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YOLO and Ya’akov

By Rabbi Avraham Citron

You Only Live Once, but are you alive?

Some YOLO’s eat, drink and make merry, for after all, tomorrow they may die. But is that real life? In the words of my rebbi, “Are you alive because you are alive or because a bus has not run you over?”

We can learn a lot about what true life means from Yaakov Avinu. In the portion of Vayechi, ‘And Yaakov lived’, which ironically speaks about his death, we find an amazing teaching of the Baal Haturim. The numerical value of the word Vayechi is 34. Yaakov’s only good years were the 17 years when he dwelled in Egypt plus the first 17 years of Yosef’s life (prior to his being sold), totalling 34. Imagine! His 17 best years (TOV [good] has the numerical value of17) were in Egypt, known as the most depraved society, ‘the abomination of the earth’.

Furthermore, it says, ‘And it was (Vayechi) the days of Yaakov’s life…’ It should have been written in the plural (Vayechiyu—and they were). This teaches, says the Tosfot, that he only truly lived for 31 years, the numerical value of Vayechi: 17 years in Egypt and 14 years of study in the academy of Ever, totalling 31. How can one compare the two experiences, one surrounded by holiness and the other surrounded by anything but?

When G-D completed the world “He saw that it was very good”. ‘Good,’ says the midrash, refers to the Yetzer Tov / Goodness / Gan Eden / the Angel of Life while ‘very good’ refers to the Yetzer Hara / Evil/ Gehinom / the Angel of Death.

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Real life, quality life, comes not despite life’s challenges, but because of them. Overcoming the temptations of modern society brings out one’s innate qualities and reveals one’s true self. Living where G-D put you – because it is G-D who put you there – you can truly live.

YOLO, so let’s give it all you’ve got!

 

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