Parashat Vayechi 5782

This portion Vayechi, “and he lived” alludes to an important part of the essence of being human on this physical plane: LIFE.  Life is a cycle, and there is a saying in Spanish: “There is no evil that lasts 100 years” referring to the fact that life experiences are not eternal, they are fleeting, and when we have a role and a purpose for our existence, we understand that these experiences are a means to reach a higher level for a higher purpose.

Rav Shaul in his letter to the Kehilah of Corinth writes ” Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16). This alludes to our body serving the purpose of elevating our soul. Unfortunately, the distorted vision of Western culture has fragmented the original design of God, where people move away from the Torah or from their physical senses of the body, because they think that there is a dichotomy between body and soul. The result is that the concept of a “living soul made manifest in a physical body”, by the Bore Olam is lost amid false interpretations.

These interpretations state that all physical pleasure goes against the Torah; this is known as religious asceticism, where we constrain ourselves (including the body) thinking that this will somehow elevate our soul, and which eliminates any enjoyment of His creation. This can produce roots of bitterness, disappointment, guilt and above all, evil. Bereshit says: “And God saw that it was very good…” that is, He rejoiced in His creation, something that we must emulate.

An opposite view held by many is that by approaching the Divine with His instructions for life found in the Torah, this is synonymous with behaving like the ostrich, which deceives itself by thinking that by putting His head (mental illusion I would say) in a dark hole, this will magically cause the dangers, fears, or things that he does not want to face, to disappear from his reality. The psalmist says in Tehilim 139: 7-12: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me’, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

But really, what is the better way? It is the unity between soul and body, the unity of our being with the Creator, which brings balance to our lives. We see in this parashah that Yaakov lived his life. I asked myself: “do I live, or do I sleep?” When it mentions “And Yaakov lived” the Torah is affirming something, that “Yaakov lived, he did not die.” What does this mean? It indicates that Yaakov is still living with us today, that is, he has transcended physical death, that his soul rose, and that his spark remains alive among us even now.

I was very impressed by verse 28 of chapter 47: ” And Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven”.  Yaakov achieved his transcendence while living in a most idolatrous place, it was spiritually low and far from Eretz Israel, because it says “Vayechi Yaakov b’eretz Mitzrayim” וַיְחִייַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, that is, in the land of narrow straits, a tight or constricted place. This week I watched a cartoon with my children about the metro in Tokyo where we saw how it is in real life. Entering a Tokyo metro at rush hour is like entering “Mitzrayim”, a narrow, oppressive, and suffocating place, and I started to think, this is like trying to achieve transcendence on that metro while I´m being crushed alive.

The Torah says that Yaakov lived 17 years, and then he lived another 17 years with Yosef, that is, he had 34 years of a good life. 17 in Gematria is equivalent to the word “tov” טוב which means good, and it is also interesting that number 17 in the Torah is אֱלֹהִים Elohim, that is, our Elohim is our Tov! David said in Tehilim 16: 2 “I say to the LORD, “You are my LORD; apart from you I have no good thing.” And the years of his life were 147 years, that is, 1 + 4 + 7 = 12, referring to his twelve sons.

This “tov or good” for Yaakov produced immense JOY. It didn’t matter that the physical place (Egypt) and the socioeconomic conditions were far from the best, having arrived in Egypt at a time of great famine and coming to a people who had to sell themselves to their king to pay for their food. From this, we learn that no life experiences, conditions, or external factors should determine whether we have JOY or happiness. In fact, we will see later that the Divine Presence was made manifest in Yaakov so that he was able to visualize the end of days (chapter 49) and to reach a level of nevuah נבואה (prophecy) so that he could declare the blessings to his children. Yaakov suffered from disease (48: 1)’, he was almost blind (48:10); he had physical limitations where it was even an effort to sit down (48: 2) and he experienced something that often happens to the elderly when their children correct them thinking their parent might be limited by their age (48: 17-18). However, these did not prevent him from having JOY in any situation that went contrary to his spiritual nature. 

Although Yaakov experienced the wear and tear of his body, his soul was continually being renewed; he realized that there is something beyond this short-term existence (120 years compared to eternity is short term); he realized that there is something beyond his daily reality. This knowledge can have such an impact upon us that we seek to leave a legacy to those who come after us.

When this elevation of the soul is achieved, it allows us to properly bless others in our daily lives within our sphere of influence. The blessings extended to his sons, although they were true, they were not only personal, but they were also communal, that is, Yosef’s blessing was not only for him, but for all of Israel. This elevation of Yaakov allowed the integration of life and soul between Israel and Yaakov and the integration of his 12 sons in Egypt upon their reconciliation allowed these 12 tribes to become the nation of Israel. The integration of the family occurred in Efraim and Manasseh where there were no longer the problems between the brothers that had existed between Cain and Abel.

So today, let us ask ourselves, do we live to integrate, to balance our lives body and soul or do we act in ways that fragment our lives? Do we work on giving meaning, elevation and balance to our body and soul? Do we impact those around us by bringing to them a spark of joy, a smile, a good word thus leaving behind a legacy that transcends this physical world? Do others see us living with Joy, despite our circumstances?  Are we enjoying all the good provided by our Creator? 

May this Shabbat be the beginning for us to find balance and wholeness, to bring them into our homes, for us to live out our roles on this good earth and to continue to elevate our souls. 

Shabbat Shalom!

Mauricio Quintero