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Parshas Vayechi - Living & Preparing for Eternity     16 Teves 5781

12/30/2020 09:13:52 PM


One of the most awkward, sensitive, and deeply important topics of discussion in life is death. Death is something we all cognitively understand will happen to us, yet no one truly grapples with the reality that it will ever happen to them. Death is, no doubt, the most uncomfortable area of conversation with which I as a rabbi must deal. There is a famous story in Tales Out of Shul where Rabbi Feldman remarked to the people attending a funeral that people think there are two clubs in life: the club of which the person whose body lying before them was a member, and the club everyone thought they belonged to. No one wants to think about death in general, especially not their own. Nevertheless…….. 

The Gemara says that whoever will prepare on erev Shabbos will have what to eat on Shabbos. The six days of the week are physical, focused on the mundane. Shabbos, on the other hand, is a day of rest that is the spiritual counterpart to the weekdays. This world is viewed as the six days to work and accomplish to put away for the day of rest, synonymous to the next world, the world to come. Therefore, just as we prepare for the Shabbos in this world, so, too, we prepare for the Shabbos in the world to come.

The preparation a person does in this world for the next world is not only helpful for himself or herself, but for the family each of us will leave behind. The rule in life is the more we prepare for something and think ahead, the easier it will be for the spouse/children/community who are left behind.  Additionally, the more clarity there is, the less machlokes/disputes will arise among the family. In addition, if a person is clear regarding his/her final wishes - whether leaving clear instructions to prepare for life-ending scenarios or where to be buried – such clarity will guide and comfort the family, providing them with peace of mind, not having to guess as to the true wishes of their departed loved one. There are countless numbers of families, all of whom were well-intended yet ended up not speaking to each other over matters that were left vague by a parent. How painful it must be for the neshama of parents who witnessed such discord between their children at this painful, difficult point when it is too late for them to intervene. If they had only left clear instructions, the Neshama would be imbued with Menuchas HaNefesh, literally would be able to rest in peace. This important lesson is clearly detailed in the Torah itself……

In this week’s parsha Vayechi the Torah states in Bereishis 47:29-31 "ויקרבו ימי ישראל למות ויקרא לבנו ליוסף ויאמר לו אם נא מצאתי חן בעינך שים נא תחת ירכי ועשית עמדי חסד ואמת אל נא תקברני במצרים. ושכבתי עם אבותי ונשאתני ממצרים וקברתני בקברתם ויאמר אנכי אעשה כדברך. ויאמר השבעה לי וישבע לו וישתחו ישראל על ראש המטה".  “ - When Yisrael [Yakov] realized that he would soon die, he called for his son Yosef. Yakov said, 'If you really want to do me a kindness, place your hand under my thigh. Act towards me with truth and kindness, and do not bury me in Egypt. Let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their grave’. Yosef replied, “I will do as you say.”  

These verses describe Yakov’s request to be buried with his forefathers in Israel and not in Egypt. Apparently, it was insufficient for Yakov just to ask for this; he insisted his son Yosef take an oath to ensure he would follow through. *Rav Zvi Solomon, in his sefer Kavod HaAvos, raises an interesting point. The fact that Yakov required his son Yosef to swear indicates that the mitzva of honoring your mother and father applies not only during their lifetime; it applies even after they have passed away, quoting the Gemara Kiddushin 31b and also codified in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 240:9. If that’s the case - that the Mitzva to honor our parents applies even in death, - why was it necessary for Yosef to swear? He was reliable. Surely Yosef, who fulfilled all the Mitzvos, would continue to do so! Rabbi Solomon goes through a beautiful discourse regarding the difference of opinion between the Ramban and Rebbi Akiva Eiger’s understanding of Yosef’s obligations. For full detail, refer to Kavod HaAvos, pgs 219-222. To paraphrase Rebbi Akiva Eiger’s explanation, there are two kinds of last will testaments that parents may leave for their children. The primary will address how to distribute the assets and divide the estate in a peaceful, equitable manner. The secondary will address an issue which is more spiritual and which, in the case of Yakov, was where he demanded to be buried. The monetary issues of how to pay off the deceased’s debts and distribute assets speaks to the surviving loved ones. The deceased does not really care about these distributions after he/she is gone. The physical body ceases to exist; all physical association therefore also stops. In contrast to the physical, however, is the spiritual well-being of the Neshama/soul. It is this concern which is of extreme concern - even after death.  Therefore, Yakov knew that all ordinary arrangements would be taken care of by Yosef because he would honor his father. The deeper question or concern Yakov had would be the pressure Yosef might feel to have his father buried in Egypt, and that was what Yakov needed to make sure would not happen. Yakov was concerned for his after-life. Being buried in Egypt would cause him pain during Techiyas HaMeisim. He also feared that the Egyptians might worship his grave. After all, it was in Yakov’s merit that the last five years of the famine was furloughed for a later time in Egyptian history. From here we see, brilliantly brought out by Rabbi Solomon, that the obligation to honor a parent is not limited to this world; it extends even beyond. For this and other issues, including reciting Kaddish, giving charity in their name, and learning for their namesake, a nachas ruach is brought to their souls.

This coming Shabbos has been coined T.E.A.M. Shabbos (Traditional End-of-Life Awareness Movement) by NASCK (National Association of Chevra Kaddisha), an organization that deals with end-of-life questions and situations. This coming Shabbos, shuls and organizations throughout the world will dedicate lectures, shiurim, and materials on this all-important part of life. Jewish belief is that there is an after-life; the Neshama lives on, and we anticipate Techiyas HaMeisim (revival of the dead) in the Messianic time.

The all-important Mitzva of Kibbud Av VaEim, honoring your mother and father, is in full focus this week. Parents have an opportunity to ease the burden on their families and prepare for the inevitable after 120. Become aware of end-of-life issues and prepare properly so that our children can continue to honor us properly in this world and the next. If we give them the tools to obey and fulfill the commandment of honoring their parents, then our children should merit the promise and the reward of this mitzva to have long life themselves!


Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Rabbi Zvi Solomon, born in Brooklyn NY., is an alumnus of Ner Israel Rabbinical college and Yeshivas Mir Jerusalem. He was a member of the Kollel of Greater Boston and lectures on various Torah topics for the Boston Jewish community. He now serves as a Rabbinic Coordinator at KVH Kosher and is a KVH Kosher Supervisor. Rabbi Solomon is an expert in vegetable checking for bugs as well as a Bodek of Shaatnez in clothing. The Boston Shatnez Laboratory was started by Rabbi Zvi Solomon in 2007. His humble beginnings began as a SEEDLING at Beth Jacob San Diego in 1997, returning to Beth Jacob San Diego for multiple years after that.

Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782