Torah Weekly

For the week ending 7 January 2012 / 11 Tevet 5772

Parshat Vayechi

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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After 17 years in Egypt, Yaakov senses his days drawing to a close and summons Yosef. He has Yosef swear to bury him in the Machpela Cave, the burial place of Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sara, Yitzchak and Rivka. Yaakov falls ill and Yosef brings to him his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Yaakov elevates Ephraim and Menashe to the status of his own sons, thus giving Yosef a double portion that removes the status of firstborn from Reuven. As Yaakov is blind from old age, Yosef leads his sons close to their grandfather. Yaakov kisses and hugs them. He had not thought to see his son Yosef again, let alone Yosef's children. Yaakov begins to bless them, giving precedence to Ephraim, the younger, but Yosef interrupts him and indicates that Menashe is the elder. Yaakov explains that he intends to bless Ephraim with his strong hand because Yehoshua will descend from him, and Yehoshua will be both the conqueror of Eretz Yisrael and the teacher of Torah to the Jewish People. Yaakov summons the rest of his sons in order to bless them as well. Yaakov's blessing reflects the unique character and ability of each tribe, directing each one in its unique mission in serving G-d. Yaakov passes from this world at age 147. A tremendous procession accompanies his funeral cortege up from Egypt to his resting place in the Cave of Machpela in Chevron. After Yaakov's passing, the brothers are concerned that Yosef will now take revenge on them. Yosef reassures them, even promising to support them and their families. Yosef lives out the rest of his years in Egypt, seeing Efraim's great-grandchildren. Before his death, Yosef foretells to his brothers that G-d will redeem them from Egypt. He makes them swear to bring his bones out of Egypt with them at that time. Yosef passes away at the age of 110 and is embalmed. Thus ends Sefer Bereishet, the first of the five Books of the Torah. Chazak


Easy Street

“Yissachar is a strong-boned donkey; he rests between the boundaries. He saw that tranquility was good... yet he bent his shoulder to bear...” (49:14-15)

Approximately 18.8 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older suffer from depression.

That’s an amazing statistic.

And that doesn’t include those who are just above the cutoff point of what’s called ‘clinically depressed’. And it also doesn’t take into account those who haven’t sought professional help. Whichever way you look at it, 9.5% is a frightening number.

Why do so many people experience feelings of depression?

Americais a society predicated on making everything easy. Convenience shopping. TV dinners. Drive-thru banking. These short-term benefits breeds a certain attitude: “Nothing should cause me effort”.

One of the fundamental components of a happy person is a healthy self-esteem. Probably more cases of juvenile depression are linked to low self-esteem than any other cause. What give us a sense of self-esteem? When we do succeed in doing something that’s difficult. By making life into easy street, by giving the subliminal message that everything has to be easy, we have subconsciously taken away a major formula for achieving self-esteem: Rising to a challenge. Overcoming something that’s difficult.

What’s the difference between fun and happiness?

Mount Whitney in California is the highest peak in the lower 48 United States. It's 14,494 feet tall. You could probably fly to the top of Mount Whitney in about 15 minutes. To walk the same distance might take you 15 days.

It could well be that flying to the top of Mount Whitney is a lot more fun than climbing it, but climbing will give you a lot more happiness, because you’ll have achieved something quite hard. Fun is something external, and because it’s external it’s evanescent and fleeting. Happiness is inside. It becomes part of your essence.

Learning Torah is the ultimate in deferred gratification. The Torah is as hard as steel and as difficult to hold onto as water. It takes many years of application, of ‘breaking your teeth’ to be able to master its sublime intricacies, and yet there is no simcha in the world like learning Torah.

There is no physical pleasure in this world that can compare with the ecstasy of cracking a difficult Tosefot. It may not be much fun, but it’s the greatest happiness that there is.

“Yissachar is a strong-boned donkey; he rests between the boundaries. He saw that tranquility was good... yet he bent his shoulder to bear and became an indentured laborer.”

Yissachar is the tribe of the Torah scholars. A Torah scholar carries a heavy yoke, but he is a “strong-boned donkey”. G-d gives him the stamina to carry out his task. Even though he labors day and night, he ‘rests between the boundaries’. He rests between the boundaries of the day and night. How can anything exist between day and night? That’s all there is. Day or night. The talmid chacham experiences repose of the soul on a spiritual plane that is beyond the boundaries of day and night. On that plane he has a contentment that is out of this world. He saw “tranquility was good” “yet he bent his shoulder to bear.” He understands that the ultimate of achievement comes from hard work and dedication to G-d’s Holy Torah.

And he ends up much higher than Mount Whitney.

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