Lessons for Humanity from the Weekly Parshah
y Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

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Torah Reading: VAYECHI Gen. 47:28-50:26


"And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years" (Gen. 47:28). These were "good" years (17 is the gematria of TOV = "good") as opposed to the first one hundred and thirty years of Jacob's 147-year life. The first hundred and thirty years were riddled with suffering. Through the suffering Jacob endured while struggling to build his family, the House of Israel, he rectified Adam's 130 years of separation from Eve (see Rashi on Genesis 4:25), during which Adam wasted his seed and created demons, instead of peopling the world with Bney Adam.

G-d's first command to Adam was "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and conquer it" (Gen. 1:28). As explained by Rabbi Nachman (Likutey Moharan II:7), this commandment is fulfilled not by producing anthropoid monsters but by giving birth to, raising and educating true Children of Adam, who bear the TZURAH ("form") of ADAM, who was made "in the image of G-d".

Ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, their generations were flawed. Cain killed Abel, Canaan sodomized Noah, the Sodomites wanted to sodomize the angels, the kings of Egypt and of the Philistines and the crown prince of Shechem kidnapped women, Ishmael lived by the sword, Esau was a rapist.

Only Jacob was SHALEM, "Whole" or "Perfect" (Gen. 32:18): Jacob bore the true TZURAH of ADAM, of whom it is said: "And upon the likeness of the throne was a likeness having the appearance of ADAM upon it from above" (Ezekiel 1:26). When man perfects himself, G-d shines through him and is thus revealed in the world.

Jacob is sometimes called Yaakov, sometimes Yisrael. Yaakov is "small" ("Yaakov her SMALL son" Gen. 27:15; "How will Yaakov rise, for he is SMALL" Amos 7:5). In his "small" aspect -- his time of struggle and suffering (MOCHIN D'KATNUS, "constricted consciousness") -- Jacob signifies that the revelation of G-d is as yet incomplete and is still proceeding in stages. But Yisrael, Israel, is Jacob's name of greatness -- "for you have struggled with G-d and with men and you have prevailed" (Gen. 32:29).In his "great" aspect (MOCHIN D'GADLUS, "expanded consciousness") Jacob -- Israel -- signifies that G-d's greatness is revealed and manifest in the world.

This was the case at the time of the Exodus from Egypt and the Giving of the Torah, when the entire world shook with G-d's self-revelation. It was the case during the reigns of King David and his son Solomon, who built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. And it will be the case again in the near future, when G-d's House of Prayer for All the Nations will stand in the center of the world on Mount Moriah in the Holy City of Jerusalem. [The intensity of the hatred in much of the world today for all that goes by the name of Israel signifies how far the world is from HaShem. But "the people that go in darkness will see great light and those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, light has shone upon them" (Isaiah 9:11).]

Our parshah of VAYECHI puts the seal on the first of the Five Books of Moses, the book of Genesis (Bereishis), portraying Jacob, the rectified Adam, in his "good" years at the end of his life. They are good years, because Jacob is now reunited with Joseph, who is in his place of true glory ruling over Egypt. Jacob's main love was essentially for Rachel. It was for her that he served Laban, and it was because Joseph was Rachel's firstborn that "Israel loved Joseph out of all his sons" (Gen. 37:3). While Leah signifies the "hidden realm", Rachel signifies G-d's glory revealed in and through this world. This comes about when Jacob-Israel (=ADAM, the Soul complete with its Nefesh, Ru'ach and Neshamah levels) conquers Esau (=the Serpent, ASIYAH, the realm of material activity), using this world to build a sanctuary for G-d.

Our parshah of VAYECHI also contains a number of specific allusions to the Temple in Jerusalem, as in Jacob's blessing to Judah (Gen. 49:11) and especially his blessing to Benjamin (ibid. v. 27). The Temple Altar stood in the territory of Benjamin, son of Rachel. Thus in Jacob's funeral procession, his twelve sons carried him up to the Land of Israel in the same positions in which their descendents the twelve tribes encamped around the Sanctuary in the Wilderness. Jacob and his sons, the House of Israel, are the Sanctuary in which G-d dwells in the world. "And I will dwell within them" (Exodus 25:8).

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Jacob spent the final "good" years of his life fulfilling the commandment to be spiritually fruitful -- by educating the young, especially his grandson Ephraim (see Rashi on Gen. 48:1: "Ephraim was habitually with Jacob learning"). Jacob'sfinal blessings, will and testament to his sons, with their harsh chastisements, were also intended to be educational.

According to tradition, "At the time when Jacob our father assembled his sons in Egypt at the hour of his death, he commanded and spurred them on in the unification of the name of G-d and that they should follow the path of HaShem that Abraham and Isaac his father walked. He asked them and said, 'My sons, maybe someone among you is flawed and does not stand with me in the Unification of the Name.?' They all answered and said, 'Hear Israel HaShem our G-d HaShem is One' -- that is, 'Hear from us, our father Israel, HaShem our G-d HaShem is one'. The old man answered 'Blessed be the Name of the Glory of His Kingship for ever and ever!' And this is why all Israel has the custom of repeating the expression of the praise used by Israel when he was an old man after this verse". (Rambam, Laws of Recital of Shema Ch. 1:4).

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Jacob's death-bed blessings to his sons contain some of the most beautiful flights of Biblical poetry. It is noteworthy that Onkelos, author of the best-known Aramaic Targum (= "translation") of the Five Books of Moses, departs here from his usual practice of giving the simplest, clearest PSHAT (= "simple meaning") of the Biblical text except where DRUSH, Midrash, "searching out" beneath the surface is absolutely indispensable. However here, as in the case of some other highly poetic passages (the Song at the Sea, Bilaam's blessings, the Song of Moses -- HA-AZINU -- and his final blessings), Onkelos felt obliged to introduce MIDRASH into his Targum in order to bring out the essential meaning of the text, which contains allusions to all historical periods and especially the time of Mashiach.

Thus it is Onkelos who informs us that SHILOH (Gen. 49:10) is Mashiach. The Tribes are compared to various animals. Judah is a lion, Issachar is a wide-boned donkey, Dan is a serpent, Naftali a gracious hind, Benjamin a preying fox. In the case of Jacob's children, the animal qualities are elevated in order to destroy the wicked and give the victory to G-d. Thus Onkelos translates Gen. 49:14-15 as: "Yissachar will be wealthy in possessions and his inheritance is between the boundaries. And he saw that his share is good and that the land produces fruits. And he conquered the territories of the nations and destroyed their inhabitants and those who remain of them will serve him and pay him taxes." Onkelos translates the blessing of Benjamin (v. 49:27: "Benjamin is a preying fox, in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the prey") as: "In the land of Benjamin the Shechinah will dwell (= TISHREI) and in his inheritance the Holy Temple will be built, in the morning and in the afternoon the priests will offer sacrifices and in the evening they will divide the rest of their portions from the other offerings".

Onkelos himself was a GER TZEDEK ("righteous convert"). He was the son of the sister of the Roman Emperor Titus." It is said that before Onkelos converted, he raised the spirits of Titus, Balaam, and Yeshu from hell in order to find out the truth. All three confirmed that the nation of Israel is held in the highest repute in the world to come (Gittin 56b, 57a). Onkelos learned Torah from Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus ("Rabbi Eliezer the Great") and Rabbi Yehoshua, who were outstanding students of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and were also the teacher-partners of Rabbi Akiva. Onkelos' Targum is the first and most authoritative "commentary" on the Torah.

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When Joseph went up with his brothers to bury Jacob, "they came to the threshing floor of Atad (= bramble)" (Gen. 50:10). According to Rashi, "It was surrounded by brambles. All the kings of Canaan and princes of Ishmael came to war, but when they saw the crown of Joseph hung on Jacob's ARON (= Ark), they all stood and hung their crowns and surrounded him with crowns from the threshing-floor which was surrounded by a fence of brambles.

The kings and Canaan and princes of Ishmael were confounded by the ARON, the holy ark of Jacob, crowned with the crown of Joseph.

According to tradition, this took place on during Chanukah-time. Jacob's HISTALKUS (ascent) was on 15th Tishri, the first night of Succos. The Egyptians wept for him seventy days, upon which Joseph and his brothers went up to Israel to bury him. The seventieth day after 15th of Tishri is 25th Kislev, the first day of Chanukah. The initial letters of the four Hebrew words in the verse "and the dweller of the land of the Canaanite saw" are the permutation of the name of HaShem that holds sway in the month of Kislev (see Kavanos of Rosh Chodesh Musaf prayers).

There is an integral conceptual connection between Jacob's funeral procession and Chanukah, which is the time of the inauguration of the Temple. Jacob's twelve sons, the holy House of Israel, under the leadership of Joseph the Tzaddik, were taking Jacob -- the archetypal House-Builder -- to his final, eternal house and home in the Cave of Machpelah, the resting place of Adam and Eve as well as the patriarchs and matriarchs.

The funeral procession was a "rehearsal" for the formation in which the twelve tribes would would bring the Ark of the Covenant up from the wilderness and into the Holy Land. This is paradigmatic of the building of the Holy Temple, the House of G-d on the spot where Jacob had his dream of the ladder: "This is none other than the House of G-d and this is the Gate of Heaven" (Gen. 28:17). That place is alluded to in the opening word of the Torah, BEREISHIS, the letters of which, when re-arranged, spell out BAYIS ROSH, the House that is Head (=Tefilin shel Rosh). It was to that place that Joseph promised his brothers that they would return from Egypt: "G-d will surely redeem you and bring you up from this land to the Land which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob" (Gen. 50:24).

"Be strong! Be strong -- and we will be strong!"

Shabbat Shalom!

Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum




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