Parshat VaYechi In memory of Shimshon Ben Shalom

וַיְחִ֤י יַעֲקֹב֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם שְׁבַ֥ע עֶשְׂרֵ֖ה שָׁנָ֑ה וַיְהִ֤י יְמֵֽי־יַעֲקֹב֙ שְׁנֵ֣י חַיָּ֔יו שֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֔ים וְאַרְבָּעִ֥ים וּמְאַ֖ת שָׁנָֽה׃

Jacob lived seventeen years in the land of Egypt, so that the span of Jacob’s life came to one hundred and forty-seven years.

Let us begin by analyzing the words of this opening verse. Why does the verse add extra wording and say וַיְהִ֤י יְמֵֽי־יַעֲקֹב֙, and behold these are the days of Jacob. It should have just said these are the days of Jacob, without this extra word of behold. So, whats going on here?

Let us look below at Rashi's commentary on this verse regarding why this portion in a Torah scroll, unlike every other one portion, does not have a space or some form of indentation prior to its beginning informing us that we are beginning a new Parsha.

ויחי יעקב. לָמָּה פָּרָשָׁה זוֹ סְתוּמָה? לְפִי שֶׁכֵּיוָן שֶׁנִּפְטַר יַעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ נִסְתְּמוּ עֵינֵיהֶם וְלִבָּם שֶׁל יִשְׂרָאֵל מִצָּרַת הַשִּׁעְבּוּד, שֶׁהִתְחִילוּ לְשַׁעְבְּדָם; דָּבָר אַחֵר: שֶׁבִּקֵּשׁ לְגַלּוֹת אֶת הַקֵּץ לְבָנָיו, וְנִסְתַּם מִמֶּנּוּ. בִּבְ"רַ:

ויחי יעקב AND JACOB LIVED — Why is this section (Sidra) totally closed? Because, comprising as it does an account of the death of Jacob, as soon as our father Jacob departed this life the hearts and eyes of Israel were closed because of the misery of the bondage which they then began to impose upon them. Another reason is: because he (Jacob) wished to reveal to his sons the date of the End of Days, but the vision was closed (concealed) from him.

The commentators ask a basic question on this commentary and say the following - The slavery in Egypt did NOT begin when Jacob passed away, rather only after all of the Tribes (his 12 sons) had passed away in Egypt did the slavery then begin! As we see in the writing of the sages -

וַיָּ֤מׇת יוֹסֵף֙ וְכׇל־אֶחָ֔יו וְכֹ֖ל הַדּ֥וֹר הַהֽוּא׃

Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation.
ושני חיי לוי וגו'. לָמָּה נִמְנוּ שְׁנוֹתָיו שֶׁל לֵוִי? לְהוֹדִיעַ כַּמָּה יְמֵי הַשִּׁעְבּוּד; שֶׁכָּל זְמַן שֶׁאֶחָד מִן הַשְּׁבָטִים קַיָּם לֹא הָיָה שִׁעְבּוּד (שמות רבה א'), שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר "וַיָּמָת יוֹסֵף וְכָל אֶחָיו" (שמות א), וְאַחַר כָּךְ "וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ חָדָשׁ", וְלֵוִי הֶאֱרִיךְ יָמִים עַל כֻּלָּם:

ושני חיי לוי וגו׳ AND THE YEARS OF THE LIFE OF LEVI WERE etc. — Why is the number of the years of Levi mentioned? In order to tell us how long the period of slavery lasted — because so long as even one of the sons of Jacob remained alive there was no slavery imposed upon the Israelites, as it is said, (Exodus 1:6) “And Joseph died and all his brethren”, and afterwards it is stated (Exodus 1:8), “Now there arose a king” (who enslaved them); and Levi lived the longest of all of them.

So from the above verse we see that the slavery began years after Jacob died, and if thats the case, why does Rashi write that the slavey started right when Jacob died!? -

"As soon as our father Jacob departed this life the hearts and eyes of Israel were closed because of the misery of the bondage which they then began to impose upon them"

And I say to explain this we must first look into the writings of Rebbe Nachman -

כִּי אִיתָא בְּדִבְרֵי רַבֵּנוּ, זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה, בְּלִקּוּטֵי תִּנְיָנָא (סִימָן סח); שֶׁאֵין שׁוּם יֵאוּשׁ בָּעוֹלָם.

And these are the words of our teacher, may he be remembered as a blessing - That you must never ever give up hope!

G-D forbid a person should fall into despair and give up hope, rather he should strengthen himself with utmost faith that its within the power of The Holy One Blessed is He to help a man in all matters and in all times, to extract him from forms of suffering, whether it is in matters of spirituality, or physicality.

And behold, I saw a reason in the writings why giving up hope on a lost item allows the finder the actually own the item!

רבי יוחנן אמר חייב חיוביה בין לפני יאוש בין לאחר יאוש ריש לקיש אמר פטור חיוביה לפני יאוש הוא אבל לאחר יאוש קנה ושלו הוא טובח ושלו הוא מוכר

....after the owner’s despair there is no liability, because the thief has acquired the animal by virtue of the owner’s despair, and therefore it is his own animal that he slaughters or his own animal that he sells.

And the writings say as follows - that the owner may recognize the item in the future, however the owner of the lost item was punished with this punishment of the finder being able to keep it, simply because he gave up, because its not the way of the children of Israel to give up hope!

And the advice here on how to strengthen yourself during hard times of darkness, is through the attribute of joy. As it is explained by my father and mentor and Rabbi, the righteous genius, may his merits dwell upon us on the below verse -

שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֗ים תָּחֹג֙ לַיהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ בַּמָּק֖וֹם אֲשֶׁר־יִבְחַ֣ר יְהֹוָ֑ה כִּ֣י יְבָרֶכְךָ֞ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ בְּכֹ֤ל תְּבוּאָֽתְךָ֙ וּבְכֹל֙ מַעֲשֵׂ֣ה יָדֶ֔יךָ וְהָיִ֖יתָ אַ֥ךְ שָׂמֵֽחַ׃

You shall hold a festival for the LORD your God seven days, in the place that the LORD will choose; for the LORD your God will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.

And we know that the language 'V'hayita Ach Sameach' above (and you shall have nothing but joy), the word V'hayita, which means and you shall have, is a language of breaking, as we can see from the Rashi on the book of Daniel -

(כז) וַאֲנִ֣י דָנִיֵּ֗אל נִהְיֵ֤יתִי וְנֶֽחֱלֵ֙יתִי֙ יָמִ֔ים וָאָק֕וּם וָאֶֽעֱשֶׂ֖ה אֶת־מְלֶ֣אכֶת הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ וָאֶשְׁתּוֹמֵ֥ם עַל־הַמַּרְאֶ֖ה וְאֵ֥ין מֵבִֽין׃ {פ}

(27) So I, Daniel, was stricken, and languished many days. Then I arose and attended to the king’s business, but I was dismayed by the vision and no one could explain it.

נהייתי. לשון הוה ושבר כלומר נצטערתי על הפורענות הזה ונדכיתי:
became broken Heb. נִהְיֵיתִי, an expression of calamity (הוָה) and breach; i.e., I was pained because of this trouble and I was depressed.

And we also know the word Ach from 'V'hayita Ach Sameach' means only or to exclude, as we see in the Jerusalem Talmud -

נְחֶמְיָה עֵימֹסוֹנִי שִׁימֵּשׁ אֶת רִבִּי עֲקִיבָא עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְלָֽמְדוֹ אִתִּים וְגַמִּים רִיבּוּיִין. אַכִין וְרַקִּין מִיעוּטִין. אָמַר לֵיהּ מַה הוּא הָהֵן דִּכְתִיב אֶת ײ֨ אֱלֹהֶיךָ תִּירָא. אָמַר לֵיהּ אוֹתוֹ וְאֶת תּוֹרָתוֹ.

Neḥemiah from Emmaus served Rebbi Aqiba for 20 years and he taught him “את and גם mean additions, אך and רק mean exclusions.”

Based on knowing this information, we can reread this famous verse of '.'..and you shall have nothing but joy..' as follows - How is it possible to break the life sufferings and isolations that befall us G-D forbid? The advice is joy, and to be in a state of continuous joy, regardless of what befalls you.

And furthermore, it is known that the holy writings of the sages give the following advice on the below verse -

(יב) כִּֽי־בְשִׂמְחָ֣ה תֵצֵ֔אוּ וּבְשָׁל֖וֹם תּוּבָל֑וּן הֶהָרִ֣ים וְהַגְּבָע֗וֹת יִפְצְח֤וּ לִפְנֵיכֶם֙ רִנָּ֔ה וְכׇל־עֲצֵ֥י הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה יִמְחֲאוּ־כָֽף׃

(12) Yea, you shall leave in joy and be led home secure...

That from this verse we learn that through the strength of joy one is able to leave all of his sufferings.

And it is known from the Holy Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh from Rimenov, may he be remembered for eternal life. That he got to a level of unconditional joy, and that even when he had absolute nothing, he would still dance in the snow on the cold streets from his abundant joy!

And on this theme we can explain the following verse from Noah -

אֶת־קַשְׁתִּ֕י נָתַ֖תִּי בֶּֽעָנָ֑ן וְהָֽיְתָה֙ לְא֣וֹת בְּרִ֔ית בֵּינִ֖י וּבֵ֥ין הָאָֽרֶץ׃
I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.

The Hebrew word here for rainbow or bow (Kashti) is translated into Aramaic as meaning prayer as we can see from the below verse!

וַאֲנִ֞י נָתַ֧תִּֽי לְךָ֛ שְׁכֶ֥ם אַחַ֖ד עַל־אַחֶ֑יךָ אֲשֶׁ֤ר לָקַ֙חְתִּי֙ מִיַּ֣ד הָֽאֱמֹרִ֔י בְּחַרְבִּ֖י וּבְקַשְׁתִּֽי׃ {פ}

And now, I assign to you one portion more than to your brothers, which I wrested from the Amorites with my sword and bow.”

וַאֲנָא יְהָבִית לָךְ חוּלַק חַד יַתִּיר עַל אַחָיךְ דִּי נְסֵיבִית מִידָא דֶאֱמוֹרָאָה בִּצְלוֹתִי וּבְבָעוּתִי:

Over here Onkelos translates the word for bow as prayer!

And from all of this we see that the verse is coming to teach us to learn that whoever has full belief in HaShem, does not give up, EVEN in times when he's in the clouds, which is times of darkness and night, when suffering and unfortunate realities befalls a man. And even if a sharp bladed sword is placed on his neck, he still won't give up, rather he will prayer to the Blessed One, HaShem - and this is the secret understanding of my bow in the clouds - its not just referring to a rainbow in the clouds, its referring to prayer in the clouds, IE prayer during times of darkness!!

And regarding Jacob our forefather, even though he had many sufferings befall him, as we see from Rashi -

אל שדי. שֶׁדַּי בִּנְתִינַת רַחֲמָיו וּכְדַי הַיְכֹלֶת בְּיָדוֹ לִתֵּן, יִתֵּן לָכֶם רַחֲמִים, זֶהוּ פְשׁוּטוֹ. וּמִדְרָשׁוֹ מִי שֶׁאָמַר לָעוֹלָם דַּי, יֹאמַר דַּי לְצָרוֹתַי, שֶׁלֹּא שָׁקַטְתִּי מִנְּעוּרַי, צָרַת לָבָן, צָרַת עֵשָׂו, צָרַת רָחֵל, צָרַת דִּינָה, צָרַת יוֹסֵף, צָרַת שִׁמְעוֹן, צָרַת בִּנְיָמִין:

אל שדי God שֶׁ-דַּי ....I have had no rest since my youth — trouble through Laban, trouble through Esau, the trouble of Rachel, the trouble of Dinah, the trouble of Joseph, the trouble of Simeon, the trouble of Benjamin (Genesis Rabbah 92:1).

And even with all this suffering, Jacob NEVER fell into despair and hopelessness. And even they knew that upon arriving to Egypt their bitter slavery would begin, as was foretold already -

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לְאַבְרָ֗ם יָדֹ֨עַ תֵּדַ֜ע כִּי־גֵ֣ר ׀ יִהְיֶ֣ה זַרְעֲךָ֗ בְּאֶ֙רֶץ֙ לֹ֣א לָהֶ֔ם וַעֲבָד֖וּם וְעִנּ֣וּ אֹתָ֑ם אַרְבַּ֥ע מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָֽה׃
And He said to Abram, “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years;

And even with all of this, his spirit never diminished! And he also strengthened his household to never give up hope and despair, rather to place your trust and strength in HaShem and that you will one day in the future merit to leave the land of Egypt and to return to the land of Israel, and as a sign for them to remember that reality, they brought acacia trees with them to Egypt, and planted them, as we see from Rashi -

וְעָשִׂ֥יתָ אֶת־הַקְּרָשִׁ֖ים לַמִּשְׁכָּ֑ן עֲצֵ֥י שִׁטִּ֖ים עֹמְדִֽים׃
You shall make the planks for the Tabernacle of acacia wood, upright.

ועשית את הקרשים. הָיָה לוֹ לוֹמַר וְעָשִׂיתָ קְרָשִׁים, כְּמוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר בְּכָל דָּבָר וְדָבָר, מַהוּ הַקְּרָשִׁים? מֵאוֹתָן הָעוֹמְדִין וּמְיֻחָדִין לְכָךְ; יַעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ נָטַע אֲרָזִים בְּמִצְרַיִם, וּכְשֶׁמֵּת צִוָּה לְבָנָיו לְהַעֲלוֹתָם עִמָּהֶם כְּשֶׁיֵּצְאוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם, וְאָמַר לָהֶם שֶׁעָתִיד הַקָּבָּ"ה לְצַוּוֹת אוֹתָן לַעֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁכָּן בַּמִּדְבָּר מֵעֲצֵי שִׁטִּים..

ועשית את הקרשים ...For our father Jacob had planted cedars (shittim-trees) in Egypt and when he died be bade his sons carry them up with them when they would leave Egypt. He told them that God would once command them to erect a dwelling of shittim-trees in the wilderness.

And we see from the sages that when they stared at the trees they would get an infusion of faith!

עצי שטים עומדים... קרא צפוין הכח שהם מצפים לו

עצי שטים עומדים - The meaning of the words: “upright standing acacia wood,” is that these woods lend hope and spiritual fortitude to those who look upon them..

And this is the explanation of our verse - "Jacob lived seventeen years in the land of Egypt.." Perhaps we would suggest Jacob had a wonderful life, so this is why the verse has the extra wording we asked about above, VaYehi, to teach us that this wasn't the case! As we can see that this word teaches us that from the below quote from the sages -

״וַיְהִי בִּימֵי אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ״, אָמַר רַבִּי לֵוִי וְאִיתֵּימָא רַבִּי יוֹנָתָן: דָּבָר זֶה מָסוֹרֶת בְּיָדֵינוּ מֵאַנְשֵׁי כְּנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה, כׇּל מָקוֹם שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר ״וַיְהִי״ אֵינוֹ אֶלָּא לְשׁוֹן צַעַר.

“And it came to pass [vayhi] in the days of Ahasuerus” (Esther 1:1)...This matter is a tradition that we received from the members of the Great Assembly. Anywhere that the word vayhi is stated, it is an ominous term indicating nothing other than impending grief.

So behold, most of the days of Jacobs life were filled with anguish, and with all of this, VaYechi Yaakov - Jacob lived! That he strengthened himself and those that came forth from him to always live in a reality of certainty in HaShem and His Goodness!!

And with all of this we can easily explain our initial question on Rashi when he said that once Jacob our forefather may he be loved by heaven died (and not when the exile really started which was much later), it was because the strength and fortitude that they were receiving from Jacob their holy father had stopped, and because of this, their hearts and eyes closed up because of the slavery. Not that they even began to act as slaves and perform hard work yet, as that doesn't start yet until the last of Jacobs sons passes away, which would be Levi.. Rather, they simply lacked the strength that their elderly father encouraged them and reinforced within them to never fall into despair! And because of this they began to feel the slavery that was destined in the future to fall on them in a land not their own!