Monday, January 01, 2007

Vayechi 5631 First Ma'amar

“ויחי יעקב בארץ מצרים .../Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt ...” The Sfas Emes addresses two difficulties. Firstly, ויחי/He lived, is a strange choice of words. Usually when the Torah relates that someone lived in a specific place, it uses the word וישב/He dwelt. The Chidushei HaRim suggests that, ויהי/He was, would have been more appropriate than ויחי/He lived.

Secondly, in a sefer Torah, there is always a blank space between two parshas. VaYechi is the only parsha in the entire Torah which begins directly following the last word of the previous parsha with no break whatsoever. This is referred to as a closed parsha. Why is this?

Ya’akov Avinu is associated with the attribute of אמת/truth. The prophet Micha tells us, “תתן אמת ליעקב/Give truth to Ya’akov.” On the level of truth, God is revealed. On the level of truth exile does not exist since exile means that God hides Himself. Egyptian society was pagan and immoral. It was very difficult to see God in Egypt. By using the word ויחי/He lived, the Torah is telling us that even in decadent Egypt, Ya’akov “lived.” Living means to attach to the Source of all life. Chazal tell us that wicked people are considered dead even during their lives. This is because they have separated from God, the Source of life. Ya’akov “lived” even in Egypt. On the level of אמת/truth, it did not matter that he was in Egypt. God gives life to the immoral Egyptians, too. For Ya’akov, He was revealed even in Egypt. This is why the parsha starts with, “ויחי יעקב בארץ מצרים .../Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt ...” instead of the more usual וישב יעקב/Yaakov dwelt.

But why is the parsha closed? Chazal tell us that Ya’akov wanted to reveal the end of days to his children. The end of days is a time when all exile comes to an end and God is revealed. The exile is a temporary screen behind which God hides Himself. Behind the screen of the exile and giving life to it (and to everything else) is the eternal Source of life. Ya’akov wanted to convey to his children that God is there even in Egypt. He wanted it to be clear to them, as it was clear to him, that God is everywhere, even in the exile. He wanted them to see the Godliness in Egypt just as he saw it. If Ya’akov had explained this to his children, though, they would have reached Ya’akov’s level of emes. God would have been revealed to them and there would have been no exile. Chazal in fact tell us that the bondage in Egypt only began after Ya’akov passed on. In God’s plan, the exile was necessary. So, although Ya’akov “lived,” the parsha was closed. He was not permitted to pass it on to his children.

However, Chazal tell us that Ya’akov was permitted to teach them that even if they could not see Godliness in the immoral and corrupt Egyptian civilization, they could believe that He was there. Belief that God was there when the reality of their surroundings was the immoral and pagan Egyptian culture required a lot of hard work. But, through אמונה/belief, they would be able to see the אמת/truth, that God is in the exile as well.

Believing that God is the source of all power in the world enables us to see Him in the world. The stronger our belief, the more God is revealed. Working to reach this high level of אמונה/belief enables us to find Godly enlightenment even where God is concealed.

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