This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Vayigash (5765)
This week we read of the joyous and dramatic reunion of Josef with his family twenty two years after he had been sold into slavery.
It would be possible to write a book about each sentence spoken between them, but one statement stands out:
Yosef brings his father, Jacob, before Pharaoh and Pharaoh innocently asks the aged patriarch, 'How old are you?' Upon which Jacob answers:
"The days of the years of my sojourn, thirty and one hundred years FEW and BAD (47:9)"
This is very strange. Why did he have to unload all this negativity. and on Pharaoh of all people!? Why didn't he just say "I'm 130", and finished! What was Pharaoh supposed to do with this information?
Not only that, one hundred and thirty years is NOT few! It was ten years over the allotted one hundred and twenty (Gen. 1:3) and Jacob still had seventeen more to go.
And his life was not BAD!! He was one of the founders of Judaism, all his sons were righteous men and one was even ruler of the entire world!! What is so bad about that?!
And finally; what is the Torah trying to tell us here? What can we learn from Jacob's negative statements? Certainly not that we should follow his example!
To understand this here is a story I saw in Sichot HaShavoa (VaYishlach 5765).
In one of the small towns of Russia some two hundred years ago lived a rich Jew. He owned several factories and was wealthy as a king. His home was nothing short of a palace and was decked out with the finest furniture, the most expensive silverware, the plushest carpets and tapestries. only the
best. But his prize possession was a huge painting of an old Rabbi.
In fact this magnificent work of art was his only link to Judaism.
He had been raised in a Chassidic home in a truly joyous Torah atmosphere but when he was in his early teens he discovered another world; the REAL
world: The world of business!
Action! Success! Profit! Competition, Travel! And he succeeded beyond his fondest dreams. Soon he was rubbing elbows with high society, attending pompous parties and gala dinners like a king. The ways of Judaism had no place here! He dropped it all and he was so occupied that he didn't miss it
one bit. Almost.
Occasionally, especially when he was alone, he felt a vague emptiness. He would never go back to being observant. that was for sure! But still something was nagging him. So he commissioned the picture.
It was a magnificent picture of the 'Alter (old) Rebbe' Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chassidut and author of the Holy book 'Tanya'. The artist must have been truly inspired because the picture, especially the Rebbe's eyes, radiated majesty, love, wisdom, infinite seriousness and unexplainable joy at the same time.
Our hero hung it in his office behind his desk where everyone entering would see it and occasionally when he was alone he would light up a cigarette, swing his plush swivel-chair around, tilt back and gaze at the Rebbe's eyes.
But that was the only Jewish thing he did.
Then, one day, for some reason, he had an urge to pick up a Jewish calendar and, lo and behold, he saw that tomorrow night would be the nineteenth of the Jewish month of Kislev!
To the uninformed reader this means nothing, but to a Chabad Chassid this is the 'Holiday of Holidays'! The date that the Alter Rebbe (the one whose picture was on his wall) was released from prison and began revealing secrets of the Torah designed to bring Moshiach and the future redemption.
A crazy idea crossed his mind; he would invite Chassidim to his house for a 'Farbringin'! Wow! Chassidim in HIS house. What a joke!! The next morning he sent some money to one of the Chassidim and told him to buy kosher food and bring some friends.
It had been over twenty years since he had seen such a Chassidic gathering as a young boy, and he really didn't take the whole thing seriously. So when the Chassidim dressed in their black garments started filling his house and even brought a Mezuzah and tacked it on his door, he enjoyed the sight as a sort of quaint little theater play in his house with himself as the only spectator.
But he was in for a surprise.
The Farbringen began on a lively note. The Chassidim sang happy songs, made L'Chaims, slapped him on the back and even danced, drawing him into their circle.
But after an hour or so they sat back down and began talking about serving the Creator and stopped paying attention to their rich host. They told stories about the Rebbe and what he demands from his Chassidim. The songs became deeper, more heartfelt and filled with Jewish longing and suddenly they were in another world.
The time passed quickly and before they knew it the rooster was crowing and the first beams of sunlight illuminated the sky and shined through the
Then, for a second they all fell silent. There was a strange loud wailing and moaning almost animal sound coming from somewhere in the house. They turned to the rich man but he wasn't there. Again they heard it, perhaps it was crying. They became worried. It was coming from the direction of his office.
The Chassidim ran in the direction of the groaning and sure enough it was from the office. They opened the door and were greeted by a startling sight.
The rich man was lying on the table on his stomach; his head raised to the picture of the Rebbe and he was pleading for mercy. "Please, Rebbe! Help me!! I don't want my money; I don't want anything but to be a good Jew. To do the commandments of G-d! Help me!! Help me!!"
They watched in amazement as he continued for almost an hour and finally burst out into uncontrollable weeping.
Sure enough that very day he bought a pair of Tefillin, had his kitchen made kosher, bought Mezuzahs for all the doors and completely changed his life.
What happened? How could his entire personality change so drastically so suddenly?
The answer is; he simply felt the truth.
Suddenly he realized that the Rebbe and all he stood for was real: there really is a Creator who creates all being constantly, the Jewish people really are His children and the Torah really is His will.. and all the rest is secondary.
And this is what the patriarch Yaakov meant when he said his years were Few and Bad.
The forefathers, although they were human beings that really lived and did all the things the Torah says they did, also opened spiritual pipelines.
Abraham opened the 'pipeline' of Loving G-d. Issac, fearing G-d and Jacob was the aspect of revealing G-d: unending truth in this world as the prophet Micha says "Ti'tain Emes L'Yaakov" (7:20) ... .
Another way of looking at it is: Abraham and Issac corresponded to the First and Second Temples which were both destroyed. But Jacob corresponds to the Third Temple which, like truth, will never end: ETERNAL PHYSICALITY.
The TRUTH is that the Jewish body is also eternal. That is how G-d created it and if Adam hadn't sinned or if their hadn't been the sin of the Golden Calf there would have been no death in the world. only eternal physical life (When G-d, the source of all life, revealed Himself at the Giving of the Torah all impurity i.e. death, ceased).
So it will be when Moshiach arrives: the TRUTH will be revealed; both the Third Temple and PHYSICAL life will be eternal.
And this is what Jacob was living for, that's why he said that 130 years of life, even his holy life, were few and bad; because any number of years of life are be reckoned as FEW and BAD in comparison to Eternal Life. Something like what happened to the hero of our story,
And he wanted Pharaoh to know it as well; because the true goal of ALL MANKIND is to bring Moshiach.
As we say in the 'Alenu' prayer thrice daily regarding the era of Moshiach:
"Every knee will bend, every tongue will swear, Even the Evil of the world will turn to YOU G-d."
And that is what we too should be living for and thinking of 'every instant of our lives':
We want Moshiach NOW!!
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.