When Best is not Best

Friday, 21 December, 2018 - 10:01 am

You might be the best swimmer in your high school class. You might even be the best swimmer in your state. And, you ought to be proud.

But, if your goal is to compete at the international level, you may find that “best” is a relative term.

You might be the absolute best employee in your company. But, if you have a PhD in neuroscience and are working at a car wash, you might believe that “best” is a relative term.


The name of this week’s parsha is Vayechi, meaning, “And he lived“ – referring to the last 17 years of Yaakov’s life. These last 17 years were spent in Egypt.

(Parenthetically, the Hebrew word טוב (Tov) has the gematria (numeric equivalent) of 17).

According to the Midrash, these were the best years of his life – years filled with peace, prosperity and goodness. After 130 years of tribulations and suffering, Yaakov finally had tranquility and spiritual satisfaction – nachas.

This, then, is the deeper meaning of the word “vayechi” (and he lived). After all, Yaakov lived before then as well. What does the verse mean that – suddenly – Yaakov lived? But, as we know, there are grades of life. Compared to these 17 years, his previous life barely qualified as life. Now, he really lived.

Nonetheless, in the very next verse, Yaakov demands from his son, “You shall deal with me with lovingkindness and truth; do not bury me in Egypt.”

Life may have been the best it could have been in Egypt. Ultimately, however, it was far from perfect.

Despite all the good that Yaakov experienced in Egypt, he insisted on being buried in the land of Israel.

Even if life is good – indeed it is the best it can be – both spiritually and materially, exile is simply not the place for a Jew.

Yaakov recognized that the best is only a relative term.

For a Jew, anything short of the physical and spiritual bliss that Moshiach will bring – is simply second fiddle. A world without the presence of G-d revealed; a world in which suffering and hostility persist; a world in which matter prevails over spirit – can never be considered the best.

And – like our ancestor Yaakov – we won’t settle for anything less than the very best!

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