Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Vayechi

‘While all deaths are sad, not all are tragic’

One of our rules in our leining, our Torah reading, is that we don’t conclude an Aliyah on a sad note. In fact, that is one of the reasons why some Aliyot are short and some can be actually very long. We’re part of an optimistic faith and we always want to end on a promising note.

In this week’s Parasha of Vayechi, there is an Aliyah which ends with details of a death. Not only is it an Aliyah, it’s actually the whole Parasha that ends on that note. And it’s not just the Parasha, the whole book of Bereishit concludes with this verse: Vayamot Yoseph Ben Meah V’eser Shanim Veyechantu Oto Vayisem B’Aron Bemitzrayim, ‘Yosef died when he was a hundred and ten years old, they embalmed him and he was placed in a coffin in Egypt’.

‘We’re part of an optimistic faith and we always want to end on a promising note’

That is such a sad note, how can we justify the whole book concluding on this note?

Yosef had lived a very full and outstanding life, 110 years, compared to his contemporaries was on the short side, but we would give anything to live a life of that length. Of course it was sad that he was passing away, but at the same time, we can recognise that he had lived a life of immense value. In addition to that, it wasn’t all over. The soul was going to continue to exist.

I recall hearing a lovely D’var Torah from Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l, and of course he was also a master of English literature. He pointed out that in the prophecies of Yeshayahu the Prophet, the Prophet often uses the word ‘Rechem’ to represent both a burial place and also the womb.

Similarly said Rav Lichtenstein, Shakespeare, in the last scene of Romeo and Juliet, presents a situation in which ‘womb’ and ‘tomb’ are words which readily interchange. The message here is very clear, one form of life gives way to another and as physical life in this world draws to a close, a door is being opened for the spiritual life of the soul in the world to come.

‘The message here is very clear, one form of life gives way to another and as physical life in this world draws to a close, a door is being opened for the spiritual life of the soul in the world to come’

That is exactly what we reflect on when we recall the death of Yosef Hatzaddik, Yosef the righteous one. Yes, it was sad that he passed away, but we are grateful for the life that he enjoyed and we are also comforted by the fact that he went on to Olam Habah. So let us therefore learn from Yosef, that while all deaths are sad, not all are tragic. And like Yosef, let us carve out a place for us in the world to come and also guarantee that our legacy remains behind us in this world for all time.

Shabbat Shalom