Thursday, December 26, 2013

405 - Vayigash

It is interesting to note the difference between how "living" is defined in Jewish terms and how it is defined by gentiles. After twenty two years of separation, Yaakov finally merits the indescribable joy of seeing his beloved son Yosef. During their reunion, Yaakov tells Yosef, "I could die (at) once after seeing your face now that you are alive" (Bereishis 46, 30). Rashi, citing the Medrash, explains as follows: "I thought I would die twice, in this world and in the next. Since the Shechina departed from me, I was certain that Hashem would hold me responsible for your death. Now that you are still alive, I will only die once."

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) elaborates on Rashi's explanation. After Yosef was sold, Yaakov lost his direct connection to the Shechina. In Yaakov's world, life without a connection to Hashem was similar to death itself. He took such a "death" in this world as an indication of what would transpire in the World to Come where he would be held accountable for what had happened to Yosef. Thus, he was worried that he would die twice - once when he leaves this world, and a second time when Hashem punishes him in the World to Come. Now that Yosef was still alive, Yaakov was relieved that he would only die once - when his time would come to pass from this world.

To Yaakov, life meant a connection to Hashem. Earlier in the parsha we find a similar description of "life". When Yaakov realized that Yosef was still alive, the Torah tells us, "And the spirit of Yaakov their father was given life" (ibid. 45, 27). Rashi explains that Yaakov was revived in the sense that the Shechina once again rested upon him. In the Torah's terms, true life is one's connection to spirituality. 

In contrast, at the end of the parsha, the Torah recounts what occurred during the two years of the famine which ravaged Mitzrayim prior to Yaakov's arrival. The Egyptians came to Yosef begging for food. At first they paid with money, thereafter they bartered their livestock for wheat, and finally they offered their fields and themselves as payment for food. Yosef accepted their payment, and he gave them wheat for planting, stipulating that a fifth of the crop must be given to Paroh. The Egyptians replied, "You have given us life, may we find favor in your eyes and we will be slaves to Paroh" (ibid. 47, 25). As long as they had food to eat, they were living. For gentiles, life is limited to a fulfillment of their bodily needs.

There is living and then there is living! We often get so caught up in our day to day work and schedule that we don't even realize that although we might be alive, we might not be living. Shabbos is the perfect time to reflect on this idea and to take stock of our lives to enable us to really start living!

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