Parshas Vayechi 2017: The Blessing in Yaakov’s Death
This week’s parsha relays the events that transpired during the passing of our forefather Yaakov (Jacob). Yaakov prior to his death gave each of his sons a special blessing which would provide a foreshadowing of their makeup as a Tribe in the Nation. Only after he concluded bestowing each blessing did Yaakov pass. The Torah memorializes, “When Yaakov finished instructing his sons, he drew his feet onto the bed; he expired and was gathered to his people.” (Genesis 49:33)
The gemora (Talmud) in tractate Taanis (5b) says, “Our father Yaakov did not die.” Interestingly, there is an opinion in the gemora that understands Yaakov’s “death” to be more figurative than literal. Which is peculiar, for the Torah does mention how Yaakov was mourned for, embalmed, and even buried. However, Tosfos steps in and points out that the Torah doesn’t use the common vernacular of “Vayamas” (and he died) as it says by the passing of Avraham and Yitzchak. Most commentators recognize this to mean that Yaakov continues to live on spiritually as his offspring maintain his legacy. This concept recurs throughout history. Some of the greatest people lived on spiritually and the Torah make mention of it. For example, Yaakov Avinu, Moshe Rabbeinu, Eliyahu HaNavi, etc. In fact, the passuk in Jeremiah (30:10) states, “Do not fear, O Yaakov, My servant,” says Hashem, “and do not be downcast, O Israel; for I will save you from afar and your descendants from captivity.” The prophet likens Yaakov with his descendants.
The parsha of Vayechi is quite unique from the rest of the Torah. With every parsha there is spacing between the portions. Each parsha begins on a new line or at least is separated by a nine-letter break. Whereas between Vayechi and its predecessor there is no spacing.
Rashi (early commentator) dubbed our parsha, a “stumah” - “Closed Section”. What does this mean when a parsha is referred to as by “A Closed Portion”? What is its significance?
This “stumah” parsha comes to impart on us something about the mood and ambiance of his sons (the Shevatim) when Yaakov died.
At that moment when Yaakov left this world, we are taught the hearts of the children of Israel became “closed.” For now that Yaakov had died they began anticipating the suffering and despair of the impending exile which would soon be upon them. Remarkably, when Yaakov passed the spiritual exile did begin, even though the physical component of enslavement would not begin until after all the brothers passed away too.
Another reason given as to why Rashi calls this parsha “A Closed Section” is, Yaakov was prepared to reveal to his children when the final redemption (of Messianic times) was going to take place and in which generation. However, Hashem “closed” down his navua (prophetic visions) and Yaakov could no longer foresee when the Messianic era would be.
Although we are living thousands of years later, with each death of a great biblical figure there is still (or at least there should be) a feeling of sorrow. We learn all about an individual who shaped the beginning of our nation and the world (for that matter), someone who did things in their lifetime that we can’t even fathom, and then suddenly we are bereft of them. We read how the keystone of the Jewish people, a true hall-of-famer’s life ended and now there is a major spiritual void in existence. However, the sages explain, Yaakov Avinu didn’t die in the traditional way. His body merely expired. In his lifetime he had perfected himself to the point where his spiritual neshamah and physical body were no longer in contradiction. For most of us, we become so involved with physical demands and instincts that for our neshamah to depart is a painful process. It can’t bear the thought of parting from this life to graduate to a holier one. However, if a person makes his life a spiritually grounded existence and overcomes his “animalistic demands” the less encumbered his body is.
This is an important lesson. The parsha of Vayechi, a stumah parsha, comes specifically to relay to us the seemingly-tragic event of Yaakov dying, and the emotions felt at the time. However, Yaakov didn’t die, the coalition between his neshamah and body was seamless, - death for him was an experience no greater than removing a coat from a body. His spirituality continues to live on through his descendants, us.
We weren’t supposed to find out when the final redemption is. Hashem “closed” Yaakov’s prophetic vision ability at the end, so that we may live on as the B’nai Yisroel (children of Israel) - of Yaakov and maintain his legacy thereby opening the gates for the moshiach on our own accord.
May we all merit to see the coming of the moshiach speedily in our days! -Amen!
Have a wonderful Shabbos and weekend!
Maverick V. Peters