Life Lessons from the Torah Portion
In 2016 Israel was rate one of the” Top 5 Happiest Countries” in the World, according to the Better Life Index report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).Why would a country beset with concerns about security , and surrounded by terrorism and enmity rate so highly? Why would a country with so few natural resources and few real allies in the world achieve such significant success? The answer seems to be related to a sense of purposefulness.
The importance of meaning and purposefulness is best illustrated in the encounter between Jacob and his sons as he was approaching the end of his life.
Jacob called his sons, and he said: “Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in the end of days. Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel, your father.”(Genesis 49:1-2)
They had gone through so much turmoil and so much anguish that Jacob decided to relieve some of that anguish by revealing the end of days. In fact this may have been the “matter ” that he kept to himself over twenty two years ago
After the seventeen year old Joseph describes his dreams to his family that seem to predict his future rulership over them, he creates a deepening rift of hatred and envy in the family.
We read the following ”So his brothers envied him, but his father kept to himself the matter-Shamar et haDavar” “.(Genesis 37:11)
What then does the word haDavar actually mean or imply?
We see in Tanach (the Bible) that the word, haDavar, is used to describe a fragment of prophetic destiny. In the book of Jeremiah we read; “The word (haDavar) that came to Jeremiah from HaShem, ” ( Jeremiah 31:1). Or in Isaiah ”This is the word (haDavar) that HaShem spoke concerning Moab in time past”..(Isaiah 16:13)
Therefore, perhaps the words “but his father kept to himself the matter-Shamar et haDavar. ” implies that the matter he kept to himself was a memory of an old prophecy. Jacob understood that the dream of Joseph carried great spiritual meaning and therefore that the wheels of prophetic destiny had begun to turn.
It is then that we read ; “ And Israel said to Joseph, “Are your brothers not pasturing in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Hineni/ Here I am.”( Genesis 37:13) .
It is not Jacob who sends Joseph on his mission but “Israel”. The Meshech Chochma teaches that whenever the name “Yaacov” is used ,it is related to the physical reality of this individual and of his descendants. The name “ Israel “, on the other hand, relates to their spiritual destiny and purpose. Joseph responds with the important response “Hineni/ Here I am.
Now Jacob felt it was time to reveal that thing.
Yet that was not to be.
The Torah portion of Vayechi stands out from the other Torah portions in an interesting way. In the Torah scroll there is usually a space between the last words of the previous Torah portion and the next one. The Torah portion of Vayechi is not separated in such a way. In Jewish terms that situation is called “Satum” or closed. Rashi gives two reasons for this unusual occurrence;
Why is this portion closed? The death of Yaacov caused a closing of the eyes and hearts of Israel, due to the troubles of the oppression which began (at this time). Also, (Yaacov) wished to reveal the end of days to his children, but it was closed to him.
The Talmud similarly explains “Jacob wished to reveal to his sons the ketz (end of days), whereupon the Shechinah (Divine presence) departed from him.(Talmud Pesachim 56a)
Yet one wonders what benefit such a revelation would bring his children about to enter into exile and slavery. Would it offer them any sense of hope and comfort that redemption was over three thousand years away? Perhaps such a fact was better left undisclosed?
The Sfat Emet quotes writes, that Yaacov was not in fact attempting to reveal the secret of “the end of days” but rather he was attempting to reveal to them that such a concept called “the end of days” was a fact, a promise and a reality. That there was a purpose and destiny intertwined with their voyage through history.
Though the particulars of that end may have been closed to him, the message strengthened by his demand to be buried in the land of his forefathers forged that awareness clearly into their hearts. It is only in possession of that awareness that his children could withstand the long voyage still ahead of them. Only in this way could they weather the coming storms of oppression. Focusing on meaning and purpose will be critical tools in preparing for and succeeding against whatever physical battles loom ahead. An eternal people have no fear of a long voyage when they know that the voyage is headed towards a purpose and a destiny.
That is true regarding a people but it is just as significant in the lives of each of ads individuals. Our level of happiness and sense of hopefulness is a function of discovering purpose and meaning in our lives
It is with this knowledge that Jacob then turns to bless his children;
”Gather and listen, sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel, your father.” (Genesis 49:1-2)
LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved