Parashas Vayechi

This week’s parashah begins: “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years.” Several commentators remark that during these seventeen years Yaakov was able to “truly live,” in that he enjoyed a life of serenity, free from the ordeals he had suffered throughout his previous years. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 66:4 teaches that a righteous man initially suffers afflictions, but afterward, in the end, is granted serenity. We previously presented some of the Maggid’s discussion of this matter. Among other things, the Maggid says that the same pattern applies to the Jewish People as a whole. The Maggid expounds on this point at length, and here we present a portion of the Maggid’s discussion.
In Tehillim 142:6-7, David HaMelech declares: “I have cried out to You, Hashem. I have said: ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’ Hearken to my cry, for I have been brought very low.” And in Tehillim 13:2-4, David pleads:
Until when will You endlessly forget me? Until when will You hide Your face from me? Until when must I devise strategies for myself, to deal with what troubles my heart all day long? Until when will my enemy be exalted above me? Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.
In a similar vein, Yirmiyahu exclaims (Eichah 5:20): “Why do You endlessly forget us – forsake us for length of days?” The Maggid notes that since forgetting is something that happens unintentionally, it seemingly does not make sense to ask how long it will last. Also, there seems to be an inconsistency in the verse from Eichah. In the first half of the verse, Yirmiyahu speaks of a period of forgetting of unlimited duration, but in the second half he speaks of a period of time which, while long, does have a limit. The Maggid sets out to explain the idea behind the foregoing passages.
He brings out the point with a parable. An aging man had an only daughter, young in age. Before his death, he asked one of his friends to serve as his daughter’s custodian, managing all the assets that she would inherit from him. The friend agreed. The father instructed his friend emphatically to hold all these assets in safekeeping for the daughter’s marriage. He should not give her any of the money for food, clothes, or other living expenses; rather, the daughter should support herself by working.
Eventually the father died, and the daughter’s inheritance came into the hands of the custodian. Meantime, the daughter supported herself, as her father had directed. After some time, some of the relatives approached the custodian, reported to him that the girl was downtrodden because of the limited income she was able to earn, and told him he had to supplement her income with funds from the inheritance. The custodian replied that he could not do so, for the father had told him to hold the money for the girl’s marriage. Some time later, the relatives approached the custodian again. They reported to him that the girl was walking around barefoot and almost naked, but the custodian did not respond.
More time passed, and the girl was struck with a mortal illness. A considerable sum was needed to cover doctor fees and other medical expenses. The relatives approached the custodian once again to tell him to give the girl money, and the custodian again replied that he could not do so because of the father’s instructions. The relatives then berated the custodian, saying: “Let it be as you say. But if you hold back from giving her the money she needs for the medical expenses, who exactly are you going to marry off? The girl is close to dying. If you don’t give her money now, until when will you hold the money in safekeeping?”
The parallel is as follows. The Maggid explains in a previous segment of his discussion of our parashah’s opening verse (and elsewhere as well) that the eternal blessings we are due to receive in the end of days are the product of the afflictions we have been suffering during our long exile. Accordingly, Hashem cautioned us not to be anxious and try to hasten the redemption. Thus, Yeshayah declares (verse 28:16): “Let the believer not expect it soon.” In Shir HaShirim 2:7, it is written: “I adjure you, O daughters of Yerushalayim, by the gazelles, and by the hinds of the field, that you not awaken nor stir up love, until it please.” The Midrash in Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:18 explains that Hashem is warning the Jewish People not to press for the end of the exile.
We can liken the blessing of the end of days to a growing fruit. So long as the fruit remains on the tree, it will continue to develop properly, and ultimately it will ripen well. Similarly, so long as the exile with its afflictions continues, the eventual blessing grows correspondingly, progressing to the state of completion it will reach when, in the words of Yeshayah 60:20, our days of mourning are completed. But we cry out to Hashem that our afflictions have grown too great to bear. We say that we are at the brink of death. How can we be comforted by the promise of ultimate blessing?
This is the idea behind David’s declaration: “I have cried out to You, Hashem. I have said: ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’ Hearken to my cry, for I have been brought very low.” David is saying: “When I cried out over the trials I am suffering, I would say to myself, ‘You are my refuge, my portion of in the land of the living.’ I would hope for the eventual blessing that would sprout from the afflictions. But now I can no longer bear the suffering. I have been brought very low. If not now, when?” The theme is echoed by the other passage from Tehillim that we quoted at the outset: “Until when will you endlessly forget me?”
We can explain along the seeming inconsistency in the two halves of the verse from Eichah. True, there is a limit to the duration of the exile, but if the exile goes on for too long, it will be as if all memory of us has died off and we are forgotten forever. Accordingly, in Tehillim 143:7: “Answer me soon, Hashem, my spirit is spent. Do not conceal You face from me, lest I become like those to descend into the pit.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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