult as mine. Yaakov has learned a difficult lesson through his years of struggle with external foes and internal family strife. What counts, says Yaakov, are years of chaim — life — meaningful years of peace, comfort and ease.

One final, powerful twist to… this conversation, however, emerges from…the patriarch later in his life. Parshat Vayechi opens with the statement “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years.” [Yaakov lived a total of one hundred and forty-seven years] (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posuk 28)

Torah rarely records the exact length of periods in the lives of its heroes…. [Such] computations concerning the passage of time are usually made by the Rabbis, based on hints within the text. Why, then, does the Torah… specify the length of time that Yaakov lived in Egypt?

…Some commentators explain, these were the only years that Yaakov truly lived [according to his definition above of life, as distinguished from sojourning MB] (aside, perhaps, from the years between Yosef’s birth and his sale into servitude.) Finally, after a lifetime of struggle, reunited with his beloved Yosef, surrounded by a harmonious family, Yaakov earns the peace of mind and spirit which has eluded him for so long. He ultimately experiences chaim — seventeen years of life. (Rav Goldin cites both Ba’al HaTurim and Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posuk 28)

…Yaakov’s last years may well have been his only years of peace and quiet, they were also the only years of Yaakov’s life that we know nothing about… Yaakov’s years in Egypt produced no great contribution. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch notes, “The troubled years of his life, in which the test[s] had to be gone through… were those in which Yaakov won his everlasting national importance.” (Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, ibid)

Perhaps, Yaakov learns, in his final days, that Pharaoh was not the only one mistaken in his apprehension [The faculty or act of apprehending or understanding; perception on a direct and immediate level. Acceptance of or receptivity to information without passing judgment on its validity, often without complete comprehension.(] of life’s goals. For while the quality of life cannot be measured by longevity alone, neither can it be measured by the attainment of comfort or ease. The very struggle of living, with all its pain and challenge, creates the cauldron from which growth and contribution can emerge.

We’ve all seen these struggles and challenges play out in our lives, whether at home with family and nurturing of children; the hills, valleys, ups ‘n downs of Derech Hateva pursuing a career, business and personal financial decisions which, on occasion, have gone sideways (unless one is the “fair-haired boy” for whom all that he touches is perceived as turning to gold — even he has struggles and challenges of which others are unaware.) and more. And there are the struggles and challenges of Torah learning as well as we struggle to understand and retain a difficult Gemura, Perek of Tanach and more.

Rav Goldin concludes (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, page 261):

How is the quality of our lives ultimately to be judged? Is our purpose the pursuit of happiness, comfort, peace, tranquility? Is success to be measured by the attainment of these goals?

Significance will be found not in the futile search for “peace of mind” but in the embrace of what Rav Adin Steinzaltz calls the “strife of the spirit.” From the battlefield of that effort; value, purpose, accomplishment and true happiness emerge.(Rav Goldin cites from Rav Adin Steinzaltz, “The Strife of the Spirit, page 3)

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 and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that 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 four plus 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.