Staying Alive

(Torah Portion Vayechi) Staying Alive!

This week’s portion tells us that our forefather Yaakov lived the last years of his life in Egypt. The title of this week’s Portion is Vayechi – and he lived.

The Torah draws our attention to the word “and he lived” to indicate that during the final seventeen years of Yaacov’s life he truly lived – because he experienced total tranquility.

During this idyllic time Yaacov was reunited with his son Yosef and was not subject to the many challenges which he had faced during course of his life.

Commentators ask that the first seventeen years of Yosef’s life when he was together with his father – before he was sold – should also be included in the years of Yaacov’s tranquility.

An answer offered is that these years are also included by the way of a hint. The Gematria – numerical value of the word Vayechi is 34. Thus the word Vayechi alludes to the 17 years Yaacov spent in Egypt plus the 17 years before Yosef was sold.

The Zohar – our Kaballah has a different approach. Yes, during the 17 years before Yosef was sold it was a tranquil period for Yaacov, however, during the 22 years that Yaacov believed that Yosef was dead he mourned and cried over the 17 years he had with Yosef. Therefore it was considered as though they were erased.

G-d in his goodness returned those 17 years to Yaacov after he and Yosef were reunited in the Land of Egypt and for those 17 years Yaacov lived in total happiness, splendor and completeness.

This is not the first time the Torah uses the root ‘Chi – life” in connection with Yaacov. From the moment Yaacov assumed that Yosef was dead, he threw himself into a state of mourning. Yaacov had a tradition that he would be eternally doomed if any of his 12 sons would die during his lifetime. This mournful feeling prevented him from accessing prophecy.

The moment Yaacov received the news that Yosef was alive, the Divine spirit rested upon Yaacov, and the Torah says, “Vatichi ruach Yaakov” – and the spirit of Yaacov became alive.

Yes, Yaacov was physically alive during the 22 years of mourning; however, his lofty spirit was missing until it became alive once again when he heard Yosef was alive.

In the creation of man, the Torah tells us that G-d call man, “Adam”– which means “earth” because he was formed from earth. The Torah also tells us that G-d instilled him with a ‘Nefesh Chaya’ – a soul that was alive.

Rabbi Yonason Aibeshutz o.b.m. asks, if man is unique because he has a spiritual soul, it would seem more appropriate that man should have been called Nefesh or Neshama which is associated with his loftier spiritual soul, rather than Adam which reflects his physical creation.

Reb Yonason explains that the Torah highlights the physical component – Adam – in man’s name, to teach us that the goal and greatest testament to man, is when he transforms and uplifts his physical being into the spiritual. Thus the name Adam is appropriate – we are always a work in progress.

In regards to performing the commands, the Torah instructs us, “A person must perform and live (V’Chai) by them.”

The Shelah Hakodosh homiletically explains this verse as an instruction how we are to perform the commands. We are to infuse them with energy, enthusiasm, passion, happiness and excitement. If we do so we are guaranteed to see lively results.

When the Torah relates the event of Yaacov’s passing, it does not specifically mention the word death. Based on this omission, our Sages teach us that Yaacov never died!

The Talmud tell us that the wicked are called dead even while they are still alive, however, the righteous are called alive even after they pass away.

The constructive and positive example of the devout, pious, kind and spiritually connected lives of our righteous people lives on forever!

I want to share this story written by Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman, featured in Mishpocha Magazine:

I made a shiva call just days before Yom Kippur. The son of the man who had passed away told the story of how his father, Yosef Isenberg, had been imprisoned in Auschwitz.

One day the Nazis decided to eliminate the barely living skeletal figures who occupied one room of the infirmary. Most of these prisoners were much closer to death than to life and some had already left the physical world.

As Yosef Isenberg was placed on a cart with other prisoners, he couldn’t even talk or protest. The cart was wheeled into a large room where the roar of a huge furnace could be heard. Prisoners working in this room began picking up the cart’s bodies — dead or alive — and simply tossing them into the furnace known as Crematorium IV.

And then, as the man lying next to Yosef Isenberg was unceremoniously thrown into the furnace, Yosef realized where he was and exactly what was about to happen to him. Although he had not eaten in days, as the Nazis did not waste food on the infirmed who did not work, Yosef reached deep inside himself, deep into a place of inner strength he hadn’t even known existed.

He thought about his zeidy who although feeble, would remain on his feet the entire Yom Kippur. He recalled his mother who despite having pneumonia, had stayed up with him the entire night to rub his own feverish brow, without a care for her own well being.

Suddenly, calling upon every physical and spiritual reserve, and just as he felt the heat of the fire on his bare feet, Yosef opened his mouth and screamed a scream heard all the way to the Kisei HaKavod – Hashem’s Throne of Glory. Yosef cried out just three words; however, those three words penetrated the Gates of Heaven.

“Ich leib noch!” Yosef bellowed. “I am still alive!”

The prisoner charged with throwing the bodies into the crematorium was shocked.

Yosef opened his eyes and shouted it again, “Ich leib noch!”

Without saying a word, Yosef’s fellow prisoner picked him up and threw him out of the window onto a pile of wood.

Somehow, someway, with the help of Hashem, Yosef survived.

After the war Yosef arrived in America. He had one son, who became a Torah scholar and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Yosef was also privileged to see his son become a Rabbi and mentor to many students.

All because at the moment of his utmost weakness he was able to remember and summon the strength to declare “Ich leib noch!”

There is hope and there is a tomorrow. For as long as we are still alive!

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks