“Life is a Journey, Not a Destination.”
Tevet 14 5780 וַיְחִי, י”ד טבת תש”פ
This parashah Vayechi ends the book of Bereshit in which we read about the creation of the world by our Bore Olam and our place within it. We travelled from Adam to Noah and the destruction of the world due to the perversity of mankind, on to Abraham who left everything he knew behind to follow the One True God to the land which would one day be called Israel. We can take these stories literally or not, but their importance lies in what they have to impart to us. This portion brings us to the end of the lives of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as well as Joseph but leaves us with the lessons from their lives that will serve to make our own lives better. I have emphasized how the Torah shows us that our heroes are very human, with both good and bad qualities in the hopes that we would imitate the good and stay away from the bad. It teaches us that it is always less painful to learn from the mistakes of others and the importance of self-examination which allows us to take responsibility for our actions. No one is perfect, only the Bore Olam.
Vayechi means “and he lived” similar to the story of Sarah. Both refer to their deaths, not their lives. I heard an expression that spoke volumes to me… “Life is a Journey, Not a Destination.” After coming to Egypt, Jacob had an encounter with Pharaoh during which Pharaoh asked him how old he was. He said that he was 130 years old and that he had passed through many trials. He believed that he was at the end of his life and I am sure that he thought that he would have died in Eretz Israel but now he found himself in Egypt. How many of us who reside in Montreal can say that from our childhood we wanted to live in Montreal for the rest of our lives? Most of us did not even imagine we would be here. Like Jacob, we are all on a journey. Why did he have Joseph swear twice that he would bury him in Israel? Jacob knew that Joseph was Viceroy and second only to Pharaoh in Egypt, but he was still under the authority of the Pharaoh. He knew that the Pharaoh would have been insulted that he wanted to be buried in such an insignificant country in comparison to Egypt which boasted of the best tombs to bury their celebrities. That was one of the complaints of the Jews when they thought they were going to die in the desert…” weren’t there better tombs in Egypt?” (Ex 14:11). Jacob, being wise had Joseph swear twice knowing that the Pharaoh would want Joseph to honor the wishes of his father. This took this onus off Joseph and allowed due respect to be given to Pharaoh.
After the brothers returned from the grandiose funeral in Israel, they were worried that Joseph would now exert revenge upon them for what they did to him. They concocted a story that their father had told them to tell Joseph to forgive them and promise that he would not do anything to them. This demonstrates to me that it is important to understand what true forgiveness means. There are times when we have asked someone for forgiveness, yet we do not “feel” forgiven. What needs to happen in order to “feel” forgiven? Someone may say, “I forgive you, but I never want to see you again”. That is not forgiveness. Forgiveness means we are willing to leave things in the past and are ready to start a new relationship. They were not sure that Joseph was willing to do that. Joseph did not do anything that would demonstrate this to be true, but that was how they felt. Finally, Joseph reassured them by letting them know that God used everything they did for good in order to save them and their families. That allowed them to prosper in Egypt, but their journey would not end in Egypt. It was simply a stage along the way. How many of us have stopped our journeys and are giving up thinking that we are at our end? Life doesn’t end! It continues even after death. The final destination is in the Presence of the Creator; that’s how we can know that He is with us right from the very beginning. Our destination is less important than the journey; the importance lies in how we live our lives while on this journey. That is the beautiful teaching from Vayechi. We will be reunited with our loved ones after death; it is not the ending; it is only a new beginning.
A baby goes from receiving oxygen within the mother’s womb through the umbilical cord to breathing on its own at birth. The baby literally goes through a death experience in order to be born anew. The first slap brings the baby back to life. The Torah teaches us that we are born to live, not born to die as many believe. “The Creator said, “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life so that you and your descendants might live!” Deut.30:19 He wants us to know that our life is important even if we do not think that we are affecting anyone. We need to start learning that our mere presence is important. We may think that no one will notice when we do not attend here on Shabbat and that we will not be missed but that is the furthest thing from the truth. Imagine if we don’t show up for work and say nothing to our boss; how long will we keep our job? Yet we think that the Creator doesn’t notice when we stay away from His community. Our mere presence makes a difference.
חָזַק חָזַק וְנִתְחַזֵק!
Chazaq, Chazaq v’nitchazeq
Be Strong, Be Strong, Be Strengthened!