Parshat Vayechi

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One fine summer day Family Goldstein visit the zoo and are taken to the wolves’ enclosure. There they witness an incredible sight; the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy – a wolf and a lamb side by side in the enclosure together!

Mr Goldstein calls over one of the staff: “How long have you had a wolf and a lamb in a cage together?” he asks in amazement.
 “Over a year now,” is the reply.
“Incredible. What is the secret?”
“Oh, it’s easy. Every morning we just put in a new lamb.”

This week there is a recurring thread which runs through the parsha – Mashiach. The Mashiach (lit. the anointed one) is the mystery man who will proclaim the end of war, strife and exile, herald the beginning of an era of international peace and harmony, an end to all hatred and anti-Semitism and the return of the Jewish people to a rebuilt Beit Hamikdash (Third Temple) in the Holy Land.

At that time the numerous eschatological prophecies will come true; swords will be turned to ploughshares, death will be banished for evermore and as in the joke above – the wolf shall lie with the lamb. (Whether that refers to our four legged friends, or is a metaphor for warring countries such as Iran and Israel, is open to interpretation.)

As Yaakov the Patriarch prepares to return his soul to its Maker he gathers his children around his bedside. Before blessing them individually he announces that he will tell them a prophecy – “what will happen … at the End of Days.”

The great commentator Rashi notes that no such prophecy appears in the ensuing paragraphs, and gives an explanation based on the Midrash and the Talmud. He says that Yaakov, nearing the end of his life, wanted to reveal to his children one of the most important dates in Jewish history – the date of the future Messianic redemption. The date when the Jewish people, after generations of suffering would finally return home – amidst Divine revelation, and peace and harmony for all mankind.

Yet Yaakov was unable to do this. For whatever reason (the Torah commentaries give different reasons) G-d did not want that date revealed to Yaakov’s children, and so he lost his prophetic ability at that time.

Later in the Parsha, in Yaakov’s blessing to his son Yehudah (Judah)  we again come across the concept of Mashiach, as he tells Yehudah that the sceptre (i.e. Kingship) would remain with the tribe of Yehudah “ad ki yavo Shilo,” until the arrival of the Mashiach, a descendant of the Davidic line from the tribe of Yehudah.

The thread continues until the end of the parsha where we read of Yosef (Joseph) nearing the end of his life. As the time approaches he turns to his brothers with a final request – to take his remains with them when they eventually leave Egypt (with Charlton Heston). In this request he uses an interesting expression: “Pakod Yifkod” – G-d will “surely remember” you. This is an expression which was to serve as a code word to the Jewish people – linked with their redemption. Sure enough, after years of backbreaking slavery in Egypt, when G-d appears to Moshe (Moses) at the Burning Bush he tells Moshe to use this very expression when he appears to the Jewish people: “Tell them,” says G-d, “that …. I (G-d) have surely remembered you.” When the Jews heard this expression they immediately made the connection back to Joseph and understood that their freedom from slavery was imminent.

Just two days ago (Thursday) was the fast day of the Tenth of Tevet, recalling the siege of Jerusalem which culminated in the destruction of the First Beit Hamikdash (Temple). Yet, rather than sink into despair at the long exile and suffering we have undergone, the message of the Parsha should be a positive one; that the times of pain and tribulation do not last forever. That same promise of Pakod Yifkod is still relevant and hopefully lies just around the corner.

Jews through the ages always prayed fervently for that day to arrive. Our daily prayers are filled with references to the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The great scholar known as the Chafetz Chaim used to leave his Shabbat coat out all week so that he would be ready to welcome the Mashiach at a moment’s notice. Most poignant of all are the stories of groups being led to the gas chambers with the stirring words of Ani Maamin on their lips: I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Mashiach … even though he may tarry, I believe. They never stopped believing.

Our Sages tell us that one of the first questions we are asked in the Heavenly Court is, “Did you await the final redemption?

Let us take heart from the Parsha today, where we are reminded that exile is a temporary state – not a permanent one, and together we hope and pray that we will merit to witness that momentous occasion – the arrival of the Mashiach, and the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash.

As it says in Jeremiah, G-d’s response to Rachel’s tears at the painful exile (also connected to this week’s Parsha) is: Refrain from weeping … ve’shavu vanim li’gvulam – the children will return to their borders. Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Zalman Lent

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Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and  director of  Chabad of Ireland.

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