"Vayechi Yakov - And Yakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years, and Yakov's days, the years of his life, were a hundred and forty seven years."
Why does the Torah have to tell us that Yakov lived in Egypt for 17 years? We could come to that conclusion on our own. Last week we read about the meeting of Yakov and Pharaoh when he first arrived in Egypt. Pharaoh asked Yakov for his age whereupon he answered: "The days of the years of my sojourning are one hundred thirty years"
Deduct 130 from 147 and you will be left with 17.
The explanation given to this is that the Torah is telling us that only the last seventeen years were 'lived' by Yakov. The first 130 years were -to quote Yakov's words to Pharaoh-: "The days of the years of my life have been few and miserable...." (Referring to all the trouble he had with his brother Esav from whom he had to run away for 20 years which he spent with his treacherous uncle Lavan followed by the trouble he had with Sh'chem abducting is daughter Dinah which was followed by Yosef being sold as a slave) and could not be considered 'living'.
By concluding the sentence with the total amount of years Yakov lived, the Torah tells us that the last seventeen years that WERE lived, made up for the first 130 years that were spent in misery.
Now, this explanation can be used to describe how Yakov perceived his entire life after the last seventeen years made him forget the hardships of the first part of his life. But how can the Torah, the Torah of truth, say that all his years were good if we know that the first 130 years were NOT good?
Since the title of a Torah portion relates to the entire portion, why do we call it 'vayechi', "And he lived," if the whole portion speaks of dying?
The true meaning of life is ETERNAL. This is why true life exists only in relation to Hashem, as it says: " "Hashem, Elokim, is Truth, He is the Living G-d."
Truth is not subject to change; if something is genuinely true it will remain so forever. Since G-d is Truth, never ceasing and never changing, He is also the true aspect of life.
Created beings however, are not true entities. Since they had to be created, they are subject to change. Only by cleaving to, and uniting with, Hashem, can they be invested with true life.
This is the meaning of the verse: "And you who cleave to Hashem your G-d are all alive today" - the Jewish people are alive in an eternal manner ONLY because of their unity with G-d.
However, in order for this dimension of "life" to be perceived in a physical world, it is necessary to encounter obstacles to one's attachment to G-d and nevertheless remain steadfast and whole in the performance of Torah and Mitzvot. Only then is one's true "life" fully revealed, for it is then obvious that nothing can stand in one's path and affect one's unity with G-d.
The connection of "And Yakov lived" to the entire portion, as well as the reason for the whole portion being titled "And he lived" -although its main theme is Yakov`s passing - will be understood accordingly:
During all of Yakov`s years before his descent into Egypt it was not clearly seen that his existence was one of true "life", a life of "And you who cleave... are all alive."
There is a rule "Do not be sure of yourself until the day you die"
This applies even to people who have been righteous their entire life.
Even our patriarch Yakov could therefore not be sure of his divine service until his passing proved that he was truly 'alive'.
Even the fact that Yakov's conduct caused his children and grandchildren to be righteous as well does not prove that he was truly "alive," for Yakov and his entire family lived in the Holy Land; and one could not be sure about their conduct in a coarser country.
Only when Yakov approached the time of his death, having meanwhile descended uncorrupted with his family to Egypt, was it revealed that his entire life, although externally filled with pain and suffering,was true life - "And Yakov lived"
This explains how we can say that ALL his years were good even though Yakov had a hard life for 130 years. It refers only to the spiritual aspect of his life that was revealed to be good when it STAYED good even in a bad environment.
This also explains why the portion is titled "And he lived," notwithstanding the fact that it describes Yakov's passing and the events that transpired afterwards.
The Talmud states: "Our father Yakov did not die. Just like his descendants live on, he too lives on." Since the true aspect of life is eternal, Yakov's existence can only be judged after observing its perpetual effect.
This effect is perceived when one realizes that not only did Yakov's own soul continue to cleave to Hashem, but that his children pursue the true life led by their father.
In a Torah scroll there are no headers to mark chapters. The only way to differentiate between portions is by empty spaces left between them.
The portion Vayechi differs from all others in that it has no space between the end of Vayigash and it's opening sentence.
Rashi gives the following reason: [On his deathbed] Yakov attempted to reveal the time of the end of the exile to his sons, but it was "closed off" (concealed) from him.
To explain the 'closing ', the lack of space between vayigash and vayechi, Rashi could have just said that the time of the end of the exile was concealed from Yakov. Why did he have to add that this happened when he wanted to REVEAL it to his sons?
This comes to teach us that the concealment wasn't a negative thing.
If we would clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel, our exile would be much easier to bear. Our 'true living' in exile would lack because of that. This would also negatively affect the reward we will receive for this when the final redemption comes. It was therefore for our own good that when Yakov wanted to REVEAL the secret, it was
concealed from him.
May we soon merit to greet all our 'living' forefathers in physical bodies with the coming of Moshiach NOW!
Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll
Stone Edition Chumash and from
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash
Torah Portions Archive
here or Torah for Tots