Skip to content


click vayechi 2018- 2019 to download


Parashat Vayechi

When you think of all your inner conflicts and put them out there on paper, you will notice how many there are. Should I stay later at the party, or should I get up early to pray like a mentsch?  Should I protect my best friend, or should I be honest when asked information regarding a shidduch? Should I work harder or be calmer? Am I who I was, or am I who I want to be?

Who are you, anyway? The you that wants to be slim and fit, or the you who wants to eat sufganiyot? Life seems to consist of struggle between short-sighted self and long-sighted self; balancing these two is an art (Daniel Kahneman). In the course of the day, a person is said to average between 12,000 and 70,000 thoughts (National Science Foundation). That is quite a range. Even at the lower end, is it possible that all 12,000 thoughts are really you? So, how do I know who the real me is?

One music composer complained to his psychologist, the tune in my head keeps interfering with the song in my heart. It seems that everyone has the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome, and Man is truly not one, but truly two. G-d created man with this syndrome. וַיִּיצֶר֩ יְקֹוָ֨ק אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם. Why are there two “yuds” in the Hebrew word, “and He created”? R’ Shimon Ben Pazi teaches  אוי לי מיוצרי ואוי לי מיצרי. That man’s life is the balance between Woe is to me from my G-d, versus Woe is to me from my Inclinations. (Berachot 61a) The internal conflict between my G-d and my Inclination is an eternal one.

This is true for all humanity as a whole, but no being on the planet is more Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde than the Jew. Rabbeinu Bachye learns all this from our Parasha. Why does the Torah sometimes refer to Yaakov as Yaakov וַיְחִ֤י יַעֲקֹב֙ and sometimes refer to him as Yisrael וַיִּקְרְב֣וּ יְמֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֘ לָמוּת֒? Didn’t the angel already say that Yaakov’s name should be changed to Yisrael וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לֹ֤א יַעֲקֹב֙ יֵאָמֵ֥ר עוֹד֙ שִׁמְךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל?

The answer is that Yaakov is the sub-name. While Yisrael is the name of glory. And it is not a contradiction. And every time Yaakov is called Yaakov, and not Yisrael, it was intentional. The name Yaakov is for the body, when busy with bodily, physical, materialistic, Olam Hazeh, exile, or death. And the name Yisrael is used in connection with G-dliness, Olam Haba, living in E Yisrael… And also we find that Yisrael refers to men, while Yaakov refers to the women, כֹּ֤ה תֹאמַר֙ לְבֵ֣ית יַעֲקֹ֔ב וְתַגֵּ֖יד לִבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל. For the woman’s role is to make the home a place from which the spirituality of the man that lives there can soar.

It is impossible for man to be only spiritual, to be only Yisrael and to disregard Yaakov. One cannot live without the material, the physical – in short, without Olam Hazeh. As the Talmud teaches, in contrast to the name change of Avraham and Sarah, the name of Yisrael does not nullify the name of Yaakov. (Berachot 13) Rather, a person should consider the G-dly component of himself as the main one, and the physical body as secondary. And when a person allows himself to be enticed by bodily indulgences, he is Yaakov and not Yisrael… (See R Bachye)

When Yaakov heard that Yosef was alive and he rejoiced in his heart once again, Ruach Hakodesh returned to Yaakov. And right then, the name Yisrael returned to him. וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל רַ֛ב עוֹד־יוֹסֵ֥ף בְּנִ֖י חָ֑י. The last time before this that Yaakov was called Yisrael was the last time he saw Yosef, before he was sent to look for his brothers. When Yaakov is told to go down to the Egyptian exile, or told of death or of  losing his Ruach Hakodesh , he is, again, referred to as Yaakov.

It is so strange how sometimes, within the same episode, or even in the same passuk, Yaakov can be both Yaakov and Yisrael. When G-d revealed Himself to Yaakov to tell him that he should go down to Egypt, the passuk says.  וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֤ים׀ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל֙ בְּמַרְאֹ֣ת הַלַּ֔יְלָה וַיֹּ֖אמֶר יַעֲקֹ֣ב׀ יַעֲקֹ֑ב וַיֹּ֖אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי:  And Elokim said to Yisrael in the visions of the night, and He said, Yaakov, Yaakov, and he (Yaakov) said, here I am (I am ready).How do we reconcile the use of two names in the same passuk?

The Baal Haturim always has phenomenal insights. The letter ש  of the name Yisrael here in the Torah scroll has 7 “crowns”. This is because we know that a Tzaddik falls 7 seven times in his life and arises (Mishlei 24 16). For Yaakov, at this point, had encountered 7 challenges, and he was saved from all of them. Esav, Lavan, the Angel, Dinah, Yosef, Shimon, and Binyamin (See Tanchum Miketz 10, BR 79a).

So, a Jew has ups and downs. A Jew has emotions.  A Jew has tests in life.  And no matter what test you are going through, G-d prefers you more than anything else in His Universe. כִּֽי־יַעֲקֹ֗ב בָּחַ֣ר ל֣וֹ יָ֑הּ יִ֝שְׂרָאֵ֗ל לִסְגֻלָּתֽוֹ: For G-d has chosen Yaakov for Himself (Tehillim 135; see Malbim)  You are G-d’s favorite, even when you can’t stand yourself.

It is impossible to eradicate emotion; it is only possible to ignore it, or to question its truth. Emotions come and emotions go, but the values you respect define who you really are. The person you are is the person you fight to stand up to become. You are the person you pray to G-d that He let you be. Yaakov reached the point of deserving seven crowns for having met seven major challenges in his life and “getting up” after each one. This ability to get up again is the glorious Yisrael, even if he is on his way down to exile.

This problem of not tapping into the Yisrael we are inside is the reason why we don’t have the Beit Hamikdash today. As the Messilat Yesharim writes in chapter 19, “And if a person says, who am I? And what have I, hidden inside me, that I can pray for the end of the exile, for Jerusalem, etc… Can my prayers gather in the exiles? And sprout a redemption? The answer is like we learnt (Sanhedrin 38):  For this, a person is created alone, in order that each person can say, “For me, the world was created”, and this brings G-d pleasure, that his sons pray for the Beit Hamikdash. And even if his prayers are not answered immediately, for the time has not yet come, or for some other reason, still, he has done his part, and G-d is happy with this…” The reason why the Temple is not rebuilt, the reason why Mashiach is not here, is because we do not believe in ourselves; we do not recognize that our prayers can make a difference. We do not realize that the world that each and every one of us finds himself in, is the world that was created for that person. This is the belief of the Yisrael. Only by realizing that even when we are in the Yaakov mode G-d loves us more than anything, will the Yisrael in each one of us shine.

About the author, Yosef

Leave a Comment