Torah Reflections: Conversations on the Weekly Parshah
Integrating Torah into one’s life through reflection and conversation can be an incredibly fun and engaging experience. It’s a journey of discovery, where ancient wisdom and timeless teachings come to life in our daily experiences. Through reflection, we have the opportunity to dive deep into the rich tapestry of Torah, extracting profound insights and lessons that resonate with our modern lives. The joy lies in the ‘aha’ moments, those instances when a Torah verse or story suddenly connects with our personal challenges, aspirations, and values. And when we engage in conversations about Torah with others, it becomes an interactive exploration, where diverse perspectives and interpretations enhance our understanding. These dialogues often spark excitement and intellectual curiosity, making the learning process both enjoyable and fulfilling. Torah becomes a vibrant and dynamic part of our lives, offering not just guidance but also a source of endless fascination, connection, and growth.
NOTE: Don’t feel obligated to go through every source or answer all the questions—unless you want to. Even one source, or one question will give you plenty of material for discussion and meditation. Enjoy this!
Some thoughts about Parshat Vayechi
“And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; so the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were a hundred forty and seven years. And the time drew near that Israel must die; and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him: ‘If now I have found favour in your sight, put, I pray you, your hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I pray you, in Egypt” (Genesis 47:28-9).
In the later years of Jacob’s life, dwelling in Egypt at the age of 147, he contemplated the very essence of existence. Seeking his son Joseph, he expressed a heartfelt desire not to be laid to rest in the foreign soil of Egypt but in the ancestral land (Genesis 47:28-9). Scriptures led to introspection, with verses from Chronicles and Psalms highlighting life’s transient nature: “For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope” (I Chronicles 29:15). Similarly, Psalms poignantly contributed: “Hear my prayer, O L-rd, and my cry for help; do not be silent at my tears; for I am a stranger with You, a sojourner like all my fathers” (Psalms 39:13).
The Etz Yosef adds depth, explaining the idea of there being ‘no hope’ is rooted in the inevitability of physical death since the days of Adam and Chava. But then, a transformative idea emerges—Jacob’s imminent days are not devoid of hope but are “entirely good and long” (Taanit 5b; Berachos 18b). As the Talmud teaches, tzaddikim live on after death.
The reflection encourages us to go beyond the dichotomy between This World and the World to Come, urging a focus on spiritual growth in the present. Death is a temporary passage; the important thing is to seize each fleeting moment. Savoring life, not fixating on longevity, becomes paramount. Jacob’s contemplation is a timeless invitation, urging purposeful, wise living, anchored in the awareness of life’s transience but also the hope embedded in each passing moment.
Questions for discussion and personal reflection:
- Have you ever thought about life as something transient, like a passing shadow, and how does that make you view your own life?
- Does the inevitability of physical death contradict the importance of hope in your perspective on life and its significance?
- Considering the notion that Jacob’s upcoming days are seen as “entirely good and long,” how can you bring this positive outlook into your everyday life, understanding that the present moment contributes to something greater?
- What do you think about the idea that righteous individuals remain “alive” even after death, and how might this influence your thoughts on the purpose of life and the legacy you leave behind?
- Viktor Frankl said, “it is never too late, and it is always high time,” How does this idea encourage you to reflect on your life, especially during important moments of self-evaluation?
By Rabbi Tani Burton
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