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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayechi

Parshat Vayechi

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Vayechi                                                                   Print Version
14th of Tevet, 5782 | December 18, 2021

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
Good Days and Bad Days

The number of children aged six to seventeen ever having been diagnosed with either anxiety or depression increased from 5.4 percent in 2003 to 8 percent in 2007 to 8.4 percent in 2012. 8.4 percent is an alarming number. Why do so many children experience feelings of depression and anxiety?

Without oversimplifying a complex topic, I think one reason comes from a certain mindset. In our modern world, we have developed a society which is predicated on the idea that things should be easy: convenient shopping, microwave dinners, drive-thru banking, drive-in marriage. “I don't want to get out of my car.” One of the fundamental components of a happy person is a healthy self-esteem. What helps us build self-esteem?

When we do something which is difficult and we succeed in doing it, there's nothing better than that. By making life into easy-street, by giving the subliminal message that everything we do should be easy, we have unconsciously taken away a major prescription for achieving self-esteem: rising to a challenge. What's the difference between fun and happiness?

Mount Whitney in California is the highest peak in the lower 48 United States. It’s 14,494 feet tall. Now, you could probably fly to the top of Mount Whitney in about 15 minutes in a helicopter. But unless you are an extremely fine fettle climbing that mountain will take you two days, and some of it will involve the use of crampons and ice axes. It could well be that flying to the top of Mount Whitney is more fun than climbing it, but climbing it will give you a lot more happiness because you will have achieved something quite hard.

Fun is external, and because it's external, it’s fleeting. Happiness is inside. It becomes part of our essence. Learning Torah is the ultimate deferred gratification. The Torah is as hard as steel and is difficult to hold onto as water. It takes many years of application of what's called ‘breaking your head’ to be able to master its sublime intricacies. And yet there's no joy in the world like learning Torah. It may not be much fun, but it's the greatest happiness that there is.

Yissachar is the tribe of the Torah scholars. A Torah scholar carries a heavy yoke, but he's called by the Torah, “A strong boned donkey,” because God gives him the stamina to carry out his task. And even though he labors day and night, he rests between the boundaries as the Torah says. He rests between the boundaries of the day and the night. How can anything exist between day and night? Isn't that all there is day or night? The Talmid Chacham experiences a repose of the soul on a spiritual plane that is beyond the boundaries of day and night. On that plane, he rests. He has a contentment, a fulfillment that is out of this world. As the Torah says in relation to Yissachar, “He saw tranquility, that was good; yet he bent his shoulder to bear.” He understands that the ultimate achievement comes from hard work and dedication to G-d's holy Torah. And through that, he ends up much higher on Mount Whitney.

But there is one other issue we must address.

One of the most difficult things in life is to take the wisdom of happiness into the despair of depression. Depression and happiness are like two different worlds. It's like two people on different islands trying to signal each other using flags, but the flags they're using have different code books and different meanings for each flag: happiness and depression. It is akin to visiting time at the state penitentiary, where a prisoner and partner have a conversation through an inch of scratched, reinforced plexiglass using a telephone with a severed chord.
In Parshas Mikeitz, the Torah records the dream of Pharaoh: Seven cows emerged from the river. They're beautiful to behold, strong and healthy. And then seven other cows emerge from the river. They’re gaunt, skinny, malnourished, and these evil looking creatures devour the fat cows and not a bone is left. The fat cows are gone, and the thin cows are just as thin and miserable looking as they were before.

In life, a person has to use the days of optimism, the good days, the days that are full of holiness and closeness to G-d to fix in his heart the light of that holiness, so when the lean days come upon him, he's prepared. Then he'll understand that the light has not vanished. It's only been hidden. The light seems to have been completely swallowed up by the darkness, but in fact, it's merely an exile. At the beginning of time, there shone a unique light called the Ohr Ha’Ganuz, the hidden light. This light was not like any light that you or I have ever seen, because with this light, you could see from one end of the creation to the other. You could see cause and effect, why things happen, the way they happen, things that nowadays we can't see at all. It was a spiritual light that revealed the existence of the unseen world, of spirituality. G-d hid away the Ohr Ha’Ganuz, the hidden light, after the first 36 hours of creation, so that evil would not be able to exploit its power. There are times, however, when you can still catch glimpses of its hidden glow.

The Parsha of Mikeitz is always read on Chanukah. On the first night of Chanukah, we light one candle on the second night we like two. So after two nights, a total of three candles. Now, if you do your sums right, you'll find that the total number of candles that we light on Chanukah is thirty-six (excluding the Shamash, the candle that we use to light the thirty-six candles with). The thirty-six lights of Chanukah correspond to those thirty-six hours during which the Ohr Ha’Ganuz shone.

Depression wants to steal the light. It tries to tell us that the good days are gone. They've been devoured by the bad. The thin cows want us to believe that the healthy cows are gone forever and that they rule in their state. But those thin cows will only be in business for just as long as G-d allows them to keep the good years in exile. They have no independent power. One day, very soon, that hidden light will blaze once more in this world of darkness, and the rule of the gaunt and evil cows will be revealed as no more than the dream.

Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin
The Art of Blessing

Parshas Vayechi is not only the concluding parsha of Bereishis, but is also the final chapter of Yaakov Avinu’s life. While the parsha tells us about Yaakov’s last days, its name “Vayechi” connotes life. Our rabbis explain that while Yaakov may have physically passed away, his teachings and life lessons live on. “Tzaddikim, even after their death are considered alive, chaim. (Berochos 18a)

The Midrash relates that Yaakov prayed for illness before death. He wanted time to settle his affairs. From Yaakov, we learn what is truly important in life. To him, settling affairs didn’t mean consulting with a financial advisor. It meant gathering the family together for words of beracha and a parting message. Words that will always be remembered.

Each time we share words of blessings with one another, Yaakov’s legacy lives on. “… And it was said to Yosef, your father is ill, so he took his two sons with him, Menashe and Ephraim.”
(Bereishis 48:1)

Yosef, along with his two sons, were the first to run to Yaakov’s bedside and receive a beracha. Yaakov exerted whatever little strength he had to express his love for his grandchildren. Even though his vision was failing, he reached out to them. He kissed them, he embraced them.

The love of a zeide rises above all pain. The love of a zeide is never-ending.

Just as Yosef was informed that his father was deathly ill, so too, my mother, received a call that my zeide, HaRav Avraham ben HaRav Yisroel HaLevi, zt”l was very sick. Zeide was at home, and our entire family – my parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins – all gathered together to be at Zeide’s side. Although he was very weak, Zeide slowly raised his hands, and with a faint whisper of a voice, gave a final beracha to all of us.

A zeide’s love.
Yaakov, blessed Yosef’s sons – his grandsons – saying “By you shall the Jewish nation bless, saying ‘May HaShem make you like Ephraim and Menashe…’ “(Bereishis 48:20)
To this day, every Friday night, parents bless their sons to be like Ephraim and Menashe. Why? Ephraim and Menashe had a most amazing relationship. Unlike sets of brothers before them, including Kayin and Hevel, Yitzchok and Yishmael, Yaakov and Eisav, and Yosef and his brothers, Ephraim and Menashe never experienced sibling rivalry or jealousy. The two truly loved each other. They “fargined” each other. We pray that our sons be like them, and not be looking over their shoulders to see what the next one has. To be genuinely happy for one another.
Another reason we bless our sons to be like Ephraim and Menashe, is that they were raised in Egypt, far from anything Jewish, yet remained close to HaShem. We daven that our children follow in their ways, no matter where life’s journey takes them.
We bless our daughters to be like Sora, Rivka, Rochel and Leah. Each of our matriarchs taught us vital life lessons. The matriarchs were strong. Though they endured hardships in life, through their passion, their love for family, and their devotion to HaShem, they succeeded to build the Jewish nation.
“Gather yourselves and listen, sons of Yaakov, and listen to Yaakov your father”
(Bereishis 49:2). When the twelve sons of Yaakov assembled around their father’s bedside. Yaakov had a meaningful, personalized message for each of his sons.

The Torah uses the name “Yisroel” in addition to Yaakov, for at that moment, Yaakov was speaking as the leader of Bnei Yisroel, the future Jewish nation. He gave not only words of blessing, but also words of mussar, admonition. He recognized that each child is different. Each needed his own message. He knew precisely the words that would enter each one’s heart.

Yaakov gave his children the eternal gift of a beracha. How he blessed his children conveys a message to us as well. The art of giving a beracha.

Better than the generic “only good things… only the best… wishing you a good life…”, a beracha should touch upon the specific needs of the recipient. How much more meaningful it is to be personal, to wish a person who is ill good health, to one struggling with his livelihood, success in business, the blessing of a shidduch, the joy of a new baby, nachas from children, or as the Rebbetzin a”h often said, “to have nachas from yourself”, to be content with your accomplishments, your family, where you are in life.

Yaakov teaches us yet another important lesson. While he blessed each child individually, he made sure to do so with all of them gathered together. Though each son was deserving of their personal beracha, Yaakov wanted them to always remember that they are part of an am echad, one united people.

This message is not only for the sons of Yaakov, but for each and every family. Every family has many parts that add up to the whole. Members who may be different, who have dissimilar personalities, who are on diverse paths in life. But what makes the family unit strong, is that despite these differences, they remain united. One family. One people. One nation.

We can all use blessing in our lives. If we are sincere in the beracha we give to others, we will merit HaShem’s berachos in return. More than anyone, our children need our love and our blessings. The kedusha of Shabbos makes it a most propitious time to bless our children. Let’s use that special time on Friday night to hug our kids, to bless them, and show them that they are truly our most treasured possessions. Even if the children are already “out of the house”, call them before Shabbos, and give them a beracha over the phone. Call a friend, or a friend’s child. Give them a blessing. Show them that you care. You will have a more uplifting Shabbos. You too will be blessed.

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