Vayigash: Less Than Infinite is Bad




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    Vayigash: Less Than Infinite is Bad

    This week we read of the dramatic reunion of Josef with his family twenty-two years after he had been sold into slavery. It would be possible to write a book of commentaries about each sentence spoken here, but one statement stands out… Read the full Dvar Torah by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton • Full Article

    By Rabbi Tuvia Bolton 

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    This week we read of the dramatic reunion of Josef with his family twenty-two years after he had been sold into slavery.

    It would be possible to write a book of commentaries about each sentence spoken here, but one statement stands out:

    Yosef introduces his father, Yaakov, to Pharaoh who innocently asks, ‘How old are you?’ Upon which Jacob answers:

    “The days of the years of my sojourn, thirty and one hundred years FEW and BAD (47:9)”

    This is very strange. Why didn’t he just say “I’m 130”, and finished! Why did he have to add ‘few and bad’!? What was Pharaoh supposed to do with this information?

    Not only that, one hundred and thirty years is ten years over the allotted one hundred and twenty (Gen. 1:3) so it is not ‘few’.

    And his years also weren’t bad! Jacob was one of the founders of Judaism, all his sons were righteous and one was ruler of the entire world!! Not bad at all!

    But most important; Torah is ‘teaching’. What can we learn from Jacob’s negative statements?

    To understand this here is a story I saw in Sichot HaShavoa (VaYishlach 5765).

    In one of the small towns of Russia some two hundred years ago lived a secular Jew (his name wasn’t given) who owned several factories and was wealthy as a king. His home was palatial and was decked out with the finest furniture, the most expensive silverware, the plushest carpets and tapestries; only the best. But one of his prize possessions was a huge painting of an old Rabbi.

    In fact, this magnificent work of art was his only link to Judaism.

    He had been raised in a Chabad Chassidic home in a positive, happy Torah atmosphere but when he was in his early teens, he discovered the world of business!

    Action! Success! Profit! Competition, Travel! He got involved and succeeded beyond his fondest dreams. Soon he was rubbing elbows with the highest of gentile society, attending pompous parties and gala dinners like a king. He built himself a massive house, decked out with the finest furniture. The ways of Judaism had no place here! He dropped it all and he was so occupied in success that he didn’t miss it one bit.


    Occasionally, when he was alone, he felt a vague emptiness. He would never go back to being observant, that was for sure! But still something about Judaism was nagging him. So, he commissioned the picture.

    It was a magnificent portrait of the ‘Alter (old) Rebbe’ Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chassidut and author of the Holy book ‘Tanya’. The artist must have been truly inspired because the picture, especially the Rebbe’s eyes, were alive. They radiated majesty, love, wisdom and unexplainable joy at the same time.

    Our hero hung it in his office behind his desk where everyone entering would notice it and comment, and occasionally when he was alone, he would light up a cigarette, swing his plush swivel-chair around, tilt back and gaze at the Rebbe’s eyes.

    That was the only Jewish thing he did.

    One evening he had an urge to pick up a Jewish calendar and, lo and behold, he saw that tomorrow night would be the nineteenth of the Jewish month of Kislev! Yud Tes Kislev!

    To Chabad Chassidim this is the ‘Holiday of Holidays’! A day of great festivities! The date that the Alter Rebbe (the one whose picture was on his wall) had been released from prison and began his movement that would change the world.

    A crazy idea crossed his mind; he would invite Chassidim to make their festive Chassidic Yud Tes Kislev ‘Farbrengen’ In HIS house. It would be like a journey back in time!! This would be real entertainment!!

    The next morning, he sent an envelope via messenger to one of the Chassidim he knew containing money and a request that they celebrate ‘Farbring’ by him.

    It had been over twenty years since he had seen such a Chassidic gathering as a young boy, and he really didn’t take the whole thing seriously, so when the Chassidim dressed in their black garments started filling his house and even brought a Mezuzah that, with his permission, they tacked on his front door, he enjoyed the sight as a sort of quaint little theater play with himself as the only spectator.

    But he was in for a surprise.

    The Farbrengen began on a lively note. The Chassidim sang happy songs that he knew convinced him to sit with them, made L’Chaims on vodka, slapped him on the back and even danced, drawing him into their circle.

    But after a while and more vodka, things got more serious. They spoke about serving the Creator, told stories about the Rebbe and what he demands from his Chassidim and they stopped paying special attention to their host. The songs became deeper, more heartfelt and filled with Jewish longing, they spoke of Moshiach and Gd, the hours passed and before they knew it the rooster was crowing and the first beams of sunlight shined through the window.

    Then, for a moment they heard a strange wailing and moaning almost animal sound coming from somewhere in the house. They turned to the rich man but his seat was empty, he wasn’t there. Again they heard it, perhaps it was crying. They became worried. It was coming from the direction of his office.

    The Chassidim ran in the direction of the sound and sure enough it was from the office. They opened the door and were greeted by a startling sight.

    The rich man was lying on the table on his stomach; his head raised to the picture of the Rebbe pleading for mercy. “Please, Rebbe! Help me!! I don’t want my money; I don’t want anything but to be a good Jew. To do the commandments of G-d! I was wrong! Help me!! Help me!!”

    They watched in amazement as he burst into uncontrollable weeping. The Chassidic Farbrengen opened his Jewish soul.

    Later that day he bought a pair of Tefillin, had his kitchen made kosher, ordered Mezuzahs for all the doors and completely changed his life.

    What happened? How could his entire personality change so drastically so suddenly?

    The answer is; he simply felt the truth. And without the truth his life was bad.

    Suddenly he realized that there really is a Creator, the Jewish people really are His children the Torah really is His will, the Rebbe and all he stood for are true: and without this, there is no good.

    This answers our question; what did Yaakov mean when he said his years were Few and Bad?

    The three forefathers of Judaism opened spiritual doors.

    Abraham opened the door of Loving G-d.

    Issac, fearing G-d.

    But Yaakov opened truth. As the prophet Micha says “Ti’tain Emes L’Yaakov” (7:20) … .

    Another way of looking at it is: Abraham and Isaac corresponded to the First and Second Temples which were both destroyed. But Jacob corresponds to the Third Temple which, like truth, will never end.

    The TRUTH is undying and eternal. If Adam hadn’t sinned there would have been no death in the world; only eternal physical life. And when G-d, the source of all life, revealed Himself at Sinai to give Torat Emet: the Torah of Truth, impurity and death, ceased. (Only to return with the Golden Calf).

    That is why Jacob said his 130 years were FEW and bad. Because anything less than eternity is lacking the ‘Truth’ of Jacob.

    That is what happened to the hero of our story.

    So it will be when Moshiach arrives: both the Third Temple and life will be eternal because the TRUTH that the hero of our story felt will be revealed to all mankind.

    And this is what Jacob was living for, that’s why he said that 130 years of life, as holy as they were, were few and bad; because in comparison to Eternal Life any number of years of life are be reckoned as FEW and BAD.

    And he wanted Pharaoh to know it as well; because the true goal of Judaism is that ALL MANKIND should know the truth.

    As we say in the ‘Alenu’ prayer thrice daily regarding the era of Moshiach:

    “Every knee will bend, every tongue will swear, Even the Evil of the world will turn to YOU G-d.”

    And not much is missing to make it happen. We are standing on the merits of thousands of years of Jewish suffering, faith, service and prayers. Now it could be that just one more good deed, word or even thought is all that is lacking to tilt the scales and bring …..

    Moshiach NOW!

    Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
    Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim
    Kfar Chabad, Israel


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