This week’s Parasha, “Vayechi,” means “he lived,” and starts by stating that Yaakov lived in Egypt seventeen years. Our sages teach us that these were the best years of his life.
I hear this year after year, but for the first time, I felt that I needed to dig a little deeper to understand what exactly made these years so special for Yaakov. I had an inner sense of what the answer was, but I decided to ask Rabbi Berel Simpser, of Young Israel of Aventura. Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly), he gave me the exact answer I sensed was correct: What made Yaakov feel so happy, so alive, was seeing that his own children were happy.
I think it takes being a parent to fully understand the truth of this statement. The moment my son was born it was clear to me that all I really wanted was for him to be happy. Pure and simple.
If each of us could try to fathom just how much we mean to our parents, and to our ultimate Parent, I think we would likely behave very differently on a day-to-day basis. As I have taught my students in 9th and 10th grade, each of the twelve tribes had tremendous cosmic importance. Each of them represented a different constellation, a month of the year, even an hour of the day (and night). They are part of our spiritual DNA, and that of the world as a whole. It is important to realize that each of us also plays a role that is of cosmic importance, a role that no one else can play.
The Talmud states that Yaakov did not truly die: as long as his children are alive, so is he alive. So many generations of ancestors, who made so many sacrifices on our behalf, are only alive today through us. And all that they want is for us to be happy.
Rabbi Daniel Kahane
High School Judaic Studies