Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Jacob's Blessings


The Torah says something very peculiar about the blessings Jacob bestows upon his children. After Jacob finishes blessing each of his children individually, it says, “He blessed each son with a befitting blessing to them (singular) and he blessed them (plural).” The simple explanation is that after he blessed each one with a blessing individually befitting them, he gave an additional blessing to them as a group.  

The only shortcoming of this explanation is that we don’t know what Jacob actually said. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to probe a little deeper so that we can understand what the verse means 

Here is one beautiful insight: Jacob is teaching his sons an important lesson that applies to us today as well. He is saying that yes, each one of you has a specific talent, a specific way of connecting to G-d, but at the end of the day, you are all one.  

Isn’t this true today? There are so many different kinds of Jews and we each try to find our way to serve G-d. However, as we search and we say to ourselves that this way fits me well, we have to understand and respect other Jews for their ways as well, since all of our paths reach the same G-d.  

Our differences are only superficialdeep down, we all are one. That is Jacob’s ultimate blessing.  

Three Levels In Harnessing Our Faith


The Torah tells us that seventy members of Jacob’s household entered Egypt, yet the Torah itself counts the names with a total of just sixty-nine.

There are different opinions on how we reach a total of seventy. One is to simply say that the Torah rounded up the number, as we have seen done throughout the Torah. There are three other possibilities: We can count either G-d, Jacob, or Yocheved, who was born as they entered Egypt.

Generally speaking, the explanations are not mutually exclusive, but in this case, it cannot be all three, because then the number would be seventy-two! So how do we reconcile these opposing opinions?

In this case we must find a deeper understanding of what is going on here.

In order for the Jews to leave Egypt down the road, they have to have strong faith in G-d. However the question is how the faith will be provided to them. Here is where we have three approaches.

1 - G-d. G-d provides us with faith. But the way G-d does this for us is in a very external way, to the extent that we don’t feel G-d providing it to us. If we did, then we would not have faith per se, but knowledge. G-d enters into the exile with us so that we are able to tap into our faith and stand strong in the face of such a difficult time. (This is on the level of Aggadah.)

2 - Jacob. Jacob also provides us with faith. He brings along the commitment to G-d that he inherited from his parents and grandparents. This kind of faith is real and tangible to the Jewish people. This reason is more esoteric yet practical. (It is hard to include G-d as one of the seventy since G-d is not felt on a physical level, and Yocheved never left Israel, so she could not be the inspiration or the bedrock of our faith to return to Israel.)

3 - Yocheved. Yocheved may not be connected so strongly to Israel, but she is the only survivor of that era that experienced the hardship of the exile. Yocheved was a woman who had a very deep-rooted faith in G-d. We read in the Torah in numerous portions how women have a deep natural belief in G-d, and here Yocheved was able to bring this faith to the Jewish people. We see that Yocheved ends up mothering Moshe, the eventual leader and redeemer of the Jewish people. That is why we count her as the seventieth. This reason is more befitting for the literal explanation of the verses, since it clearly says the children of Jacob equal seventy (which means not including Jacob).

We can now understand that the three opinions are not mutually exclusive, but are rather three levels in harnessing our faith.

L'chayim To Life!

At joyous occasions we wish each other l’chayim - to life! To health and to wealth!

Are these just words that we utter or is there a deeper meaning to these good wishes?

Let’s analyze Jacob’s life, covered in this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, which will help shed some light on this theme.

Health: After all the trials, obstacles, and physical battles that Jacob had to deal with between his Uncle Lavan and his brother, Esau, he has healed from his illness. This taught him a valuable lesson in life that although there are times when we may be ill, those times, too, can be part of the growth process. 

Wealth: From the story it seems that Jacob felt obliged to give gifts to his brother. However, Jacob understood that in the big picture of life, gift giving was not an obligation. If he was meant to give money to his brother, then it had to be part of G-d’s plan. If that were the case, then why should he be upset? It was never intended to be his in the first place. The process of forced giving was nothing more than a wake-up call, just as the injury was a reminder to feel healthy and grow from the pain.    

Faith: The reference to “To Life!” is to one’s spiritual life, to a strong faith in G-d. Jacob was a “holy person;” after all, we refer to him as one of the three fathers of the Jewish people. Yet he was not a person who sat in synagogue the whole day and prayed and studied Torah. He worked hard for a living – he even became very wealthy. He was engaged in the “real world.”  This is because Jacob understood that to have strong faith in G-d is accomplished specifically by engaging in the world, not by secluding yourself from the world. He took the teachings of the Torah and incorporated them into his engagement in his worldly affairs, so the Torah and the world became one.

We, too, can learn from Jacob in our dealings with the world around us. We should view our challenges as opportunities for growth, and utilize every opportunity to infuse the world with holiness.

L’chayim to spiritual life, to good health, and to an abundance of wealth! 

Shabbat Shalom.




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