Third Temple Torah, True Teachings

Parashas Vayechi

From the Book of Bereishis (Genesis)

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

In this week's portion of Vaychi, Yaakov Avinu is on his deathbed. He tells his children: "Gather around, and I will tell you what will happen at the End of Days" (Gen. 49:1). Yet this information is never disclosed! Instead, Yaakov blesses each one of his sons, and no further mention is made of the prophetic vision he promised to reveal. According to Rashi, the Divine Presence left Yaakov Avinu when he was about to tell his sons what would happen at the End of Days. Since Yaakov was unable to prophesize without Divine assistance, he blessed his children instead. But why would the Divine Presence depart from Yaakov Avinu precisely at this time?

R' Naftali of Rupshitz suggests that, once Yaakov looked into the future, he saw all the pain that the Jewish people would have to endure until the end of time, and this saddened him so much that the Divine Presence left him. The Talmud teaches (Shabbat 30b) that sadness prevents a person from being able to receive prophesy. Therefore, once Yaakov was overwhelmed with sorrow for the Jewish people, he no longer had clarity about future events. This teaches us a powerful lesson about what it means to feel the pain of others.

A story told about R' Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev provides another example of the importance of empathy. R' Levi Yitzchak once visited an ill person who was very agitated about whether he would receive a place in the World to Come. Upon hearing the man's concern, R' Levi Yitzchak called over some of his students to act as witnesses, whereupon he drew up a document transferring his own portion in the Next World to the ill man. His students signed the document, and a few moments later the man died. The students were shocked by their rebbe's behavior, and they asked him why he had acted in such a manner. R' Levi Yitzchak replied, "To make a Jew who is suffering feel calm and at ease, even for one moment, is worth more than the entire World to Come." (It seems possible that the reward R' Levi Yitzchak received for this single act far outweighed the reward he signed over to the dying man!)

These examples show that true tzaddikim do not live for themselves; they live for others. We see this in the Torah when it states, "And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt" (Gen. 47:28). The Meshech Chochma explains that some of us live for ourselves; some of us live for our families; but truly righteous people live for everyone in the entire world. This is hinted to in the verse we just mentioned. Yaakov Avinu did not merely live in the land of Egypt for his own sake; his LIFE was for everyone! His care for others, including the Egyptians, affected the entire world -- since, at the time, the whole world depended on Egypt for their food supply. Thus, Yaakov's complete lack of self-centeredness had a positive impact on the entire world.

We see this as well in the verse where Yaakov tells Yosef, "I am giving you one SHCHEM more than your brothers" (Gen. 48:22). What is the meaning of the word "shchem"? On a literal level, it means "portion." Rashi understands it to mean the city of Shchem, which Yaakov describes as conquering with his sword and his bow. However, Onkelos, in his Aramaic translation, defines "my sword and my bow" as "my prayer and my requests." According to Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (Likutei Maharan), these prayers had an effect on all three worlds: the lower world (shafel) in which we live; the middle world (kochavim) of outer space and galaxies; and the highest world (malachim), which is the realm of the angels. The acronym of these three Hebrew words (SH-afel, K-ochavim, M-alachim) spells SHCHEM! Thus we see again that Yaakov did not live only for himself or his family. He did not pray only on his own behalf, or on behalf of the people and cities in his immediate surroundings. Yaakov prayed for the ACRONYM of Shchem -- for everyone in all three worlds.

As we conclude the Book of Genesis this week, we should reflect on the lessons it teaches us. Over and over we see an emphasis on truly feeling for other people -- shifting the focus away from our individual, self-centered concerns in order to be as sensitive as possible to the needs of others. Our patriarchs and matriarchs exemplify this quality. It is a necessary foundation -- a prerequisite that must be integrated into our character before we can appreciate the redemption of the Book of Exodus. May we integrate this lesson into our own lives and be blessed to develop unity, camaraderie, and compassion for each other so that we can deserve the ultimate redemption, when we will see the return to Eretz Yisrael and the building of the Temple, soon in our days.

Shabbat Shalom,
Aba Wagensberg

Photos and Data © Third Temple and/or Avrahom Dovid 1980 through 2005. Parsha Highlights © Rabbi Aba Wagensberg.