Living it up in Egypt

Friday, 2 January, 2015 - 10:40 am

Our forefather Yaakov spent that final 17 years of his life in Egypt. Ironically those were the most tranquil years of his life. For the first time he wasn’t being hounded by his brother Eisav or his father-in-law Lavan, he wasn’t bothered by the animosity of his neighbors near Shechem or the absence of his son Yosef. He was surrounded by his children and grandchildren who were all following in his ways. They were living in the Egyptian version of the Riviera – the land of Goshen. All in all, life was good. In his commentary to the opening word of the Parsha, Vayechi, the Baal Haturim interprets the word Vayechi (lit. “And he lived”) with the connotation of enjoying life. Colloquially we would say he was “living it up” in Egypt.

When the third Chabad Rebbe, known by the name of his work, the Tzemach Tzedek, was a little boy, his Cheder teacher taught this passage based on the Baal Haturim’s explanation. The child, who was an orphan being raised by his grandfather, Rabbi Schneur Zalman (the first Chabad Rebbe), came home from school with a question. “How could it be that our father Yaakov could have the best years of his life in Egypt? First of all it was away from the holiness of Eretz Yisrael. Furthermore, Egypt was the most immoral land in the world at the time. So how could Yaakov “live it up” in a place like that? His grandfather replied, “In the previous Parsha we learn that Yaakov sent Yehudah to set up a Yeshiva for Torah study in the land of Goshen. When there is the study of Torah, a Jew can “live it up” even in a place like Egypt.” In other words, the study of Torah can render life meaningful and holy even when the environment that surrounds the person is a challenging one.

We live in a place that can give ancient Egypt a run for its money in terms of debauchery. In New Orleans the seasons are not really defined by weather changes or the leaves falling. The seasons have names like Carnival and Jazz Fest. One can go from one fest to another with a go cup in hand. So how can a Jew “live it up” Jewishly in a place like this? The answer is Torah study. When one takes advantage of the Torah learning opportunities (such as the monthly Breakfast with Maimonides coming up this Sunday morning), this allows our Judaism to be sustainable and even flourish despite the spiritually challenging environment.

So “live it up” folks! Come by and fortify yourselves with some Torah. You may even find that Torah learning can be more enjoyable than the other stuff… As the old lullaby goes, “Torah iz di beste sechorah – Torah is the best merchandise.” Indeed, it is a treasure waiting to be discovered.

Mazel Tov to Dafna Black (youth director at Chabad Metairie) upon her engagement to Yitz Epstein.

Chabad of Louisiana’s Raffle 2015 is up and running. This year’s pot is ten times larger than last year – to the tune of $100,000.00. There are also a number of secondary prizes. Check it out at The drawing is in early February. Tickets are limited. So get on board right away and help support the important work that Chabad does in our community.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

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