Parshas Vayechi completes the Torah’s discussion of the founding of the world, and the first adherents of Yahadus and their families. Seder Bereishis contains many stories that can be understood on many levels. Gleaning from them lessons for how to conduct ourselves is the foundation of our belief. Through the Torah’s narrative, we have met Adam and Chava, Noach and his sons, and Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov and their families. This week, the circle is closed, as the last of the avos grows old in exile, blesses his children with eternal brachos, passes away, and is brought for burial to the Me’oras Hamachpeilah in Chevron.
The parsha is filled with lessons. From the first word, vayechi, there is much to learn. I have learned this parsha many times without stopping to wonder why the Torah uses the word vayechi, which means he lived, to describe Yaakov’s time in Mitzrayim. After all, his time in that country was apparently spent in exile; he was in golus away from his home in Eretz Yisroel, which circumstances forced him to leave.
Another question posed by meforshim is that when telling us how many years the other avos lived, the Torah doesn’t split up how many years they lived in each place. Rather, it presents a total number. Why, when discussing Yaakov, does the Torah say that he lived in Mitzrayim for seventeen years?
An answer that is given is that the best years of Yaakov’s life were those that he spent in Mitzrayim, for until then, his life beheld much misfortune. Prior to his birth, he was already beset with Eisov, who tormented him from that period until he forced him to flee from the home of their parents. For twenty years, he suffered under the rule of Lovon, and when he left, his beloved wife passed away in childbirth. He had trouble with his sons Shimon and Levi when they destroyed Shechem and later when Yosef was sold. After 22 years of fretting over Yosef’s disappearance, his joy returned to him when he learned that Yosef had survived and was a ruler in Mitzrayim.
His ruach hakodesh returned and he immediately set out to join Yosef in Mitzrayim. He stopped in Be’er Sheva, where Hakadosh Boruch Hu encouraged him to continue to Mitzrayim without fear, for his offspring would form a great nation there. Hashem promised Yaakov that He would go down there with him and would return home with him.
Yaakov knew that by him going, the sorry chapter of golus which Hashem had foretold to Avrohom would begin, but nevertheless he continued on to Mitzrayim with his family and their possessions.
It was all worth it to be with Yosef.
It was the 17 years that followed, as he lived in Golus Mitzrayim, that the Torah describes as vayechi, relating that he lived them to the fullest. What does that mean? Tana Devei Eliyohu (Perek 5) states that those years were so great that they were for Yaakov a mei’ein Olam Haba, like being in the World to Come.
Although he was in a foreign land, he lived with his family in the semi-autonomous region of Goshen. What is better than living with your children and their families, watching them grow, and interacting with them on a daily basis? Yaakov had sent Yehudah ahead of them to establish botei medrash, where they could study Torah and do their avodah. In Goshen, they were free to live as they pleased, unaffected by the pervasive decay and moral and physical corruption of their host country.
During the painful years in which he mourned Yosef, Yaakov did not merit speaking with the Shechinah, but during his final 17 years, which he spent in Mitzrayim, Hashem would appear to him.
Now Yaakov finally lived the life he pined for, and therefore the Torah refers to his final years as a time in which he lived – “Vayechi b’eretz Mitzrayim.”
Yaakov was the av of golus. He was the first to live for an extended period of time outside of Eretz Yisroel, paving the way for us, teaching and showing the unfortunate generations who followed how to survive and flourish in foreign lands.
The novi (Micha 7:20) says, “Titein emes l’Yaakov,” attributing the middah of emes to Yaakov Avinu. The secret of his endurance through the rough years and then of his flourishing during the years of Mitzrayim and what he bequeathed to his children was to always remain loyal to the truth of this world.
Despite all that is going on around us, and all the different pressures, temptations, ups and downs, the one constant that a Jew beholds is to know that Hashem created the world and controls everything that happens. In periods of darkness as well as periods of great light, we know that behind everything is Hakadosh Boruch Hu. Nothing happens by itself.
Whether you are making – or losing – great amounts of money, if you recognize that at the root of your good – or not-so-good – fortune is Hashem, then you are able to deal with what is happening in your life.
You appreciate that your money was directed to you for a higher purpose than just living a luxurious life. You earned it because Hashem wants you to live a better life, a life such as the one that was lived by Yaakov in Mitzrayim.
As a Jew in golus, you can either remain loyal to the greater truth of Torah and mitzvos or you can seek to ingratiate yourself among the prevailing culture and embrace their values and lifestyles.
The Bnei Yisroel thrived in Goshen under Yaakov’s direction because he didn’t allow them to acclimate to Mitzrayim. As we read in the Haggadah Shel Pesach, “Vayogor shom, melameid shelo yorad Yaakov lihishtakeia shom.” The Maharal (Gevuros Hashem 55) and the Vilna Gaon (in his commentary on the Haggadah) write that because Yaakov did not want to settle in Mitzrayim, they merited to be redeemed. In golus, it is incumbent upon us to know that we are in golus.
Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, in his sefer on Chumash, expounds further and says that as long as the Jews remained in Goshen, the Mitzriyim didn’t bother them. It was only after the passing of Yaakov that his offspring began to feel comfortable there and started spreading across the land of Mitzrayim. The posuk (Shemos 1:7) states that they became plentiful and strengthened, and the land became full of them. Then, “Vayokom melech chodosh,” a new king arose, and Mitzrayim began tightening the noose, enacting restrictive laws and strictures on them, eventually leading to infanticide and servitude.
Yaakov’s path proved itself throughout the ages. As the Netziv writes in his work on anti-Semitism which is printed together with his peirush on Shir Hashirim and in Harchev Dovor in Parshas Lech Lecha, when the Bnei Yisroel are nivdolim min ha’amim, they are left alone.
In our time, we appear to be at a tipping point. Jewish assimilation into the prevailing cultures around the world is at all-time highs, a result of the warm relations and treatment throughout the Western world. But as assimilation grows, so does a growing resentment, which is becoming more prevalent and brazen.
Ever since the days of President Harry Truman, the United States has publicly been a strong, dependable ally of Israel, with a few marked exceptions. That began to change under President Obama, with a brief interlude, and ever since him the Democrat Party has been adopting an increasingly stronger animosity toward the Jewish state.
The current American administration has been pressuring the Israeli administration since its inception, insistent on opening the consulate to service Palestinians in Yerushalayim that former President Trump had closed.
That probably pales in comparison to the bigger issue in the area, the necessity to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. While the Biden administration says the right things in public, Israel and other states within range of Iran fear that the U.S. will capitulate to the radical terror state which presents to them an existential threat. President Trump recognized the danger and pulled out of the flawed deal Obama struck with Iran. Trump also saddled Iran with tough sanctions and allowed Israel to wage a secret war against them.
Trump was a close friend of Israel and its prime minster, Binyomin Netanyahu, helping the country in many ways, public and private. But ever since he lost the election, he has been on a tear against people who didn’t stick with him as he contested the election. Within the past few days, bitter quotes have been published from him castigating Netanyahu for congratulating Joe Biden upon his declared victory. In Trump’s book, accepted diplomatic decorum has no place, despite the fact that since Israel would be at the mercy of Biden and his gang of progressives, a welcome was in order.
Trump’s words are alarming, because he had been so close to Netanyahu, Israel, and the Jewish people. With one perceived slight, he threw it all out the window.
This is what the man who wants to be the leader of the free world again said: “I liked Bibi… But I also like loyalty. The first person to congratulate Biden was Bibi… I was personally disappointed in him. Bibi could have stayed quiet. He made a terrible mistake. I haven’t spoken to him since.”
And once again, we are hearing those words being said about Jews: They aren’t loyal. They can’t be trusted. It’s not worth being nice to them. It’s not worth dealing fairly with them. They don’t make for good friends or neighbors.
And then he went on to insinuate that Israel doesn’t really want peace, but the Palestinians do.
Many Jews felt safe with Trump in the White House. They believed his friendship was deeply felt and genuine. He acted as a true friend and helped Israel in many unprecedented ways.
With time the quotes will be explained and forgotten and Trump’s actions on behalf of Israel will speak louder than his words, but the episode is a reminder that we can never be complacent.
Though we are currently in the most comfortable golus our people have ever experienced, the lessons passed down from Yaakov Avinu are as valid as ever.
The golus our brethren are experiencing among Jews is not faring too well, as a new gang squeaked into office under false pretenses and declared war on religion. Hopes that the coalition would quickly collapse under the weight of its supposedly competing interests were dashed as they celebrated six months in power this week.
Yaakov, back in Goshen, showed us how to live. He first established botei medrash for the Bnei Yisroel to center their lives around, while remaining under the radar of their compatriots.
“Titein emes l’Yaakov.” If we remember the lesson of Yaakov and remain loyal to the truths of the world, Hashem and the Torah, and we recognize that everything that happens is an outgrowth of our devotion to the emes in all times, then we can be confident that we will be granted “vayechi – chayim tovim bein ho’amim,” a good life in golus.
Three times a day, in Shemoneh Esrei, we ask Hashem, “Pesach libi beSorasecha uvimitzvosecha tirdof nafshi – Open my heart to your Torah and allow my soul to pursue your commandments.” Then we say, “Vechol hachoshvim olai ra’ah, meheirah hofeir atzosom vekalkeil machshavtom – And all who plot against me, quickly disrupt their plan and ruin their plot.”
It is commonly understood that these requests follow each other, we make one request and then another and another. But I see something else here: We ask Hashem that we be enabled to study and be connected to Torah, and that we pursue and observe the mitzvos. And then we say that since we will be properly learning Torah and performing mitzvos, Hashem will protect us from the evil plans of our enemies.
Academics debate whether Judaism is a nationality or a religion, a culture or an ethnicity.
A story is told that a debate was being held in a large public secular hall about who is a Jew. An old-time ehrliche Yid was walking by, and seeing people coming and going, milling around and debating, he asked what the tumult was about. Someone told him about the debate. He was bewildered. He said, “Vos dreyin zei ah kup? Ah Yid iz ah Yid!”
Ah Yid iz ah Yid. We all know who a Jew is. We all know what it means to be a Jew. But that’s not enough. To lead a blessed life, a life of vayechi, we need to think like a Yid, act like a Yid, and live like a Yid, like Yaakov Avinu and all of our forefathers who followed in his path. Were we to do so, many of our current communal problems would quickly dissipate.
May we all merit the redemption from golus very speedily in our day.