The weekly Parsha – Parshas VaYechi

This week’s Torah reading relates the dramatic last moments of Yaakov, the third and ‘chosen’ of the forefathers, as he blessed his sons and was ‘gathered to his people’. 
 
The Talmud (b.metzia 84) and the Zohar in several places compares Yaakov to Adam because both were ‘general souls’ and ‘beautiful’ perfect examples of what G-d intended when He created man. 
 
But, while Adam sinned, brought death into the world and eventually died himself the Talmud (Taanit 5b) tells us “Yaakov Avinu (the patriarch) did not die. It just seemed that way’.” 
 
In other words, Yaakov was embalmed, mourned, even buried in Kiriat Arba …… but in fact he is alive. 
 
The Torah is a book of practical ‘teaching’ (Torah means teaching), What exactly does this mean and what practical use is this to our daily lives?
 
Here is a story I hope will illustrate. It happened in White Russia some 100 years ago.
 
A very distraught woman showed up in the town of Lubavitch. Religious Jewish women did not wander about alone in those days, but this poor soul had made an arduous one-week journey because her husband had left her and someone told her that the Lubavitcher Rebbe could help. 
 
“Is this where Rebbe Shalom DovBer is? I must see him.” She pleaded to one of the Rebbe’s secretaries. “I’ve come from so far. Please, I must see him! Only he can help me.” 
 
But her cries were to no avail; the Rebbe wasn’t receiving. “If you write your request on a paper, I promise that I will give it to the Rebbe and the he will see it” Said the secretary, “but I can’t promise more than that. I’m sorry” he said apologetically. 
 
With no other choice, she found a quiet place to sit and wrote her request. Her problem was a tragic one; she was an ‘aguna’; a living widow. 
 
Her husband left the house one day and didn’t return. There were rumors that he abandoned Judaism as well, but no one was sure and no one knew where he was or where to begin searching. Now she was alone with three small children to care for and she couldn’t remarry without either a bill of divorce (called ‘Get’) or proof that he died. 
 
She was at the end of her wits; she had no money, no husband, no connections or experience in life and now it seemed that her last hope, the Rebbe, was vanishing before her eyes. “He probably won’t even read my letter.” She said to herself. But she wrote the letter, handed it in and hoped for the best. 
 
Surprisingly in less than an hour the secretary returned with her letter pointing to the Rebbe’s one word comment written in the margin “Warsaw”.  He explained “The Rebbe says you should go to Warsaw.” 
 
At first, she was relieved but her smile faded as she realized there was no more to the message. “But where in Warsaw? Warsaw is huge! What should I do there?” 
 
“That all the Rebbe answered,” replied the secretary. “I’m sorry, that’s all that is written here. I don’t know how to answer your questions. The Rebbe just says you should go to Warsaw.” 
 
When the Chassidim heard the story, they assured her there was nothing to worry about. The Rebbe was never wrong. They gathered up enough money for a round-trip train ticket and room and board for a month, and the next morning she was on the train.
 
After another long arduous journey, she got off at the Warsaw depot and stood bewildered in the huge station with her old suitcase with no idea where to go or what to do. 
 
People were rushing by, occasionally bumping into her. She had the address of a hotel on a crumpled piece of paper in her hand but she didn’t want to walk anymore, she was tired, she just wanted to give up. 
 
She was alone and confused and she wanted to cry, someone almost knocked her over. “Maybe I’ll just go back home,” the thought was still in the corner of her mind when she heard Yiddish, “Excuse me”. She snapped out of her melancholy and saw standing before her a neatly dressed religious Jew. “Excuse me. Are you feeling all right? Perhaps I can be of some help? Are you waiting for someone?” 
 
“I’m here because my husband left me and the Lubavitch Rebbe …” she poured out her entire sad story. 
 
“Tell me,” Said the man when she finished, “what was your husband’s name? How did he look?” 
 
“Ehh, well…” She was still in a semi-daze, “his name was Fival but maybe he changed it. And he was heavyset, walked with a sort of a limp, and he had a thick black beard, but it could be he’s shaved it off, and he has a sort of mark on his forehead. It’s been two years, who knows how he looks now or if he’s even alive.” She almost began to weep again when he interrupted. 
 
“I think I know where he is! Please follow me. I’ll show you where to go. It’s not far from here.” He escorted her out of the station, pointed to a large busy intersection and gave her directions how to go to a certain tavern. “I’m sure that your husband is sitting in the back of that bar playing cards and gambling. That’s where he spends his time.” 
 
As in a dream she thanked the stranger, began walking according to his instructions and after a few minutes she was standing before the door of the bar he had described. She took a deep breath, entered the dimly lit noisy, smoke-filled room carrying her battered suitcase, feeling terribly out of place and made her way to the back of the room.
 
Waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dark, she stared blankly at the figures sitting there playing cards
 
Suddenly one of the gamblers cried out in shock. “Yaaaa!! Sara!!! How did you get here??!!” She could see clearly now, and the man sounded something like her husband, he was thinner with no beard … but it was his voice! 
 
When she answered that the Rebbe in Lubavitch and a religious Jew in the train station told her, he stood and began swaying back and forth like a mad man, running his fingers through his hair, then waving his arms and repeating to himself, “Rebbe? Jews? I don’t know any Rebbes or Jews!! How could anyone know I’m here? How?!! Who told you????” 
 
He was so stunned that he fell weeping to his knees before her, begging forgiveness. One thing led to another and just a few days later, he shamefacedly returned with her back home and repented completely of his evil ways. It was an open miracle.
 
The next year she traveled again to Lubavitch with a letter of gratitude but this time the Rebbe’s secretary suggested that she stand outside the Rebbe’s door and when the Rebbe came out, she could give it to him and try to thank him personally. 
 
She took her place, holding her letter and waiting nervously, this was the first time she would actually see the Rebbe! Then the big moment arrived, the door opened and he came out! 
 
She took one look and fell unconscious on the floor! 
 
When she opened her eyes ten minutes later, the doctor was kneeling over her. “You were so excited that you passed out.” He said as she began to sit up. 
 
“Was that the Rebbe?” she asked, “Was that him?” 
 
“Why certainly,” the doctor answered, “Why do you ask? Didn’t you know that that was the Rebbe? Then why did you faint?” 
 
“Because” she looked the doctor in the eyes, “THAT was the man who helped me in the train station in Warsaw!!” 
 
Later the Rebbe’s secretary made some calculations and figured out that the day she saw the Rebbe in the station was the same day that he had entered the Rebbe’s room and found him sitting motionless, eyes open, oblivious to his surroundings, as though he was ‘somewhere else’. 
 
Strange as this story is, there are similar ones about the Fourth Rebbe of Chabad, Rebbe Shmuel as well as the Baal Shem Tov and his successor ‘the Maggid of Mezeritz’ being in ‘two places’ at once or even appearing physically in this world years after they died. 
 
This explains the meaning of “Yaakov Avinu never died”. 
 
The Torah tells us that, every Jew has two bodies (see Rashi Gen. 2:7)
 
In addition to a normal, ‘natural’ physical one, every Jew also has a TRUE (but concealed) eternal body which will be revealed at the ‘Raising of the Dead” Then it will be revealed that BOTH of these bodies are ‘higher’ than the soul!!!
 
In a book written over 400 years ago called “Avodat HaKodesh” by Rabbi Mair ben Gabbai (Part 2 chapt. 19) he explains that this ‘real’ true, eternal, ‘beautiful’ body should have been an active inheritance to each of us from Adam, and just as he was supposed to live physically forever (Gen.2:17) so were we.
 
When Adam sinned, he deactivated this body and brought death to the world. But Yaakov, thousands of years later, began to activate it, so it would be revealed in himself (and dormant in each of us).
.  
That is why, although Yaakov seemed to die ‘externally’, he ‘truly’ lives. (Other Tzadikim after Yaakov also activated this eternal body. Among them: Moses and King David (both are also described in the Talmud as ‘not dying’), Eliyahu the prophet (his live body went into heaven) Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (after his death he would come home each Shabbos and make ‘Kiddush’ for his family – Ktuvot 104a) and, interestingly, Moshiach will also do so – (Yalkut Shimoni 367).  And also, the Jewish people AS A NATION, are physically eternal (as the Talmud continues, “Just as Yaakov’s seed are alive so he lives”). 
 
What does all this mean to us? 
 
This reminds us that our body is much holier and more eternal than even the soul, and that this physical world, not the upper spiritual heavens, is the only place that the true essence of G-d is to be found. But now this is concealed until the dead ‘raise’.
 
So, when we consider how ‘eternal’ each instant of this physical world is …. We can feel tremendous Joy and Happiness when we do G-d’s Commandments here and now…with the physical body. 
 
It’s called “Simcha Shel Mitzva” the joy of connecting the physical to G-d. 
 
It is this ‘Simcha’ that we will experience in its fullest in the Days of Moshiach “Then will our mouths be filled with laughter” (Psalms 126),
 
As the Lubavitch Rebbe said, Moshiach is here! Standing before us!! It all depends on us. One more good deed, word or even thought can and bring …. Moshiach NOW!!