Thoughts on Parashat Vayechi

Thoughts on Parashat Vayechi

“AND [YAAKOV] EXPIRED..AND THE PHYSICIANS EMBALMED YISROEL..AND THEY EULOGIZED THERE GREAT AND HEAVY EULOGIES..AND THEY BURIED HIM..(Bereishis 49:33; 50:2,10,13)”

These psukim relate that Yaakov Avinu expired. He was embalmed, eulogized, and buried in the maaras hamachpela. The Gemorah (Taanis 5b), however, states that Yaakov Avinu never died. Let us examine this Gemorah.

Rabbi Yitzchok said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, Yaakov Avinu never died [but he lives forever. Rashi.] Rabbi Nachman asked: Was it then for no reason that they eulogized, embalmed, and buried him? Rabbi Yitzchok answered, I derive this from a posuk, a prophecy regarding the Messianic era, “And you fear not my servant Yaakov and do not tremble Israel for behold I will save you from afar and your seed from the land of their captivity (Yirmiyahu 30:10).” The posuk extends a hekesh, a comparison, between him [Yaakov] and his seed [Klal Yisroel]. Just as his seed will then be alive, so too will he be alive. [At the time of the redemption when Hashem will gather Klal Yisroel from their captivity, He will bring Yaakov Avinu to the exile to witness and observe the redemption. Just as we find that Yaakov Avinu observed and witnessed the redemption from Egypt, as the posuk states, “And Yisroel saw the mighty hand that Hashem performed in Egypt..” Chazal interpret “Yisroel” to mean the elder Yisroel, i.e. Yaakov Avinu.

For what reason did they then embalm, eulogize, and bury Yaakov? Because they thought that he had died (Rashi)]. Tosfos joins Rashi in understanding this Gemorah to mean that Yaakov Avinu never actually died, since the Torah does not explicitly state “VaYamos”, but rather “VaYigvah – and he expired.” Thus both Rashi and Tosfos agree that the connotation of this Gemorah is that Yaakov Avinu never actually died, but he lives on forever.

This is mystifying. Here in these psukim of the Torah we have a clear account of Yaakov’s death. The Torah itself testifies and records for eternity that throngs of people including Yoseph and his brothers participated in the funeral procession. The Torah describes how they embalmed, eulogized, and buried Yaakov Avinu. Clearly, all these people saw and understood Yaakov to be dead. Is there a greater perception than the sense of sight? How then can Rabbi Yitzchok respond that he derives that Yaakov never died from a posuk in Yirmiyahu? What strength does a mere drasha have against the convincing testimony of the Torah as to what actually happened in real life that Yaakov Avinu was embalmed, eulogized, and buried?

Furthermore, it seems from the Gemorah that Rav Nachman accepted and agreed with Rav Yitzchok’s response, “I derive from a posuk in Yirmiyahu that Yaakov Avinu never died,” and questioned it no further. How could Rav Nachman accept this drasha, and abandon his questions from real factual events? Why did he not continue to pursue his questioning?

We see from here an incredible insight into how our holy Chazal evaluated Torah. It would seem that the truth and reality of a drasha is more factual than even the sense of sight, the greatest sensory perception that a person may have. If real life indicates that Yaakov Avinu died and a drasha from a posuk in Yirmiyahu indicates that Yaakov Avinu lives forever, we must say that the indication from the drasha is more real than the real life we see with our very eyes. If Rabbi Yitzchok darshens a posuk through the processes and instruments Divinely given at Har Sinai, then this is HaKadosh Boruch Hu Himself speaking and telling us that Yaakov Avinu never died. In view of this reality, we must say that Yoseph and his brothers and the throngs of people who participated in the funeral procession only thought that Yaakov Avinu had died.

Interestingly, we observe the vast difference between the way our holy Chazal view things to the way we view things. They are absolutely opposite. In our eyes the perception of “sight” is absolute. If we observe something happening in real life, then nothing can negate this. What can be more real than real life? That is why we had the above questions. Chazal, however, with their supreme holiness and keen perception view a drasha of a posuk as factual and as real life. If crowds of people partook in Yaakov Avinu’s funeral, it is only because they thought that he had died. The truth, as derived from a posuk in Yirmiyahu was that Yaakov never died. That is why Rav Yitzchok responded to Rav Nachman’s question from real life, “I derive it from a drasha of a posuk in Yirmiyahu.” That is also why Rav Nachman accepted Rav Yitzchok’s response and asked no further questions.

May we realize that the drashos of Chazal are in reality the words of HaKadosh Boruch Hu Himself. How fortunate are we mortals to have the great privilege of studying the divine words of HaKadosh Boruch Hu Himself. May we be zoche to dedicate and devote our lives to the study of Hashem’s Torah and to unravel its truths and its realities, its secrets and its beauties. Amen.

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