18 Dec Israel & the Parsha- Vayechi: A Double Launch
Parshat Vayechi launches with the scene of Ya’akov’s passing while it concludes with Yosef’s death-bed request. Confident in the ultimate redemption from Egypt, he pleads with his brothers to inter his body in Israel rather than allowing it to be enshrined in a pagan temple in Egypt. Yossef expresses his confidence in the eventual exodus from Egypt by assuring his brothers that G-d will one day “remember” or “evoke” the Jewish people and deliver them. Yossef employs an interesting term to describing this eventual Divine “consideration” of the Jewish plight; he mentions the Hebrew term ‘pakod’- which often denotes G-d paying special attention to a human need. For example, erstwhile barren Sarah becomes pregnant when G-d is ‘pakad et Sarah’. Yossef employs this unique term to describe our ge’ula but also articulates it as a double phrase- pakod yifkod. What cryptic message about redemption does Yossef convey by conjugating a strange and duplicate term of pakod yifkod.
Interestingly it is this very distinctive phrase which hundreds of years later convinces the Jewish people that redemption is imminent. At the burning bush, Moshe doubted his ability to convince the slaves of their liberation. G-d instructs him to gather the elders and utter this mysterious phrase; the promise of ‘pakod yifkod’ is about to materialize and G-d assures Moshe ‘pakod pakaditi’. G-d implies that this evocative phrase would sway the elders who, in turn, would persuade the general population of Moshe’s legitimacy. What renders this phrase so resonant that otherwise skeptical slaves are inspired to believe in redemption?
This double phrase conveys an important doctrine of Jewish redemption: it will not necessarily evolve quickly and instantaneously. Redemption will more likely advance in stages with possible lags and even setbacks woven into the overall process. There may be initial spectacular events which dramatically advance the process followed by lulls and respites and even reversals. Ultimately, full redemption will be a product of a gradual process with multiple ‘pekidot’ or multiple phases. This message, originally delivered by Yossef, braces the Jews against unrealistic expectations of redemption. Unrealistic expectations of geula can be dangerous and disillusioning. Impractical expectations of redemption can incite hopes which, if unfulfilled, may lead to wearied disenchantment. Yossef’s sobering message of pakod yifkod assures his descendants that, with patience and redemptive stamina, ultimate geula will ensue even if it doesn’t peak immediately. Hearing this phrase from Moshe convinced the elders that a sound and realistic process of geula had commenced. In fact, Yossef’s sketch and his gradual timeline actually materializes; Moshe’s initial efforts to galvanize the slaves are blunted by both Pharo’s intransigence as well as the skepticism of the oppressed slaves. Moshe is mocked by the Egyptian court and ridiculed by his own people after his initial efforts nose-dive. Only after this lull in the first “pekida” does Moshe restart the process and ultimately redeem the Jews from Egypt.
The phenomenon of “pakid yifkod”- that redemption often occurs in stages but not rapidly- characterizes future redemptions as well. The return from Bavel and Persia to launch the Second Temple also occurred in two stages. The Persian monarch, Cyrus the Great, initially sanctioned the reconstruction of the Mikdash only to rescind this authorization in the face of antagonistic pressure from local inhabitants in Israel who were troubled by Jewish expansionism (Does this sound familiar?). After a brief recess, the reconstruction process was renewed by Ezra and Nechemiah who spearheaded the second ‘pekida’. Interestingly, the miracle of Purim occurred during the intervening years between the initial redemptive stage and the final climax. In many ways the miracle of Purim provided the extra thrust and redemptive vision necessary to propel a stalled process toward its conclusion.
If history repeats itself in general, redemptive history certainly repeats itself. We are currently living through the throes of a pakod yifkod experience. The initial thrust of our redemption crested 70 years ago when our Modern State was formed, and our scattered people began to converge upon their homeland. This historical shift excited grand visions, expectations of a complete redemption, and the launch of a great Utopian era we had expected for thousands of years. Unfortunately, that second stage has yet to unfold and, often, we feel as if the process is mired in geopolitical opposition and internal Jewish hesitancy. This delay is merely a hiatus in the overall process which continues to unfold in stages. Sadly, we have even experienced minor regressions, but the overall historical trajectory continues to surge toward a redemptive terminus. Yossef’s ‘password’ of redemption demands that we exercise patience and persistence while we await future pekidot.
Rabbi Moshe Taragin