This week's Torah portion begins, "And Jacob lived…." No one should forget how important the gift of life is. We sit in our insulated realities and search for something to take us out. The Torah is the answer.

This week is also called "Shabbat Chazak", one of the four Shabbats when we complete one of the books of the Torah (the fifth time is on Simchat Torah); just as we complete the weekly Torah reading Shabbat morning, the entire congregation rises and together calls out "Chazak, Chazak, V'nitchazaik" - "Be strong. Be strong. Let us strengthen ourselves!" Just as we have completed one of the books of the Torah, G‑d will help us be strong and complete all of the loose ends of our lives, physically and spiritually. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that there is a superiority to the "chazak of parashat Vayechi in that it is the first one.

These 17 years…elevated all of his previous years to become good….

From this we see the great strength made available to us by the announcement of "Chazak, Chazak" at the end of the Torah reading. Jacob is in each of us because each of us is a part of our forefather Jacob, who was also called "Israel", and, as his descendants, we are also called "Israel". With the reading of "And Jacob lived…", we, too, receive life and become "closed off" and protected from all of our difficulties. From now on, potentially we will all have good lives, physically and spiritually, until, like Jacob, our days and years are all redeemed - thus the phrase "…all of his days were good".

Jacob's good years did not come from a vacuum. He had to overcome many difficulties to reach the good part of his life. It is because of Jacob's efforts to perfect himself that he merited "good years". Jacob was the only one of the three forefathers whose sons were all righteous. As the Talmud says, "According to the effort is the reward." If we try hard and do not give up, then we will attain our goal.

* * * * * *

In the middle of the Torah reading, just before blessing his sons, he says something incredibly dramatic: "Join together and I will tell you what will happen at the end of days". (Ex. 49:1) Think about this. If each of us would even try to reveal to our children all of the secrets we have garnered in our lifetimes, what a different world it would be. The Shelah writes that in order for Jacob to reveal the date of Mashiach to his children, he instructed them, "Join together", because it is impossible for the reality of the days of Mashiach to come about while there is unwarranted hatred.

It is impossible for the...days of Mashiach to come about while there is unwarranted hatred….

Jacob focused on this because it pointed to a specific negative trait that he saw in his children, that of slanderous speech, expressed in all of the arguments that they had between them. Just as the first exile came about because of the arguments between Joseph and his brothers, so also the destruction of the Holy Temple and this final exile came about through unwarranted hatred among Jews. The only way to prepare ourselves for the redemption is to train ourselves to love fellow-Jews.

On the first verse, "And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt 17 years", the Midrash explains that these 17 years were Jacob's best years. This is hinted at in the numerical value of the word "good", in Hebrew "tov", whose numerical value is also 17. Jacob himself describes his earlier years as "short and bad". (Ex. 47:9) Nevertheless, these 17 years not only completed his life, they also elevated all of his previous years to become good also. Thus, Midrash Rabba says, "Why is this parasha 'closed in' [in the Torah scroll, no space is left between the words 'And Jacob lived…' and the end of last week's portion]?. Because all of the difficulties of the world were closed off from Jacob!"

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

Copyright 2003 by All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, unless with permission, in writing, from Kabbala Online.