Torah.org Home Subscribe Services Support Us
 
Print Version

Email this article to a friend

Parshas Vayechi

Lessons to be Learned from Our Great Ancestors

The conclusion of the book of Bereshith not only completes for us the picture of the founders of the Jewish people – our fathers and mothers – but to a great extent also concludes the purely narrative portion of the Torah. There are precious few commandments or laws and ritual that emanate from this first book of the Torah.

From now forward the Torah, while continuing to be a narrative of early Jewish existence and life, develops into a law book detailing the commandments of the Creator to the Jewish people. If so, then what is the purpose of this lengthy beginning narrative? This is really the essence of the question that Rashi quotes at the beginning of his commentary to the Torah: “Should not the Torah have begun from the commandment regarding the new moon?”

It is there that Rashi answers why it began with the story of creation but the question remains: Why does the Torah continue the narrative regarding the personal lives of our ancestors? To this question the rabbis responded by stating that the events that occurred to our ancestors are sign posts for the later events that would occur to their descendants.

Since this idea can only be validated in hindsight – only after the event occurs to later generations can it be glimpsed as having been foretold by events that occurred to our ancestors – it still begs the original question somewhat. It is important to know that otherwise inexplicable events somehow fit into a preexisting pattern. But what particular lessons can be learned from the detailed narrative of the lives of our great ancestors?

There are general lessons about Jewish life that can certainly be gleaned from the Torah narrative of Bereshith. And perhaps this idea of general lessons is one of the reasons why the Torah invests so many words and descriptions in this eternal book.

One lesson is that Jewish life is not an easy one. Being a small minority and yet preserving a unique identity is no easy task. The struggle of our ancestors to do so is therefore clearly delineated for us. Another life lesson is that there are no guarantees in life especially as regarding children. Yishmael and Esau are prime examples of this disturbing truth.

Another lesson is that in the absence of tolerance for the differences in personalities and outlooks that will always be part of Jewish life and society, terrible things can happen to the Jewish people as a whole. Witness the narrative regarding Yosef and his brothers. A further lesson is that others will always threaten Jewish survival, often by violence and murderous intent. Nimrod, Abimelech, Pharaoh, Lavan, Shechem, Esau are but a few that illustrate this point.

All of our ancestors were forced to face up to enmity, jealousy and the duplicity of others. Another teaching to us is the power of the individual and the power of an idea. Abraham and Sarah, practically alone, changed the world with their idea and teachings of monotheism. The Torah further informs us that “good” exiles such as Goshen Egypt can eventually turn out to be less good. All of these lessons are essential to Jewish life and its survival. The wise will ponder upon them and apply them well in one’s own life and current society.

Shabat shalom,

Rabbi Berel Wein


Crash course in Jewish history

Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com


 






ARTICLES ON YOM KIPPUR:

View Complete List

Uniquely Jewish
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5768

Reaching Forgiveness
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5760

Understanding Our Special Conduct
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5755

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

Yom Kippur
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5772

A Lesson for Life
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5755

Yom Kippur and the Pathways to Joy
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5756

ArtScroll

Yom Kippur Melodies
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5757

On A Personal Note
Rabbi Yochanan Zweig - 5773

Don't Feel So Bad When I Feel So Bad
Rabbi Label Lam - 5759

Looking for a Chavrusah?

I Was Wrong
Rabbi Label Lam - 5769

Merits, Middles and Majorities
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5765

Growing Through the Holidays: Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkos
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5774

> After Six Comes Seven
Rabbi Yisroel Ciner - 5762

A Yom Kippur to Remember
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5760

Body and Soul
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5763

The Taste of Repentance
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5758



Project Genesis

Torah.org Home


Torah Portion

Jewish Law

Ethics

Texts

Learn the Basics

Seasons

Features

TORAHAUDIO

Ask The Rabbi

Knowledge Base




Help

About Us

Contact Us



Free Book on Geulah!




Torah.org Home
Torah.org HomeCapalon.com Copyright Information