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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Vayechi Yaakov’

Yaakov’s Three Lives

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

This week’s parshah begins, “Vayechi Yaakov b’Eretz Mitzrayim – And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt [17 years] vayeehi yemei Yaakov –and the sum total of his years [were 147]” (Bereishit 47:28).

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt”l, notes that Yaakov Avinu’s years can be divided into three periods.

First, he resided in Eretz Cana’an, the Holy Land, for 77 years, secluded in “the tents of study,” sheltered from the entanglements of material life.

Then in the second stage of his life Yaakov lived in Charan for 20 years, where Lavan employed him as a shepherd. During those two decades Yaakov married, built a family and amassed much material wealth.

After living another number of years in Cana’an, Yaakov “descended” to Mitzrayim, where he spend the last 17 years of his life.

Yaakov’s quality of life in each of the three stages differed drastically one from the other. The first 77 years in Eretz Yisrael were tranquil and blessed, when nothing alien intruded upon his life of Torah study, tefillah (prayer) and avodas Hashem (service of G-d).

Going fully to the opposite extreme, Yaakov’s sojourn in Charan, in the house of Lavan, was fraught with challenge and struggle. Yaakov had to be on guard every moment to recognize and counteract the deceit and duplicity of Lavan. In order to marry and support his growing family, Yaakov, worked to exhaustion as (in his own words), “heat consumed me by day, and frost at night; and sleep was banished from my eyes” (Bereishit, 31:40). Upon Yaakov’s return from Charan, the malach (angel) told him, “You have struggled with G-d and with men, and have prevailed (Bereishit 32:29).

Yaakov, however, held his own throughout these hardships, and eventually he triumphed. Then came the 17 years that he lived in Mitzrayim, where he experienced for the first time in his life, true galut, being under the yoke of an alien environment. Here Yaakov was compelled to pay homage to Pharaoh, the arch-idol. Then after Yaakov passed on, his body was in the possession of the Egyptian embalmers, certainly idol-worshipper, for 40 days.

After a lifetime in which he either lived within his own self-imposed sacred seclusion or struggled against adversity, Yaakov’s final years were a time of spiritual bondage in a society which the Torah calls “the depravity of the earth.”

In that light, how can Chazal (our Rabbis) comment that the Torah regards these 17 years as the best of Yaakov’s life? This is because Yaakov knew how to utilize his galut in Mitzrayim to impel the strivings of his soul and work towards its aim. Is it not amazing that Yaakov’s descendants were forged into a nation, Bnei Yisrael, under the tyranny and decadent rule of the Pharaohs?

As with all that is written in Torah, we look for the message to apply to our own lives today. As Ramban (Nachmanides) writes in his classic commentary on Sefer Bereishit (The Book of Genesis), “Ma’aseh Avot Siman LeBanim – The action of the forefathers is a sign of what will happen with the children.”

We, too, experience in the course of our lifetimes the three stages of being, which Yaakov knew: sovereignty, struggle, and subjugation.

We hold onto a vision of a transcendent self – a pure and inviolate soul, at the core of our being. Although this essence is not always accessible to us, there are “moments of truth” in our lives in which this spiritual internal truth asserts itself over any outside influence. For most of us these illuminating moments are few and far between. More commonly, we exist in a state of struggle between the passions of our divided hearts. Our old habits and behavior patterns are often deeply engrained and not easy to conquer.

This tension indicates that we have not fully mastered our existence, but it is also a sign that we are alive. This is life at its fullest and most productive. We are resisting the forces that seek to pry us away from our internal truth; we engage them and battle them. This is why we were put on earth – to fight the blinding neon lights – and open our eyes to pure natural daylight.

However, we also know times of powerlessness, when we face circumstances that are beyond our control and ability to resist. Those are moments when it seems that our lives have stopped in its tracks, and we feel locked into a fortress of despair. Keep in mind, “Everything that happened to the Patriarchs…is decreed to happen to their descendants.” Our lives will not follow our forefathers’ in exact sequence and occurrence. Yet the three lives of Yaakov are “signposts” that guide, inspire and enable our own.

Shabbat Shalom!

How Did Yaakov Live In Mitzrayim?

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

The opening pasuk in this week’s parshah states: “Vayechi Yaakov be’eretz Mitzrayim sheva esrei shanah… – Yaakov lived in Mitzrayim for 17 years…” The Gemara in Kiddushin 82a says that Avraham Avinu kept the entire Torah, even the mitzvos that may not have applied. The meforshim assume that this was the practice of the other avos and their descendents as well. There are three pesukim in the Torah prohibiting one from living in Mitzrayim. This question is raised: How were Yaakov and his sons allowed to live in Mitzrayim when it is in fact prohibited?

I believe that the author of the Haggadah alluded to this question in the following drasha: The Haggadah expounds on the pasuk in Devarim (26:6): “Va’yeired Mitzraimah va’yagar sham – And he went down into Mitzrayim and sojourned there.” The Haggadah says that we are to learn from the word va’yagar (sojourn) that Yaakov Avinu did not go down to Mitzrayim with the intention to live there permanently, but rather to sojourn there. The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 5:7,8) says that it is only prohibited to live in Mitzrayim lehishtakya (permanently); one is allowed to temporarily visit Mitzrayim. Apparently the author of the Haggadah alludes to this question, and answers that Yaakov did not live in Mitzrayim in a permanent manner – but rather his dwelling was temporary. Therefore Yaakov was not transgressing the prohibition of living in Mitzrayim.

I suggest that this is the reason that the Torah chose to write the word “vayechi – and he lived.” The pasuk does not write “vayeishev – and he dwelled” because Yaakov was merely living there temporarily, not permanently.

The Radvaz, in his commentary on the Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 5:8), asks how the Rambam was allowed to live in Mitzrayim. He suggests that perhaps he was forced by the country’s king to remain since he was the doctor of the king and many other officials. He then proceeds to ask the same question regarding himself, how he (the Radvaz) was allowed to live in Mitzrayim. He responds that he built a yeshiva and learned and taught Torah, and under those circumstances there is no prohibition.

This answer is perplexing, for building a yeshiva and learning and teaching Torah does not grant one a license to transgress a Torah prohibition. Perhaps the Radvaz’s logic is based on the Rambam’s ruling that if a king of Yisrael conquers Mitzrayim, there is no prohibition of dwelling in Mitzrayim. It is only prohibited to dwell in Mitzrayim while it is under non-Jewish rule. The reason for this is because the actions of the people of Mitzrayim were the most immoral, and thus the Torah did not want individuals to dwell there under their influence. Perhaps the Radvaz extended this halacha to one who is living in a yeshiva, since he is not affected by the corrupt world that surrounds him. It is comparable to the scenario whereby a king of Yisrael conquers Mitzrayim, negating Mitzrayim’s cultural influence. Therefore, the Radvaz ruled that he was permitted to live in Mitzrayim under those circumstances.

Based on this, we can suggest an alternate p’shat in explaining how Yaakov and his sons remained in Mitzrayim. In last week’s parshah, prior to Yaakov’s descent to Mitzrayim, he sent his son Yehudah “lehoros lefanav” (Bereishis 46:28). Rashi quotes a medrash that explains that Yaakov sent Yehudah to establish a yeshiva prior to his arrival. This was seemingly a strange practice. Why could Yaakov not have waited until everyone arrived before the yeshiva was built?

According to the Radvaz we can understand why it was necessary for the yeshiva to be established, even prior to everyone’s arrival. Since the building of a yeshiva is what would ensure that they would not be influenced by the people of Mitzrayim, Yaakov arranged that it should be established prior to their arrival.

This yeshiva remained for the entire time that Klal Yisrael were in Mitzrayim. The Rambam (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 1:3) says that after recognizing Hashem as the Creator and the one who controls everything, Avraham Avinu started educating others about Hashem. Eventually Yitzchak Avinu assumed that role, and Yaakov followed. Yaakov taught all of his sons, and later appointed Levi to be the rosh yeshiva. It was this yeshiva that kept the teachings of Avraham Avinu intact during the galus of Mitzrayim. This was made possible because shevet Levi was not subject to the physically torturous labor; thus they were able to remain in the yeshiva. The Rambam adds that if not for this yeshiva, all of the fundamentals that Avraham Avinu set forth would have otherwise been forgotten.

For questions or comments, e-mail RabbiRFuchs@gmail.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/how-did-yaakov-live-in-mitzrayim/2012/01/04/

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