Parshat Vayechi

January 13, 2017

 There is a system of paragraphs in the Torah called parshiot.  Rashi explains on the first verse in sefer Vayikrah that theparshiot were given to Moshe by Hashem so that Moshe could contemplate each section and each theme.  We therefore understand that these divisions are significant both in their origin and in their importance for understanding of the Torah.  The parshiot are delineated graphically in the written sefer Torah. The divisions are either “open” parshiot, p’tuchaor “closed” parshiot, stuma.  An open parsha will be separated from the previous parsha by beginning on a new line. The closed parsha, the Parsha S’tuma begins on the same line as the previous parsha but is separated by an open space.  The usual spacing of a parsha s’tuma from the previous parsha is usually equal to nine spaces. 
 
Parshat Vayechi is a parsha s’tuma where the closing of Parshat Vayigash ends on the same line that Parshat Vayechi begins.  However, the Cohen called up for the first aliya might notice something unique about Parshat Vayechi.  Although the parsha which begins Parshat Vayechi is a closed parsha, it is the only parsha in the entire Torah which is satum satuma– really closed.  For, there is only one letter space separating Parshat Vayigash and Parshat Vayechi.
 
The Kli Yakar, on the opening verse of Vayechi, quotes Breishit Rabba to explain the Satum S’tuma.  The midrash says:

 

שנסתמו ממנו כל צרות שבעולם

All of the troubles of the world were stopped for Ya’akov. 

 

The Kli Yakar beautifully explains the placement of this small one letter break between the parshiot. He explains that the last verse of Vayigash says:
 

וַיֵּשֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בְּאֶרֶץ גּשֶׁן וַיֵּאָחֲזוּ בָהּ וַיִּפְרוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ מְאֹד

And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen; and they got them possessions therein, and were fruitful, and multiplied exceedingly.

There is only the one letter break to the opening verse of Vayechi:


וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה וַיְהִי יְמֵי יַעֲקֹב שְׁנֵי חַיָּיו שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים וְאַרְבָּעִים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה

 

And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; so the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were a hundred forty and seven years.

The seventeen years that Ya’akov lived in Egypt were ones of peace and tranquility for him. He and his family had possession of good land and had increased greatly in number. 
Ya’akov’s whole life was one of struggle and hardship.  Ya’akov himself describes his life:

 

מְעַט וְרָעִים הָיוּ יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיַּי

 

"few and evil have been the days of the years of my life."

Throughout his life, Ya’akov struggled to build a nation based on teachings of Avraham and Yitzhak.  Most of this time he was on the defensive, battling to keep his family alive.  His last seventeen years in Mitzrayim were different.
 
The Kli Yakar says that the satum s’tuma represents a transition to a different period in Ya’akov’s life.  Looking back through sefer Breishit we can see Ya’akov acted with a single focus to build the nation promised to him. Amidst Yaakov’s difficulties, he was unable to be open to those around him.  He was ostensibly closed off in his communications with others in his family.  He needed to stay the course of his commitment to the Brit Avot and amidst his difficulty he was unable to veer and develop in his communications with his family.  Ostensibly, there were times when the external challenges that Ya’akov faced and his focus on the nation affected the way he led his family.

Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch provides an additional explanation:  The reason that Parshat Vayechi is a "Stuma" is to teach us that although the 17 years that Yaakov lived in Egypt were integral to his life, nationally they were of little significance.  Therefore, we have very little information provided in the Torah during those years except for thebirkat Yaakov and the subsequent development of each tribes family which will form the nation of Bnei Yisrael.  Rav Hirsch explains that these stories are closed to us.

Utilizing these interpretations, perhaps we appreciate that despite all the difficulty throughout the majority of Yaakov's life, as we read the end of Yaakov life, we witness Yaakov living in a tranquil state, shalaim (complete).  Yaakov had "closure."  As a result, he is able to bless his children with the "shlaimut nefesh" that he now acquired.  The family is complete and the Am is ready to be born.

Shabbat Shalom.

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