Torah Weekly

For the week ending 14 December 2013 / 11 Tevet 5774

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 Sarah, 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


The Scrapbook of Eternity

Reminiscing through an ancient family album, I came across some photos I had completely forgotten about. Moments long-presumed lost smiled up at me from the yellowing pages. Others had not fared so well; abducted from their rightful place in history their memory was preserved by a faded oblong and four browning “photo corners.”

History is so selective. This moment survived; this one didn't.

How many photographs do I possess of my parents as young children? Very few. And even fewer of their parents and siblings. A few smiling faces have survived, and so many other smiles captured for eternity will smile no more. And how many of the myriad dedicated pixels our own life will endure the ruthless editing of time?

And more: when I look back at the photographs of my youth, of my parents' lives in black and white excursions to the Kursaal in Westcliff or Canvey Island, I think the same. How many moments there are that I never saw, of which I will never know, that have vanished!

There are two worlds. The world in which we live each and every moment of our daily lives – and then there are those few moments which will be eternalized as scrapbook memories.

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’s dies. Another thing. Sarah, the mother of the Jewish People passes from this world in the weekly portion entitled “The Life of Sarah.”

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 world is called in Hebrew Olam Hazeh, and the next world is Olam Habah. Grammatically, the corollary of Olam Hazeh — “This World” — should be Olam HaHoo — “That World.” Why then is the next world called Olam Habah? Habah literally means “that comes.” The World-to-Come is just that – a world that comes as a direct result of what we do in this world. Nothing can exist in the World-to-Come that was not done in this 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 deaths of Yaakov and Sarah are found in Torah portions whose titles mention life teaches us a lesson. It teaches us that the essential life of a righteous person is not in this world but in the World-to-Come, for the righteous take every moment in this world and paste it into the scrapbook of eternity.

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