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And the Living Shall Take to Heart

“And Yaakov lived in Egypt for 17 years; and the days of Yaakov, the years of his life, were 147 years.”

We’re closing the first book of Tanach this week with parshas Vayechi and in this last Torah portion of Bereishis, we read the details of Yaakov’s last days. Despite that, the first word – and name – reads, “and he lived.” In fact, the word death/died isn’t used at all in this parshah. Instead, the possuk states, “ויגוע,” “and he breathed his last.”

The Torah specifically mentions Yaakov’s last 17 years separately. Yaakov lived those 17 years in an environment that was the antithesis of all he stood for. Not only did he live, but he thrived, maintaining his identity and raising his children to follow in his ways. The possuk never actually says that Yaakov dies because he doesn’t – he lives on in in his children and the way that they (we) live their lives.

And that’s why we end off Chumash Bereishis and the stories of our Patriarchs with Vayechi: We emphasize once again that the Torah is a manual, a guide for life, and not a history book. We’ve been living for thousands of years in various hostile environments, but we too can live in the times and places we find ourselves in. We can keep our identity and heritage strong even in the midst of “Egypt”. When we emulate our forefathers, we keep them alive – and keep ourselves alive.

I’ll close with the traditional phrase recited at the conclusion of each of the five books of the Chumash:

חזק חזק ונתחזק!

Strength, strength, and be strengthened!

(Adapted from the Kehot Chumash, p. 295.)

Pens used: Staedtler calligraphy pen with extra fine nib and Gelly Roll gel pen.⁣

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