Parsha Vayechi

   The parasha, Torah portion, opens with Jacob on his deathbed 17 years after arriving in Egypt. Jacob blesses Joseph's two sons, Manasseh (Menashe) and Ephraim (to this day it is a tradition to bless our sons every Shabbat evening with the blessing, "May the Almighty make you like Ephraim and Manasseh" -- they grew up in the Diaspora amongst foreign influences and still remained devoted to the Torah. The Shabbat evening blessing for girls is "to be like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.") He then individually blesses each of his sons. The blessings are prophetic and give reproof, where necessary.

   A large retinue from Pharaoh's court accompanies the family to Hebron to bury Jacob in the Ma'arat Hamachpela, the burial cave purchased by Abraham. The Torah portion ends with the death of Joseph and his binding the Israelites to bring his remains with them for burial when they are redeemed from slavery and go to the land of Israel. Thus ends the book of Genesis!

Parshat Vayechi quotes Jacob as saying that when he dies, he wishes to be buried "in the grave which I dug"(Genesis 50:5) - a reference to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. This statement is problematic, however, because the gravesite was originally purchased by Abraham, and Jacob had been living in Egypt the past 17 years - so what did Jacob mean "the grave which I dug"?

The Midrash explains that the word "dug" can also mean a "pile." You see, the gravesite was jointly owned by Jacob and his brother Esau. Jacob recognized the eternal value of the Cave of the Patriarchs, and purchased the other half from Esau - in exchange for apile of money - all the wealth that Jacob had accumulated during his 20 years in the house of Laban.

Yet this raises another question: Why did Jacob have to trade all his money for the gravesite? Wouldn't half the money have been enough to convince Esau to sell?

The answer is that during the 20 years he spent by Laban, Jacob was unable to fulfill two important mitzvot: honoring his parents, and living in the Land of Israel. So by relinquishing all the wealth that he'd accumulated during those 20 years, Jacob was demonstrating that the money was worth nothing to him, compared to the eternal value of a mitzvah.

That's an incredibly high level of Jewish commitment, and it serves as a model for all future generations who strive for loyalty to Jewish ideals.

And it's an important question for each of us to ponder: Bottom line - what value do we place on our Judaism?

When Jacob blesses his children before he dies, he says about his son Yissachar:

"And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and he bowed his shoulders to bear" (Genesis 49:15).

What does this mean?

Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz explains that the tribe of Yissachar was noted for its devotion to Torah study. Yissachar "knew that rest was good" and peace of mind were necessary to master the Torah. What did he do? "He bowed his shoulder to bear" -- by training himself to bear any difficulties, he was able to reach the highest levels of peace of mind in all situations.

People seek peace of mind by trying to obtain physical peace, to seek comfort. This is exactly what creates so much stress and tension in people's lives. A person who becomes used to having peace of mind only when nothing is missing in his life is more inclined to be stressed by unusual circumstances. A person who seeks peace of mind by having physical comforts is similar to a person who drinks salt water to quench his thirst. For a moment it appears that he is quenching his thirst, but very soon his thirst will be stronger than ever.

When a person experiences one stressful situation after the other, they add up and can become overwhelming.

How can one develop peace of mind? Be aware of your ultimate goals in life -- developing your character, doing acts of kindness, emulating the Almighty and cleaving to Him. When you are aware of what life is really about and keep your focus on this, you are constantly in one situation: traveling towards your goal. When you internalize this awareness you will never be overly disturbed or distressed. The person who views all life situations as a means to reach his ultimate goals experiences less stress and will be able to cope with difficulties.​​

Soldiers are trained for battle. A prerequisite is to have peace of mind though they are in danger and in chaos. They are trained by removing all comforts -- to cope with situations when all the comforts of home are missing -- to ignore difficulties and to focus on their goal to win. Likewise, for peace of mind, we need to focus on the goal and to know that physical comfort is neither the goal nor the means.

© 2017 by Shalom Magazine