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Leaving a Legacy

Torah Thoughts on Parshas Vayechi by Rabbi Dr. Hillel Fox

"וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה וַיְהִי יְמֵי יַעֲקֹב שְׁנֵי חַיָיו שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים וְאַרְבָּעִים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה" בְּרֵאשִׁית מ''ז:כ''ח

“And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; and the days of Yaakov – the days of his life – were 147 years.” Bereshis 47:28

Why is this parashah named “Vayechi”, meaning “and he lived”, when the entire parashah expounds upon Yaakov Avinu’s death? It’s even more perplexing, since the parashah ends with Yosef’s death! Chazal answer this classic question with the dictum found in Berachos (18a-b) that the righteous are considered alive even after their death. The reason for this is that they leave a spiritual legacy for future generations to follow.

The Gemara in Pesachim (56a) describes a touching scene of Yaakov lying on his deathbed, surrounded by his children. Yaakov is wondering whether they would continue the legacy that he transmitted from Avraham and Yitzchak of belief in Hashem’s absolute unity in the universe. All his children affirmed their belief in and loyalty to Hashem by proclaiming: "שְׁמַע יִשְׁרָאֵל ה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ ה' אֶחָד"! The name Yisrael refers to Yaakov. Just as there is only One in your heart, so too there is only One in all our hearts. At that moment Yaakov exclaimed: "בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד“!

As a chaplain in a level-1 trauma center, I often hear people question what legacy they will leave behind for their families and friends. By living our lives imbued with Torah values, we can instill and inspire our children to be proud of their Jewish heritage and continue the legacy of Yiddishkeit מִדוֹר לְדוֹר, from generation to generation. HTC-Beis HaMidrash LaTorah can certainly be proud of its hundred-year legacy of harbotzas haTorah throughout the community and around the world!

A dramatic story is told about Rabbi Eliezer Silver who returned to Europe after World War II to save Jewish children whose parents were killed in the Holocaust. When the Christian monasteries denied having any Jewish children, Rabbi Silver gathered all the children, and knowing that Jewish mothers sang Shema to their babies while putting them to sleep, he called out, “Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokainu…” One by one, the Jewish orphans ran over to him with tears in their eyes crying, “Hashem Echad!”

Over 3,500 years after Yaakov's death, Am Yisrael proudly carries on Yaakov’s legacy, reciting Shema every morning, evening, and at bedtime. Yaakov indeed continues to live on through us! May we merit to transmit his legacy to our children through our love and living, our study and our support of Torah!


Rabbi Dr. Hillel Fox (FYHS 1976) received HTC Semicha in 1982,a B.S. in Psychology from Loyola Univ. Chicago, & a D.D.S. from Ohio State Dental School. He was Rabbi of Beth Jacob Cong. in Dayton for 18 years, thenHospice Chaplain for Parker Jewish Inst. in NY, & Team Leader of Project Hope for OHEL Children & Family Services in Brooklyn. He is now Dir. of Spiritual Services of Chaplaincy Care & Education for North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, NY, & Co-Chair of the Jewish Bridges BERG for Northwell Health. He & his family livein Woodmere, NY.

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