We are always taught that the name of the Parsha is all inclusive of the Parsha itself, teaching us what we will learn within. This weeks Parsha is called Vayechi, which means “he lived.” The name of the Parsha refers to how Jacob lived the last years of his life in Egypt, as the very first verse references his last 17 years there.
This seems strange when you consider the fact that the Parsha called VaYechi, in actuality, mostly discusses Yakov’s death and surrounding events. Wouldn’t you think the Parsha would refer to the actual life of Yakov?
In the Parsha, following Yakov’s deliverance of his final blessings to his children and grandchildren, Yakov breathes his final breath and “expires,” as the Torah describes it. All of his descendants, members of the Egyptian rule and more escort Yakov’s remains to the Holy Land for burial in the Cave of Machpela.
However, the Torah never actually states that Yakov died. As such, there’s a likely lesson to be derived.
Interestingly, the name of this Parsha is very similar to that of a few weeks ago, Parshat Chayei Sarah – the Life of Sarah. That Parsha again, talks mostly about Sarah’s death and beyond.
In reference to Parshat Chayei Sarah, It is taught that the name refers to Sarah’s “afterlife,” the life that is seen in her children. Isaac, whom she raised, continued her great legacy, and through Isaac, she continued to live.
Sarah lived many years amongs immoral, non believers, many of which were even immediate family. The fact that she was able to impart on Isaac the Jewish identity that she did, shows that she truly lived – and continues to live.
Yaakov lived his last 17 years in Egypt, a land known for its lack of morals, its indecency, and many trials and tribulations to true faith found everywhere. Yet, Yaakov was able to leave his descendants with a true sense of Jewish identity and pride. His descendants were the next link in the chain that has followed until today.
When the Torah refers to Yaakov’s stopping to breathe, rather than him dying, it’s telling of the true life that he lived, the truest ever. In fact the Talmud even offers that in reality, Jacob in fact did not die!
As we shall see, Jacob’s death signaled the beginning of the descent that would conclude with the physical enslavement of his descendants. The fact that the Jewish people remained loyal to Jacob’s heritage even under such antagonistic circumstances is further proof that his death was the truest indication that not only was he “alive” during his lifetime, but remained so afterwards.
The lessons we learn from the Parsha each week are lessons for today, not lessons of yesterday. We must apply them to our daily lives in the current, and not view them as a matter of the past. Keeping that in mind, the most prominent lesson of parashat Vayechi is that we can perform our Jewish duties, just as Sarah, Yakov, Yosef and so many before us weathered the odds of their surrounding and the trials and tribulations they offered.
The challenges of the modern world are indeed tricky, but we can beat them if we remain committed to Judaism and raise our children in said fashion!
In that spirit, it is fitting that the first book of the Torah ends with the message of Vayechi, “he lived,” as the page turns from the groundwork laid by our ancestors and we begin the journey of our people becoming a nation – the chosen nation – we must recognize where this nation comes from, and recall the inherent connection with G-d and Torah.
Parashat Vayechi reminds us that the Book of Genesis is not just a good book with stories of our forefathers who have since passed. In fact, they are alive, truly alive, and it is only by us identifying as Jewish people that they remain alive!
Lets continue to live and teach others to live!