Torah Weekly - Parshat Vayechi

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Parshat Vayechi

For the week ending 16 Tevet 5760 / 24 - 25 December 1999

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  • Easy Street
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  • Har Gerizim And Har Eyval
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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, Efraim and Menashe. Yaakov elevates Efraim and Menashe to the status of his own sons, thus giving Yosef a double portion that removes the status of the first-born 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 Efraim, the younger, but Yosef interrupts him and indicates that Menashe is the elder. Yaakov explains that he intends to bless Efraim 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 Hashem. Yaakov passes from this world at the age of 147. A tremendous funeral 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 Hashem 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.




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

    Between 9% and 10% of American schoolchildren are clinically depressed. 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% is a frightening number.

    Why do so many children experience feelings of depression?

    America is a society predicated on making everything easy. Convenience shopping. TV dinners. Drive-thru banking. These short-term benefits breed 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 unconsciously 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 difficult. Fun is something external, and because it's external it's evanescent and fleeting. Happiness is inside. It becomes part of your essence.

    Studying 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 studying 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 tranquility that it was good... yet he bent his shoulder to bear and became an indentured laborer."

    Yissachar is the tribe of 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 scholar 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 that it 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.


    Melachim I 2:1-12



    We live in a world where yesterday's knowledge is out of date and last year's computer is obsolete. What pearls of wisdom can we glean from the elderly? Yaakov on his deathbed gathers his sons to bless them. These blessings are peppered with rebuke, and turn out to be Yaakov's game plan for each of their individual lives. In the Haftarah, the ailing King David gives his final commands to Shlomo, his son and heir. "Guard the Torah," David tells him, "walk in its paths, do not deviate from the law of Moshe and then you will know wisdom." David, having lived the life of a king, complete with all its joys and troubles, has one message for Shlomo. He does not tell him where to place his investments or which career to choose. Rather he tells him that there is nothing above or beyond the Torah. This is the wisdom of the aged tzaddik. While we may believe that life can offer us nothing more satisfying than the Torah, only an aging Yaakov or David can know it. In making any decision, although we may attempt to do G-d's will, our first thought is often "What's in it for me." The Torah commands us to seek the advice of our "elders," meaning a Sage, a tzaddik. Only one who has liberated himself from a self-centered attitude can direct us along the true path.

    Love of the Land
    Selections from classical Torah sources
    which express the special relationship between
    the People of Israel and Eretz Yisrael


    "When Hashem, your L-d, brings you to the land which you come to inherit, you shall declare the blessing towards Har Grizim and the curse towards Har Eyval." (Devarim 11:29)

    This command was fulfilled by the Jews in the following fashion: Six tribes stood on one mountain and six on the other. In between them stood the Holy Ark and the elders of the Kohanim and Levites. The latter turned first towards Har Gerizim and said the words recorded in the Torah in the form of a blessing for those who obey the particular command. The entire nation then answered "Amen." They then turned around and faced Har Eyval, repeating the same command in the form of a curse for those who disobeyed it, and all answered "Amen."

    We may see in the manner which these blessings and curses were declared a lesson for the nation entering its promised land. A man may conduct himself in a manner worthy of blessing, but if he turns away from his responsibilities even momentarily he may be inviting the opposite.

    Love of the Land Archives

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Eli Ballon

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