Living with the Torah’s Weekly Portion – Vayechi

Vayechi: Sunday: Good Eye

And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years and the days of Jacob, the years of his life were seven years and forty and one hundred years.” After the reunion with his son Joseph, Jacob lived the last seventeen years of his life with goodness and contentment. In gematria, the number 17 is the numerical value of tov, ‘good’.

Additional meditation on the years of Jacob reveal that the division between the 17 good years in Egypt and the 130 years until then completely fit the expression tov ayin, ‘(bearer of) a good eye’. Tov = 17, ayin = 130. In other words, Jacob himself is the bearer of a good eye, as alluded to in the blessing of Moses: “Vayishkon Yisrael betach badad ein Yaakov” – “And Israel dwelled in safety, alone the eye of Jacob.”

In the Book of Proverbs it is written, “The bearer of a good eye will be blessed for he has given of his bread to the poor”. The Talmud says: “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, ‘The cup (of wine) for the blessing is not given to any other than the bearer of a good eye, as it says, ‘The bearer of a good eye will be blessed for he has given of his bread to the poor’. Do not read it as yevorach, ‘will be blessed’, but rather as yevarech, ‘will bless’.” It is a person who bears a good eye is worthy of blessing. Others bless him and he has the power to bless others. This is the power of Jacob to bless (in the continuation of this Torah portion) all his sons, good blessings that never end.

Vayechi: Monday: Crossing Hands

And Yisrael stretched out his right hand and laid it upon the head of Ephraim, and he was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Menashe, he repositioned (sikel) his hands, for Menashe was the elder.” Lesakel the hands means to infuse them with sechel (intelligence) and wisdom. Naturally, the hands go straight, but the intellect can direct them in an exact manner. Sometimes the right hand has to turn left and the left hand has to turn right.

The right hand and the left hand represent the sefirot (channels of Divine energy) of Chesed (lovingkindness) and Gevurah (might). “The left hand pushes away (with the character trait of might, which measures and monitors) and the right hand brings near (with the character trait of lovingkindness, which bestows and embraces)”. In the sefirot system, underneath the sefirah of Chesed on the right is the sefirah of Netzach (victory), while underneath the sefirah of Gevurah on the left is the sefirah of Hod (splendor). (Netzach and Hod parallel the two legs of a person, whose form expresses the way that G-d runs the world). If so, the secret of the sikul of the hands is that there is a diagonal connection between Chesed (right hand) and Hod (left leg), and between Gevurah (left hand) and Netzach (right leg).

This can be illustrated with regard to the State of Israel today. In general, we must encourage and nurture the good things, and criticize the negative things. In practice: We must love and bring near mainly those places that have points of Judaism (Yahadut, Yiddishkeit). The simple expression of Judaism (Yahadut) is connected to Hod. A Jew (Yehudi) is one who acknowledges (modeh) He Who is above him, gives thanks (modeh) to G-d for every breath that he takes and admits (modeh) that G-d’s truth is greater than us. This is called bringing the right hand to the left: to act with Chesed toward the Hod.

On the other side, the Netzach is connected to the army. The army’s role is of course, to defeat (lenatze’ach) the enemy. Are the IDF and the security apparatus doing what needs to be done to win? You can judge that yourself. In the face of that, our criticism is needed. We must demand of the army to act with might and potency – not to have mercy on the cruel and not to grovel before attackers (this encourages them). This is called turning the left hand (Gevurah) to the right (Netzach).

Vayechi:  Tuesday: The Gate of Blessing

And he blessed them on that day saying, ‘With you (Becha) Israel will bless (yevarech), saying ‘May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe’”. Note the short word, ‘Becha/בך. It is no coincidence that it opens the blessing with the two very similar words, “Becha yevarech”. It is also reminiscent of the two similar words “Venivrechu becha” – “And in you they shall be blessed” that was said to Abraham and Jacob.

We are accustomed to Hebrew verbs consisting of a root of three letters (in the opinion of most of the grammar scholars). But there is also a sha’ar, a gate to words – a basic combination of two letters (as in the Kabbalistic concept RL”A She’arim, 231 Gates). In the root Barech/ברך, the basic sha’ar is beit chaf/בך , as we see in the similar words in our verse above and as we can conclude from the fact that the letter reish in barech is ‘weaker’ and many times it is added to a word as an embellishment.

If so, it follows to search for additional roots that come from the sha’ar בך . In the previous Torah portions, we have encountered the word בכי –  bechi, ‘crying’ a number of times. In our Torah portion as well, after Jacob blesses and gives directives to his sons, he closes his eyes and then Joseph falls upon him and cries. The blessing, the bracha/ברכה ends in crying, bechiyah/בכיה . This is reminiscent of the verse in Pslams 84, “Those who pass through the valley of bacha/בכא He made it into a fountain, He Who guides them will be wrapped in blessings/ברכות “. Rashi explains that bacha/בכא is cognate to bechi/בכי / ‘crying’. This is an example of crying/bechi turning into blessings/brachot.

On the surface, blessing is a happy concept. How is crying relevant to that context? On second thought, however, all the blessings in this Torah portion are accompanied by the knowledge that Jacob is at the end of his days and that he will soon be departing. How do his sons feel when he is blessing them? Very deep, internal crying – suppressed crying that bursts forth at the end.

In addition, the crying alludes to abundant influence, like tears that flow from the eyes (sperm is also called ‘tears’). The abundant influence of Jacob’s blessings comes from his innermost place, the place of concealed, internal crying, of “his heart that worries inside him” – the crying that brings blessing.

Vayechi: Wednesday – Lion Cubs

In the fourth section of the Torah portion of Vayechi, two tribes are distinctive in their blessings: Judah and Dan. Judah receives kingdom, while Dan receives victory. They are both lions. Judah is called, “lion cub Judah” and in Moses’ blessings it says, “Dan is a lion cub”.

There are many more connections between Judah and Dan. For example: Judah is the fourth son of Jacob and Dan was born immediately after him, as if he emerged from the letter dalet in Judah’s name. (יהודה ). (There are many pairs of words in which the second word emerges from the final letters of the first word). The artisans of the Mishkan, the sanctuary in the desert, were Betzalel ben Uri from the tribe of Judah and Ohaliav ben Ahisamach from the tribe of Dan. In the encampment of Israel in the desert, Judah marches at the front and Dan at the rear – the lion at the front and the lion guarding the rear, ensuring that nobody gets lost. Samson – about whom Jacob prophesies here – is the son of a father from the tribe of Dan and a mother from the tribe of Judah.

There is a prominent phenomenon in the name Judah/Yehudah/יהודה. It is composed of G-d’s Explicit Name, Havayah, written in order, with the addition of the letter dalet (from whom Dan emerges). The blessing of Dan ends with the supplication-cry of Jacob, “For Your salvation I hope, Havayah.” This is the first appearance of G-d’s Explicit Name Havayah after a very long break – from the middle of the Torah portion of Vayeshev – 318 verses without G-d’s Name! In the continuation of the Torah portion, G-d’s Name continues to hide and it returns to us only at G-d’s revelation to Moses at the Burning Bush. The concealment of G-d’s Name is a sign of the darkness of the exile in Egypt. The change takes places only when the redemption begins to sparkle.

Nevertheless, in the midst of the darkness, there is a flash of light of revelation of G-d’s Name in the blessing of Dan. Jacob sees his future descendant Samson, praying in the last moments of his life, “Remember me and strengthen me this time, Elokim, and I will take the revenge for one of my two eyes from the Philistines”. Jacob and Samson turn into one illuminating image, and then G-d’s Explicit Name, Havayah, is revealed. In other words, the Name of G-d that is concealed in Judah’s name is revealed in the might of Samson, who comes from the tribes of Judah and Dan.

Vayechi: Thursday: Even Yisrael

In Jacob’s blessing to Joseph, he says, “From the hands of the Noble One of Jacob, from there shepherds Even Yisrael/ the Rock of Israel”. What is the meaning of the unique phrase, “Even Yisrael”? According to the simple explanation, it refers to all the children of Israel, whom Joseph ‘shepherded’ and sustained. Some of the commentators explain that “Even” means the essence, as the Radak writes: “Because the stone is a strong object in one piece, he called all of Israel a stone”. Another explanation is that Even refers to a unique form of the word “Av, “father”, “referring to father and family” (Rashbam).

Rashi quotes Unkelus, who translates ‘Even’ as “father and sons” and explains that Even/אבן is the combination of the words, ‘Av-ben’/אב-בן father/son. We can combine the explanations and say that the final nun of Even denotes minimization, and thus, Even/אב-ן is a small Av/father/אב – meaning that the son, himself is a small father. Thus, the family is created: A big father gives birth to a small father and together, there is an ‘Even’.

What is the connection between Even and the father-son relationship? The stone is heavy, (as in the verse, “koved even”, “heaviness of the stone”) and it is reminiscent of the commandment, “Honor (Kabed – from the root for heavy) your father and your mother.” In other words, the mitzvah of honoring one’s father means to relate to his as something heavy, weighty and present. The son may sometimes feel that the weight is oppressive and cramps his style, but he must learn to honor (kabed) the weightiness (koved). In short, the son gives the father koved, weightiness, by virtue of the fact that he honors him (kavod). (This means that he does not ignore him and is certainly not embarrassed by him).

We saw, however, that the stone is a “strong object”. Something hard and inflexible. Hardness is a more essential characteristic of the stone than weightiness. (Weightiness is relative). If the son gives his father weightiness (koved) by honoring him (kavod) – then the father gives the son the hardness. In other words, the essential assertiveness of the son, as it is expressed, for example, by self-sacrifice, comes from the father. The father is the point of hardness within the son, and the son is the weightiness of the father.

And what about the mother? The numerical value of the expression “Even Yisrael” equals “Beit Ya’akov”. Before the giving of the Torah, G-d said, “So you shall say to Beit Ya’akov, (the House of Jacob)”. According to our Sages, Beit Ya’akov refers to the women. Within the warmth and softness of motherhood, there is much assertiveness of the Even. It is the catalyst to unify the two properties of weightiness (from son to father) and hardness (from father to son) of the Stone of Israel.


Vayechi: Friday: The Wolf and the Sheep

Benjamin is a wolf that ravages, in the morning he will devour and in the evening he will divide the spoils”. Benjamin is the final seal of the blessings of Jacob to his sons. He likened five of them to animals: Judah to a lion, Dan to a snake, Yissachar to a donkey, Naftali to a doe and Benjamin to a wolf.

The partner of the wolf is the sheep. Today they are enemies, but in the future, “And the wolf will live with the sheep” – in the Messianic era of peace. In Jacob’s blessing, the sons are likened to animals. There is no placid sheep. Jacob, himself, has many dealings with sheep. He is a shepherd and marries Rachel, whose name means “sheep”. Furthermore, in Kabbalah it is written that Jacob, himself, is an aspect of a sheep, as in the verse, “And the sheep Jacob separated”. If so, the sheep is blessing his sons to be animals, and even carnivorous animals.

This is an important foundation in education. The father must act like a sheep, with temperance and calm. He must conduct himself with submission, in the footsteps of the shepherd. But do not raise your children to be sheep. Instead, raise them to be lions and wolves. The wolf has tremendous power of “lights of chaos” and so he devours the sheep. But Jacob the sheep knows how to inherit the lights of chaos (from his brother, Esav) and bestow them upon his children in a rectified manner.

Many times, the wolf-son does not manage well with his sheep-father. There is tension between them and the son feels like he wants to devour his father. But the ultimate goal is “And the wolf will live with the sheep” The wolf-son living in peace with his father, the sheep. He understands that it is his father who gave him the power of the wolf. (His wolf character was a recessive gene within his father’s sheep character). Then the verse, “And he will return the hearts of the fathers to the sons and the hearts of the sons to the fathers” will be fulfilled.

Vayechi: Shabbat: The Redemption Code

And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am dying, and G-d will deeply remember (pakod yifkod) you and he will bring you up from this land’…And Joseph took an oath with the sons of Israel saying, ‘G-d will deeply remember (pakod yifkod) you, and you will bring my bones up from here’”.

Pakod yifkod is the redemption code. G-d tells Moses to say to the Children of Israel, “I have deeply remembered (pakod pakad’ti) you,” and Rashi explains, “This sign was given in their hands, that with this wording they are redeemed”. Pekidah is a deep form of memory that brings about practical awakening, as in the first time this verb appears in the Torah, “And G-d deeply remembered (pakad) Sarah.”

If G-d deeply remembers us, we may think that we have no role to play and that we can sink into a deep slumber. But that is not true. Our actions, awakening from below, awaken G-d to act from Above. This is a main principle, in the words of the Zohar: “With awakening from below, awakening from Above is enabled.

What is the action on our part that awakens the Divine “Pakod yifkod”? We deeply remember G-d, and then G-d deeply remembers us. In other words, the Shechinah (G-d’s immanent Divine Presence) itself is with us in exile and we must deeply remember it, feel its pain and desire to redeem it. The more dedicated we are to this deep remembrance, to deeply remember the spark of G-d inside us, so G-d will deeply remember us.

This is the secret of the double wording: “Pakod yifkod”. Pakod alludes to our awakening to deeply remember G-d and yifkod alludes to G-d’s deep remembrance of us. Thus, the meaning of the verse, “Pakod yifkod Elokim etchem” is “Pakod Elokim/You deeply remember G-d – and then –Yifkod etchem/G-d will deeply remember you”.

The root pakod has many meanings in the Holy Language. It is also used to describe the inner connection between husband and wife, as in the words of the Sages, “A man is obligated to have intimate relations (lifkod) with his wife”. Thus, “G-d will deeply remember (Pakod yifkod) you” means that G-d will remember us like a husband who intimately relates to his wife. Here, it is even clearer that the perfection of this is in mutual interaction: The wife awakens toward her husband (Pakod) and the husband awakens toward his wife (Pakad’ti).

***The English translations this week are l’iluy nishmat Alteh Necheh bat R’ Chaim Nuteh, R’ Elimelech ben Moshe and Hinda bat R’ Binyamin.***



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