Souled Out

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Vayechi
Souled Out

When Michael was born, his parents could not decide which name to give him. Should they name him Elimelech after the great Chasidic master from Lizhensk, or should they name him Peretz after Yehuda's first born with Tamar. They spent many hours talking, and even debating, this issue. They were torn and did not know what to do.

A family friend suggested that they speak to a competent Rav for advice. As Michael's parents sat in the waiting room, they could not believe how many people crowded there to receive the Rav's blessings and guidance.

The Rav had an impeccable reputation, but they never realized just how special he was. They noticed how people entered the Rav's study with looks of worry on their faces, and yet, by the time they emerged from his room, they looked assured, calmed, and peaceful.

Finally, the gabbai called Michael's parents into the Rav's private chamber. As soon as they entered, they were seized by a feeling of awe and reverence.

The Rav motioned for them to sit down. After taking their seats, The Rav lifted his head, looked at them with those sparkling blue eyes, smiled, and asked them how he could be of assistance.

As Michael's parents explained their predicament, the Rav listened closely, concentrating on their every word. By the time they finished talking, the Rav's eyes were completely closed, immersed in deep thought.

Suddenly, the Rav opened his eyes, leaned forward, looked right into their faces, breaking the silence with a resounding "Mazel Tov!" Then, the Rav began to speak, and this is what he said. "In most cases, parents who are about to name their child are given a certain measure of Divine inspiration in order to choose a name which best describes the essence of the child's soul.

In your case however, a double portion of Divine inspiration has been given. The reason why you are torn between Elimelech and Peretz is because both names are destined to be his name. This is because both of these names share a commonality. They are both related to sovereignty. Elimelech means 'My God is king,' and Peretz was the progenitor of the Jewish kings that stemmed from the tribe of Yehudah.

Your son is going to be a leader. Although I usually frown upon English names, in this situation I would suggest keeping the name Michael because it represents the angel Michael who will stand at the boy's right side helping him carry out his unique mission in life."

So it came to be. The boy was named Elimelech Peretz, and he did indeed become a leader within his community. The pride Michael's parents had was matched only by the positive impression that the Rav had made upon them.

All of our Jewish names have deep meaning, but not only do our individual names have implications, our national names are also of great significance. This brings us straight into our parsha, Vayechi.

The opening statement of the parsha says that "Ya'akov" lived in Mitzrayim (Egypt) for 17 years (Gn. 47:28). The very next verse says that the time came for "Yisrael" to die (Gn. 47:29). Why is there such a lack of consistency? Why is he called "Ya'akov" in one verse, whereas in the second verse he is referred to as "Yisrael?"

Moreover, why was it necessary for the opening sentence of the parsha to tell us that Ya'akov lived in Mitzrayim for 17 years? We could have figured that out on our own. When Ya'akov first descended to Mitzrayim, he told Pharaoh that he was 130 years old (Gn. 47:9). The Torah also tells us that Ya'akov lived for 147 years. Obviously, Ya'akov lived in Mitzrayim for 17 years. Why was it necessary to have this repeated, apparently superfluously?

Additionally, when it came time for Ya'akov to die, it says, "He expired (vayigvah) and was gathered (vaye-asef) unto his people" (Gn.49:33). Since the word "Vayamas" (and he died) is not mentioned, we learn that Ya'akov Avinu (our father) did not die (Ta'anis, chap. 1, "M'eimasai", pg. 5b, Rebbi Yochanan).

This too is difficult to understand because the second verse of the parsha states explicitly, "The time came for Yisrael to DIE" (Gn. 47:29). The Torah itself declares that this man died. How can Rebbi Yochanan disagree?

The Alshich (Vayechi) shares an incredibly novel approach which will explain a lot. He says that Ya'akov actually had two souls. The first soul was the one that he received after he was born and that soul was called "Ya'akov." However, Ya'akov came to possess a second soul at the time that he wrestled with Eisav's guardian angel and that soul was called "Yisrael" (Gn. 32:25).

When Ya'akov wrestled with the angel, he was given a new name, Yisrael (Gn.32:29). The new name indicated that he was given a new soul. The new soul called "Yisrael" was on a higher spiritual level than the first soul called "Ya'akov."

After living for 147 years, only the soul called "Yisrael" left his body. However, the soul called "Ya'akov" remained with his body.

This is how the Gemara can say that Ya'akov never died. The Sages were being very meticulous with their words. They said that it was specifically YA'AKOV that did not die, meaning that the soul called "Ya'akov" did not leave his body. By inference we can deduce that only the soul called "Yisrael" left his body.

As a matter of fact, whenever the Torah mentions "death" with respect to the third Patriarch, only the name "Yisrael is used. Never is the name "Ya'akov" used when speaking of his death.

For example, it says, "And YISRAEL said to Yosef, now I can DIE" (Gn. 46:30). It also says, "And YISRAEL said to Yosef, behold, I am about to DIE" (Gn. 48:21). Similarly, it says, "The time came for YISRAEL to DIE" (Gn. 47:29).

However, whenever the name "Ya'akov" is mentioned, the word "die" is absent. For example, it says, "When "YA'AKOV" finished instructing his sons, he "expired" and was "gathered" to his people" (Gn. 49:33). It may use the terminologies "expire" and "gather", but the word "death" or "die" is omitted.

This teaches us that after 147 years, only the soul called "Yisrael" died and left his body. However, the soul called "Ya'akov" never died and did not leave his body. All it says about the soul called "Ya'akov" is that it "expired." This means that Ya'akov "fainted." A person who faints might look dead, but, in reality, he is very much alive. Ya'akov only fainted, but all the strength that comes along with a soul still resided in his body.

This approach of the Alshich fits in beautifully with a teaching found in the Shelah. The Shelah (parshas Vayishlach, Torah Ohr, #5) says that by the time the sale of Yosef took place, Ya'akov already received his second soul "Yisrael", because the story with Ya'akov wrestling the angel happened before the sale of Yosef. After the brothers sold Yosef, they presented Yosef's blood soaked garment to Ya'akov making him think that Yosef had been killed by a wild beast.

The Shelah says that after thinking that Yosef had been torn to pieces, Ya'akov died. This means that the soul called "Ya'akov" left his body from the pain of Yosef's demise. Ya'akov's body remained functioning only on account of the other soul called "Yisrael" which was still inside of him.

This is why we find that from the time Yosef was sold until Ya'akov found out that Yosef was still alive, the Torah never calls the third Patriarch by the name "Ya'akov." This is because "Ya'akov" was gone. Meaning, the soul called "Ya'akov" already left his body. From the sale of Yosef until Ya'akov found out the truth, the third Patriarch is only referred to as "Yisrael", because only the soul called Yisrael remained within him, keeping him alive.

However, once he learned the truth that Yosef was still alive, the soul called "Ya'akov" returned to his body. Therefore, the verse says, "And the spirit of "YA'AKOV" their father was revived" (Gn.45:27). Meaning, the soul called "Ya'akov" returned to his body.

After 147 years, only the soul called "Yisrael" left his body. However, the soul called "Ya'akov remained inside his bode because that soul already died once. Its return to his body was a form of resurrection. After a person is resurrected, he is supposed to live forever, not die a second time. This is precisely what happened with the soul called "Ya'akov." It never left his body again (See Ramban, Gn. 49:33).

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is the reason why the Torah stresses that Ya'akov lived in Mitzrayim for 17 years even though we would have known that on our own. It is because the Torah is not really trying to tell us about the number 17, rather, the Torah is trying to tell us about the soul called "Ya'akov." In other words, the Torah is teaching us that "YA'AKOV" lived in Mitzrayim for 17 years. The soul called "Ya'akov" had just returned to live within his body for 17 years.

May I add that the soul called "Ya'akov" remained in his body for 17 years specifically in "MITZRAYIM." However, after the 17 years in Mitzrayim, the soul called "Ya'akov" continued living inside his body in Eretz Yisrael (Israel), in Chevron. Ya'akov is still alive and well and kicking in the Machpeila Cave.

This explains the lack of consistency in the first two verses of our parsha. In the first verse, the third Patriarch is called "Ya'akov" because it is teaching us that during the 17 years that he lived in Egypt, the soul called "Ya'akov" returned to dwell within him. However, the second verse which talks about his death only mentions the name "Yisrael" indicating that only the soul called "Yisrael" was going to leave his body (Shvilei Pinchas).

It was imperative that, eventually, the soul called "Yisrael" should dwell in Heaven, whereas the soul called "Ya'akov" should remain inside his body on Earth. This is because Ya'akov had to overcome two types of enemies, Eisav and Eisav's guardian angel, Satan. The soul called "Ya'akov" had to battle against his brother Eisav below and therefore remained below, whereas the soul called "Yisrael" had to wage war against the Satan above and therefore had to remain above.

When Ya'akov dreamt of a ladder with angels ascending and descending, the Midrash (Shemos Rabba, 32:7) and Gemara (Chulin, chap. 7, "Gid Hanasheh", pg. 91b) says that those angels were the guardian angels of the nations of the world. When the angels ascended, they noticed Ya'akov's face engraved on one of the sides of the Throne of Glory (See Bereishis Rabba, 68:12, Isa. 49:3; Eicha Rabba, 2:2, Lam. 2:1; Bereishis Rabba, 78:3). When they descended, they saw Ya'akov's face once again, sleeping on the future site of the Beis Hamikdash (Temple).

The angels wanted to kill Ya'akov because they realized that the two images represented the two souls, "Ya'akov" and "Yisrael." The angels understood that this man has the power to defeat Satanic powers above and the Eisav's below. They did not want him to succeed, so they intended on killing him.

But, it says that "Havayah" (God) stood over him (Gn. 28:13) in order to protect him (Rashi, ibid). The Name of God chosen in this verse (Havayah) tells us what specific type of protection Hashem provided. The Name "Havayah" is spelled; yud, hey, vov, hey. The Zohar (Preface, pg. 9b) says that these four letters serve as the acronym for, "Yismichu Hashamayim V'sagel Ha'aretz" (The heavens will be glad, and the earth will rejoice; Psa. 96:11). This Name of God teaches us that Hashem had to protect the "Yisrael" above in Heaven and also protect the "Ya'akov" below on Earth.

It is important to point out that every Jewish soul is carved out from under the Throne of Glory (Zohar, Tzav, pg. 29b). This means that our souls below came from above. On some level, this means that we share this commonality with Ya'akov. After all, we are named after Ya'akov (Beis Ya'akov) and we are also called B'nei Yisrael. As descendants of Ya'akov, we inherited his spiritual DNA.

This makes us very powerful. We can all destroy our enemies above and below. Ya'akov was successful in defeating Eisav by getting the birthright and blessings. Ya'akov was also successful in defeating the Satan by getting the Satan to admit that the blessings truly belonged to Ya'akov.

Ya'akov's success was attributed to his utilizing his power of prayer. There is a prayer which is compared to a sword intended to kill enemies that are close by, like Eisav, and there is a prayer which is compared to a bow and arrow intended to kill enemies that are far away, like Satan (Gn. 48:22; Onkelos ibid, Bina L'itim, Derush 62).

We too can harness our prayers to destroy our enemies. Once a day, before davening, let us say a short prayer that goes something like this, "Dear God, please give my prayers the power of Yisrael to destroy the prosecuting attorney above, and please give my prayers the power of Ya'akov to destroy the Eisavs below."

So, my dream and prayer is that we B'nei Yisrael and B'nei Ya'akov be blessed with the ability to destroy the forces of evil above and below in order that we will witness Havayah's Throne of Glory revealed once again.