Torah Weekly

For the week ending 29 December 2012 / 15 Tevet 5773

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


On the 27th of Kislev, our beloved Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Mendel Weinbach, zatzal, passed from this world. I heard the following story from him several times. As I read it again I can still hear his voice recounting it with his customary passion…

L’Chaim! To Lives!

“And Yaakov lived...” (47:28)

If ever there was a Jew who was the epitome of empathy, it was Reb Baruch of Mezebitsch, the grandson of the saintly Baal Shem Tov. Reb Baruch took up the burden of his fellow man as though it were his own. When news of trouble or sorrow reached his ears, his face would turn pale, his shoulders would droop and his eyes would fill with tears.

To any unknowing observer Reb Baruch seemed as though the tragedy had actually struck him. It was just as well then that Reb Baruch had a personal assistant whose spirit was as light as a balloon. Reb Herschele Ostropoler was a man who radiated optimism like a summer’s day. His light touch and sense of humor raised the Rebbe’s spirits and stopped him from becoming overly grieved by this world.

Once it happened that a terrible plague hit the city of Mezebitsch. The plague was swift and incurable. With monotonous regularity, the unmistakable sounds of a horse-drawn hearse would pass the window of the Rebbe. He would look up and see the cortege pass his window and collapse into uncontrollable tears. “Reb Herschele! Yidden are dying! Yidden are dying!” After a week of the plague scything through the population of Mezebitsch, the Rebbe was in a state of clinical depression on the verge of breakdown.

Reb Herschele realized that drastic measures were called for. He knocked on the door of the Rebbe’s study. A barely audible voice emerged from behind the door, “Come in.” Reb Herschele opened the door, entered the room and announced with great joy:

“Rebbe! The plague is over! The plague is over!”

The Rebbe was hunched over his desk, his arms covering his head. Slowly he brought himself up to a sitting position. His eyes met Reb Herschele’s. “The plague is over? The plague is over? It’s really over?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Reb Herschele. His eyes wide and bright! “The plague is over.”

Like the easing of the rain at the height of a storm, the Rebbe’s countenance brightened the tiniest fraction.

“It’s over,” the Rebbe said more to himself than to Reb Herschele.

Silence filled the room like an hour glass. Then out of the silence, there came a sound. At first it was possible to dismiss its import, but with every second it became more inevitable. It was the sound of another funeral.

The Rebbe looked at Reb Herschele. Their eyes were locked together.

”Herschele…” said the Rebbe. “Herschele. You said the plague was over. I can hear another hearse on its way to the graveyard!”

“No, Rebbe. They’re not taking to the graveyard anymore. They’re bringing them back!”

The name of this week’s Torah portion is Vayechi which means “And Yaakov lived….” You might think the title a bit ironic because it is in this week’s portion that Yaakov dies. Similarly, Sarah, the mother of the Jewish People passes from this world in the weekly portion entitled “The Life of Sarah.

However limited your knowledge of Hebrew is, I’ll bet there’s one word you know if you ever raised a glass or two in a toast. “L’Chaim!” L’chaim is usually translated as “To life.” More accurately it means “To lives.”

The word for life in Hebrew is a plural noun. It’s not by coincidence. There are two lives. The life we live in this world and the life that we live in the next world. This life is like a factory. A factory has no other purpose than to produce. This life has only one purpose. To produce. To produce the next life. The biggest mistake you can make in this life is to mistake the factory for the product.

The fact that the deaths of Yaakov and Sarah are found in Torah portions whose titles mention life teaches us a lesson. It teaches us that a righteous person is alive and well even in death.

Even when the hearse seems to be going to the graveyard it’s really coming back from there.

  • Source: Based on a story heard from Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt"l in the name of Rabbi Yosef Zehnwirth zt"l

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