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Parashat Vayechi - 5773

My friends,

This Shabbat, we read the last portion of the Book of Genesis - Vayechi. It begins with Jacob, having spent the last 17 years of his life in Egypt, calling his children to come together so that he can bless them before he dies.

It is interesting to note that the portion that tells us of Jacob's death is called "Vayechi" - "he lived". From time immemorial, people have feared death, knowing that everything they are doing and have done, their knowledge, their possessions, their accomplishments, may come to a sudden stop. For some, leaving an Eiffel Tower, an invention, a business, a charitable foundation, a mark on their society, gives continuity to their name and/or their endeavors in this world. In Judaism, continuity from parent to child is a foundation that gives meaning to our sojourn in this world. Knowing that our children will live by the values and principles, by the traditions and faith by which we have lived, gives us comfort, knowing that the future generations will carry on even after we are gone.

The following discussion is found in the Talmud, Tractate Taanit, page 2:

Rabbis Nahman and Yitzhak were having lunch together. Rav Nahman asked Rav Yitzhak to share a word of Torah:

He answered him - So said Rabbi Yohanan "Jacob our father did not die." Rabbi Nahman asked: So what is the meaning of "they embalmed him (Jacob) and they buried him in the cave of Machpelah?"

Rav Yitzhak, quoting a verse from Jeremiah, answered: "As long as his descendants are alive, he too is alive."

As long as our people continue to follow our faith, Jacob (Israel) still lives.

For most of us our lives will continue in the memories of those who love us and especially by the way they will continue their lives, practicing the faith, values and principles that were important to us.

I will conclude with a passage from the same page of the Talmudic discussion above:

When they were about to part, Rav Nahman said: "Please Master, bless me." Rav Yitzhak replied: Let me tell you a parable. To what may this be compared? To a man who was traveling in the desert. He was hungry, weary and thirsty and he came upon a tree, the fruits of which were sweet, its shade pleasant, and a stream of water flowing beneath it. He ate of the fruits, drank of the water and rested under its shade. When he was about to continue his journey, he said: "Tree, O Tree, with what shall I bless you? Shall I say to you: 'May your fruits be sweet?' They are sweet already. That thy shade be pleasant? It is already pleasant. That a stream of water flow beneath you? There is already a stream of water flowing beneath you. Therefore, I say, 'May it be G-d's will that all the shoots taken from you be just like you.'" So also it is with you. With what shall I bless you? With knowledge of Torah? You already possess the knowledge of Torah. With riches? You have riches already. With children? You already have children! Therefore, I say, May it be G-d's will that your offspring be like you.

Vayechi Yaakov - Our Patriarch Jacob lives though us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram