This week’s Torah reading (Genesis 47-50) is named Vayechi, “And He Lived,” after the section’s opening words, “And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt.…” Paradoxically, the entire section revolves around a single event: Jacob’s death. Here we read of his final illness, his last instructions to Joseph, his parting blessings to his children, his passing, funeral and burial.
Therein lies an eternal lesson regarding the true meaning of life. Truth, by definition, is unequivocal. It therefore follows that anything conditional or temporary is not true, at least not in the ultimate sense of the word. Love that is conditional upon the loved one’s looks or behavior is not true love, even when it supposedly blooms, fed by those conditions; a person who is wise at certain moments and foolish at others is not truly wise, even in those moments that he is supposedly wise. By the same token, one whose impact on the world ceases with his soul’s departure from his body, has never truly been alive.
So none of the other half-dozen Torah sections that relate the events of Jacob’s sojourn on physical earth attest to the fact of his “life” in their names. For these describe what, taken on its own, can be seen as a temporal life, a life with a beginning and an end, a life confined to a particular body and a particular space of time. Jacob’s true life comes to light in the events relating to his “death,” when his twelve sons gathered round his bedside and he imparted to each his particular role in the eternal legacy of Israel. Only then can we say that “Our father Jacob did not die…. Just as his descendants are alive, he, too, is alive.”
It is only when we see Jacob’s life surviving his physical demise that we know that Jacob truly lived.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shabbat Vayechi, 5725 (December 18, 1964).
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber.
. Talmud, Taanit 5b. There are actually two interpretations of this passage in Talmudic commentaries: a) that Jacob continues to live through his descendants; b) that Jacob remains physically alive. See Life, Death and Reality, WIR vol. VI no. 16.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XV, pp. 428-430.