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Parashat Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

“Jacob was told, “Behold!-Your son Joseph has come to you.”
So Israel exerted himself and sat up in bed.” (Genesis 48:2)

Jacob dies a good death in Parashat Vayechi. Or does he?

Jacob lives in Goshen seventeen years in good enough health until now. Surrounded by his sons and grandsons, he manages a final word and blessing for each and then, “… vayig’va, he expired, and was gathered to his people.” (Gen. 49:33) Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) notices the Torah states, “vayig’va vayamat, and he expired and he died…” to describe both Abraham’s and Isaac’s deaths (Gen. 25:8; 35:29, respectively). Because the Torah says only vayig’va for Jacob, Rashi concludes he does not die, but lives eternally.

Rabbi Avraham Isaac (1865-1935; first Chief Rabbi of Palestine during the British Mandate) explains
this makes sense only if you distinguish between the body and the soul. G’viya, or expiring, refers to the cessation of bodily functions. Mita, or dying, refers to the purging of the soul from the body so it can cleave to God. G’viya is physical and mita is spiritual.

That’s why the Torah uses the name Jacob in this particular verse (he is sometimes Jacob and sometimes Israel in Vayechi). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all work to “father” a Jewish nation. But only Jacob can say all his children are included in the Children of Israel (unlike Ishmael and Esau). So while his body may wear out, his soul needs no purging; it’s already close to God. Jacob the man may expire, but Israel the People is eternal (Malachi 3:6).

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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