Parsha Vayechi – 5777

Parshat Vayechi In-Depth

“When Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789–1866) was a child attending cheder, his teacher taught the verse ‘Jacob lived for seventeen years in the land of Egypt’ according to the commentary of the Baal HaTurim—that Jacob lived the best years of his life in Egypt.

When the child came home, he asked his grandfather Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi: How can it be that our father Jacob, the greatest of the Patriarchs, lived the best years of his life in pagan Egypt?

Replied Rabbi Schneur Zalman: It is written that Jacob ‘sent Judah ahead of him . . . to show the way to Goshen” (Genesis 46:28). The Midrash explains that this was to establish a house of learning, where the sons of Jacob would study Torah. When one studies Torah, one is brought close to G‑d, so that even in Egypt one can live a true “life.'”

Torah Sparks: Vayhi 5777

“Parashat Vayhi, “and Jacob lived,” closes the book of Bereishit and the lives of Jacob and his son Joseph. Hayyei Sarah, seven weeks ago, was similar – another parashah with a title of life and a subject of death of two major figures – Sarah and Abraham. Hayyei Sarah ended on a “happy” note; Isaac and Ishmael bury Abraham together, suggesting that they had reconciled their differences.”

The Power and Protection of Angels

“For as long as I can remember, I have believed in guardian angels. Although such belief wasn’t part of my religious school education or something that my parents or grandparents taught me, since I was a child I’ve thought that I, like everyone else, had someone watching over me, offering guidance and protection. I don’t think that I confessed this belief to anyone. The theology that I was taught by my rational, childhood rabbi did not include angels, much less the reality of a supernatural God. I knew of angels from Christmas movies and from the New Testament, when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is about to have a child. But other than the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel (Genesis 32:25-30), a figure whom Jacob recognizes to be God, I didn’t know of Jewish texts that describe angels as engaging us in conversation, individual struggle, or prayer. While Jewish tradition did in fact develop the belief “that each person has a protecting angel, even as the people Israel had theirs in the wilderness” (W. Gunther Plaut, ed., The Torah: A Modern Commentary, rev. ed. [NY: URJ Press, 2005], p. 308), such belief wasn’t part of any Jewish traditions that, as a child, I either learned or inherited.”

The Goal of Life

“The goal of Jewish life is to embody Torah, the living word of the living God addressed to all creation through the life and experience of Am Yisrael, the Jewish people. This Jewish insight teaches us that as Jews we have the opportunity to take the wisdom of our tradition and make it real in the world in which we live. What we say and what we do is consequential. By making the spiritual and ethical insights of our Torah the foundation of our lives, we transcend our human limits. We connect ourselves to God, and can join our people’s prophets, priests, kings, heroes and sages as one of those who live and teach Torah.”

Haftarah Parshat Vayehi

“David’s deathbed advice to his son, Solomon, the future king of Israel is seemingly contradictory. Much of what he expects from his son has to do with evening scores that David was incapable of accomplishing during his reign. Woven into this realpolitikal message, is a noble message, one which we would “expect” David, as the king of the Jewish people, to pass on to his son: “I am going on the way of all the earth. And you must be strong and be a man. And keep what the Lord your God enjoins, to walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments and His dictates and His admonitions, as it is written in the Teachings of Moses, so that you may prosper in everything that you do and in everything to which you turn. So that the Lord may fulfill His word that He spoke unto me, saying, ‘If your sons keep their way to walk before Me in truth with their whole heart and with their whole being, no man of yours will be cut off from the throne of Israel.’” (2-5)”