Torah Portion

Parshat Vayechi 5779

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“Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; and the days of Yaakov- the years of his life- were one hundred and forty-seven years.” (Chapter 47, Verse 28)  The Sages teach in the Midrash Raba, as well as in the Holy Zohar, that the final seventeen years of Yaakov’s life were the main years of his life because he lived in happiness and comfort.  Rebbe Noson asks a question on this Midrash: it’s hard to understand that when Yaakov dwelled in the land of Israel he didn’t dwell in tranquility, but when he lived the last years of his life in the impure land of Egypt, why was he was able to live specifically there in tranquility?

He answers that this question can be explained by the verse in the prophet Isaiah, “they will attain joy and gladness, and sadness and sighing will flee.” (Chapter 35, Verse 10)  Rebbe Nachman explains in Likutei Moharan (Part 2, Torah 23) that complete simcha (happiness) is when a person overcomes his difficulties and sadness and is able to turn them into happiness.  He is able to be happy even when events in his life should cause him to be sad and worried.  Rebbe Noson explains, based on the verse from the Prophet Isaiah, that the main way to clarify matters of holiness and redeem them from the chambers of exchange[1] is through simcha, and specifically by turning sadness and depression into joy.  All of the forms of exile which the Jewish people have gone through, their main expression is the exile of the soul, meaning that the Jewish soul is far from its Father in Heaven, and it feels sadness because of this.  This is the aspect of the brothers’ sale of Yosef to Egypt, because specifically through the difficulty and pain of his sale they were able to be sustained afterwards when they descended to Egypt, as Yosef said to his brothers, “And now, be not distressed, nor reproach yourselves for having sold me here, for it was to be a provider that G-d sent me ahead of you.” (Chapter 45, Verse 5)  Eventually Yaakov and all of his sons descended to dwell in Egypt, and specifically there he was able to dwell in happiness and tranquility.  Yaakov understood after he went to live in Egypt that also the final redemption will be through this test of revealing holiness and lifting up the Jewish souls which have fallen into all kinds of exile.  The Tzaddikim, like Yaakov and Yosef, have the power to turn exile and pain into happiness and joy.  They are able to help a person, with their advice and the strength of their holiness, to turn everything around for the best, against these bad forces which want to turn truth into lies and happiness into sadness.  (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Blessings on Smell and Thanksgiving, 6th teaching)

By being in a state of happiness we can return to Hashem and reveal holiness and Hashem’s presence in the world.  Happiness is also our main source of vitality.  Rebbe Nachman teaches that simcha is the world of freedom.  When we are in a state of happiness our mind is free and expanded, and we can see our reality and experiences with the light of faith and make good decisions (Likutei Moharan, Part 2, Torah 10).  The big question is how do we find the strength to overcome our nature to sink into sadness, heaviness and depression and merit to be truly happy and alive?

Rebbe Nachman’s spoke a great deal about the importance of being happy and he gave a lot of teachings of advice of how to obtain it.  Firstly, we need to know that it is something we need to work on, it doesn’t come automatically.  It is not just a gift from Heaven.  Rebbe Nachman says that we need to overcome our inclination to fall into sadness with everything we have and to make ourselves happy anyway that we can, even by doing silly things and telling jokes (Likutei Moharan, Part 2, Torah 24).  Telling jokes and being silly helps us to break out of our regular patterns of behavior and social norms, which many times cause us to be too heavy and too serious.  Singing and dancing can also bring us to happiness.  Another aspect of overcoming our nature and normal tendencies is in the world of thought.  Rebbe Nachman teaches that it’s impossible for a person to think two thoughts at the same time (Likutei Moharan, Teaching 233). Therefore, we have the power to focus on good thoughts, on thoughts which encourage us and give us strength and faith, and to leave behind the thoughts which weaken us and distance us from happiness.  Thoughts also come and go quickly, so there is no reason to wage war with them, just let them pass and try to think of things which make you happy.  Remembering better times, times when we felt happy and things were going really well, can help us find happiness and strength when life feels hard and difficulties arise.  Looking for and finding the good points in ourselves help us to focus on our good deeds and the good we are blessed with in our lives, and this can bring us to happiness.  These are just a few examples of ways to increase our happiness on a daily basis and overcome the situations, thought patterns and experiences which drag us down into sadness, laziness and depression. (Based on Ran Weber’s new book, To Be Happy, 3rd Section)

We should be blessed to increase the amount of happiness in our lives, and to help others find more happiness in their lives too!

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

[1] This is a spiritual concept which means that holiness becomes exchanged for impurity; a person mistakenly thinks that he belongs to impurity and sin, when in reality he has a holy soul which comes from Hashem.  This is the deeper message of Rebbe Nachman’s story called the Exchanged Children.

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