Vayechi -- Life Notice
© 2010 S.H. Parker
The final parsha (weekly reading) of Bereishit - known in some circles as "the book of dysfunctional families" - begins at 47:28:
|וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה||And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years|
On its face, there is nothing remarkable in this passage.
There is, indeed, nothing remarkable until you read the next pasuk:
|וַיְהִי יְמֵי-יַעֲקֹב, שְׁנֵי חַיָּיו--שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים, וְאַרְבָּעִים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה.||so the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were a hundred forty and seven years.|
This is Jacob's death scene. His death scene begins with "he lived."
Throughout Bereishit, there are numerous death scenes. In virtually all of the death scenes in Bereishit, there is a formula: "he lived and he died and the length of his days were ...." Sometimes "and he bore sons and daughters" is inserted. This formula is followed throughout Bereishit ... until this passage.
Certainly the patriarchs would seem to deserve a non-formulaic death notice. But it is only for Yaakov that the formula used throughout Bereishit is discarded.
Something about Yaakov, to deserve this break in formula, is significantly different.
Rabbi Dr. J.H. Hertz, late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire offers this:
|And Jacob lived. Heb. ויחי יעקב. Of how few men, asks a famous modern Jewish preacher [this is Hertz, himself], can we repeat a phrase like, 'And Jacob lived'? When many a man dies, a death-notice appears in the Press. In reality, it is a life-notice; because but for it, the world would never have known that that man had ever been alive. Only he who has been a force for human goodness, and abides in hearts and souls made better by his presence during his pilgramage on earth, can be said to have lived, only such a one is heir to immortality.|
"... he who has been a force for human goodness ... souls made better by his presence." What Jacob/Israel or, for that matter, his children had done to merit being called "a force for goodness," frankly, escapes me. But, our author thinks that there is something significant about him....
"Only he who has been a force for human goodness ... souls made better by his presence," as we learn in Avot (4:13), "a good name is greater than them all." As Hillel said "this is the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary; now, go forth and learn [i.e., 'do' Torah]" (Masekhet Shabbat 31A).