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Tuesday, Tevet 12, 5777 / January 10, 2017


Parshat Vayechi begins: “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years. The total of Yaakov’s days, the years of his life, was one hundred and forty seven years.”


Q. In the Torah every word is exact. There is not even an extra letter in the Torah. Why does the Torah have to tell us that Yaakov lived in Egypt seventeen years? We can figure this out on our own, because when Yaakov came to Egypt he told Pharaoh that he was 130 years. If the Torah would just tell us that he lived 147 years, we would know that he lived in Egypt 17 years. What is the Torah telling us with the words, “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years”?


A.  The Torah is not telling us how many years Yaakov was in Egypt. The emphasis here is “Vayechi Yaakov” – “Yaakov lived.” The Torah emphasizes that although Yaakov was in the beginning afraid to go to Egypt, as we read in last week’s Parsha, yet in the end when he saw that his family kept together and were not influenced by the Egyptian culture and way of life, these seventeen years were his best years. These were seventeen living years, after all the trials and sufferings he went through until this point in his life.


Our sages say, “The wicked are called dead even while they are alive, and the righteous are alive even when they are dead!”


Life is not only a physical state, it is a combination of spiritual and physical. When one has Nachas from their children and a purpose in life then they are called alive. But when there is no goal and purpose, or there is no Nachas from the children and grandchildren, then even while alive it’s not much of a life. The Torah tells us that Yaakov had great Nachas as the entire family was together in Egypt. Even Joseph, the ruler of Egypt, and his children, with all their wealth and power, didn’t stray from the morals and ideology of Yaakov.


Q.  In the Parsha, Yaakov, before his passing, calls his son Joseph and says to him, “Swear to me that you will do for me true kindness, do not bury me in Egypt… Carry me out of Egypt and bury me with my fathers in their grave.” Why did Yaakov ask Joseph to do this “true kindness” and not one of his older children? Also, what is the meaning of “True kindness”? Is there a non true kindness?


A. Yaakov chose Joseph because as ruler of Egypt, Joseph was the only one who would be able to get Pharaoh to allow him to do this. Even Joseph had difficulty, as Pharaoh revered Yaakov greatly and wanted him to be buried in Egypt. Only because Yaakov made Joseph swear that he will do this, did Pharaoh allow Joseph to take him out of Egypt to be buried in Hebron.


Our sages say that the kindness one does for someone who is deceased is called “true kindness,” because one does not expect anything in return, as the person is deceased. But any kindness done to the living may have an ulterior motive attached to it. Thus, Yaakov called the kindness associated with his burial “true kindness.”