Dvar Torah Parshat Vayechi 5776 2015


In last week’s Torah reading we learn that Pharaoh asked Yaakov how old he was and his answer was that he was one hundred and thirty years. He added another statement and said that “Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life…” (Gen. 47,9) This week’s reading starts with the words: וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה, “Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years…”. (Gen. 47,28)

The Baal HaTurim (12-13 century) commentary written on the Torah and is printed in many editions of the Torah, makes an interesting observation in Gematria (using letters as numbers). The word וַיְחִי, “and he lived” adds up to 34. Half of 34 is 17. Seventeen is the age Yosef was when he was sold and taken from his father’s house. Seventeen is also the number of years he lived in Egypt where Yosef was. Together, the years that Yosef was with his father add up to 34.

Yaakov considered the years that Yosef was away from him as bad years in his life. The only meaningful years were those when Yosef was near him. This indicates that a person’s life cannot be judged by the number of years he lives but by what happened during those years. Some people can live a short life and it can be more meaningful than someone who lived a long but unhappy life.


Dvar Torah VaYechi 5775 2015 – The End of Days – עקבתא דמשיחא

Yaakov was about to die and he called his sons to gather around him and he would tell them: אֵת אֲשֶׁר־יִקְרָא אֶתְכֶם בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים, “…what will befall you in the end of days.” (Gen. 49,1) Rashi, based on the Midrash, explains that he was going to reveal to them when the Galut would end but the Divine Presence deserted him. Many commentaries discuss why Hashem did not want Yaakov to reveal the end.

The Malbim offers a very interesting parable to understand the reason. In his days travel was very difficult. A business man travelled with his son from Poland to Vienna to do business there. The usual way of travel then was by horse and wagon. Soon after starting the journey the son asked his father if the distance to Vienna is far. His father looked at him with a smile and an expression that the question was not reasonable.

After a few weeks the son heard his father asked the driver of the wagon if they were still far from their destination. The son looked at his father and inquired why when he asked the same question his father made him feel foolish. His father replied that it is true that they both asked the same question but the difference was in time. The son asked when they were still thousands of miles away. The father asked when they were coming close.

When Yaakov wanted to reveal the end of the Galut it was far away. Had he revealed the time he would have discouraged his family for they were yet to endure bondage and other deprivations.

We are fortunate in our time that we are living in a time nearing the end of our present Galut. We still don’t know how long it will take but we can start acting like it is coming close. The sooner all Jews make Aliya and return to the ways of Hashem, the sooner the end of Galut will be upon us.

Dvar Torah Parshat VaYechi 5774 2013

After Yaakov died and was brought back to the Promised Land for burial, the family returned to Egypt. The Torah then says: וַיִּרְאוּ אֲחֵי יוֹסֵף כִּי מֵת אֲבִיהֶם, “Yosef’s brothers saw that their father had died…”. (Gen. 50,15) Were Yosef’s brothers the only ones who realized that their father had died? Did not Yosef also know?

If we recall the difference in the lives of Yosef and his brothers we may understand this verse. The brothers had always lived in the presence of their father. There was never a time when they were separated. Now that their father was gone it was difficult for them to keep his memory alive.
Yosef, on the other hand had only been in the presence of his father thirty four years. He was sold into slavery when he was seventeen and Yaakov lived in Egypt seventeen years. All the years that Yosef was separated from his father he kept his father alive in his memory and never forgot his upbringing and his father’s teachings.

Now that his father was gone, Yosef was able to live up to the saying of Chazal: יעקב אבינו לא מת, “our father Yaakov did not die”. (Tan. 5b) As long as the memory of Yaakov was still important for his children, it is as if he was still alive. Most of his life, Yosef had to keep the memory of his father with him.

Dvar Torah Parshat VaYechi 5773 2012

In today’s Portion Yaakov blesses his sons before his demise. When he concludes the Beracha, the Torah states that: “…he blessed them, every man according to his blessing” בֵּרַךְ אֹתָם, “he blessed them.” (Gen. 49,28) Rashi questions the wording “he blessed them”. It would be more appropriate to say, “every man according to his blessing he blessed ‘him’.”

Rashi answers his question by saying that all the blessings he gave to individuals also applied to the other brothers. He blessed them personally and all of them collectively.

There is a highly significant meaning in these words. Each of the brothers had individual traits and were blessed accordingly. However, as a family, they shared their characteristics and qualities with each other.

This feature is true about the Jewish people as a whole. Jews have diverse thoughts and distinctiveness. They act differently, they dress differently, but they constitute one people. Each one has to recognize that his fellow Jew, while possessing distinct qualities, is still part of the total Jewish people.

Dvar Torah Parshat Vayechi 5772 2012

Of Yosef’s two sons, Menashe was the eldest and Ephraim the youngest. Yet when Yaakov blessed them he gave the blessing of the Bechor to Ephraim and not to Menashe. Re’uven was Yaakov’s Bechor and when Yaakov blessed his own children he should have given the priesthood and kingship of the Jewish people to him. Yet he does not. He gave it to Levi and Yehudah instead.

Yaakov, who was the youngest son of Yitzchak, took the blessings of the Bechor from his father instead of Esav who was the real Bechor. At a much later date we find Hashem gives the leadership of the Jewish people to Moshe and not to the Bechor Aharon. Centuries later, David is proclaimed king of Israel and he was the youngest of Yishai’s children.

We see this pattern throughout the Tanach. The Bechor plays an important role in Judaism. When children inherit their father, the Torah prescribes that the Bechor gets a double portion. The Bechor is also given preference over his brothers in Jewish law when it comes to inherit the position of the role his father held in the community.

Yet we see from Yaakov’s actions, and from the other examples mentioned above, that this privilege is not automatic. It must be earned and the Bechor must be capable of properly fulfilling the functions this position requires. Not every Bechor is worthy of this privilege. Not every Bechor has the talent and the capacity to fulfill the responsibilities and obligations of this position.

Dvar Torah Parshat Vayechi 5771 2010

Yaakov is blessing Yosef’s sons and we see a striking similarity with the blessing his father gave him. We find an elderly father and an elderly grandfather giving a blessing to their offspring. Both have difficulty seeing. (Gen. 27,1; 48,10) In both cases the blessings are preceded with a kiss. (Gen. 27,27; 48,10)

In both narratives there is a person who attempts to change the blessing from the intended one to his brother. Rivka succeeds in getting the blessing intended for Esav to go to Yaakov. Yosef, on the other hand, tries to have his father give the blessing to Menashe the elder brother but fails and Yaakov insists on giving it to the younger one. In both occasions the blessing goes to the younger brother.

What is evident from these two episodes is that the eldest child does not necessarily gain privileges automatically. Yes, he has some benefits because of age, but the real blessings are not his without earning them. Every individual has a mission in life. Everyone’s function is different. Everyone has his own abilities and his own talent. He must strive to attain his mission and earn his privileges. His blessings will come to him when he succeeds.

Dvar Torah Parshat Vayechi 5770 2009

Yaakov is blessing his children and when he comes to Yehudah he says: LO YASOOR SHEVET MIHUDA, “The scepter shall not depart from Yehudah…” (Gen. 49,10) The Hebrew word for “scepter” is SHEVET. This word has another meaning. It is also used to refer to a tribe. Similarly, the Hebrew word MATEH means staff and also means tribe. (See Num. 18,2 where both words are used in the same verse to refer to tribe.)

A Rabbi once gave a fascinating interpretation to this blessing of Yehudah by Yaakov. He said that since the Jewish people were exiled from their land the distinction between tribes was lost. No longer do we recognize to what tribe we belong. The only exceptions are the Kohanim and Levites who know they stem from the tribe of Levy.

For centuries we have been called Jews which is a derivative of the name Judah. All of us are identified with the tribe of Judah. This, in effect, is the blessing the Yaakov gave his son Yehudah. He blessed him that the name of the tribe of Yehudah will never disappear. To this day the tribe of Yehudah still exists.