Torah Weekly

For the week ending 6 January 2007 / 16 Tevet 5767

Parshat Vayechi

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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After 17 years in Egypt, Yaakov senses his days drawing to a close and summons Yosef. He has Yosef swear to bury him in the Machpela Cave, the burial place of Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sara, Yitzchak and Rivka. Yaakov falls ill and Yosef brings to him his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Yaakov elevates Ephraim and Menashe to the status of his own sons, thus giving Yosef a double portion that removes the status of firstborn from Reuven. As Yaakov is blind from old age, Yosef leads his sons close to their grandfather. Yaakov kisses and hugs them. He had not thought to see his son Yosef again, let alone Yosef's children. Yaakov begins to bless them, giving precedence to Ephraim, the younger, but Yosef interrupts him and indicates that Menashe is the elder. Yaakov explains that he intends to bless Ephraim with his strong hand because Yehoshua will descend from him, and Yehoshua will be both the conqueror of Eretz Yisrael and the teacher of Torah to the Jewish People. Yaakov summons the rest of his sons in order to bless them as well. Yaakov's blessing reflects the unique character and ability of each tribe, directing each one in its unique mission in serving G-d. Yaakov passes from this world at age 147. A tremendous procession accompanies his funeral cortege up from Egypt to his resting place in the Cave of Machpela in Chevron. After Yaakov's passing, the brothers are concerned that Yosef will now take revenge on them. Yosef reassures them, even promising to support them and their families. Yosef lives out the rest of his years in Egypt, seeing Efraim's great-grandchildren. Before his death, Yosef foretells to his brothers that G-d will redeem them from Egypt. He makes them swear to bring his bones out of Egypt with them at that time. Yosef passes away at the age of 110 and is embalmed. Thus ends Sefer Bereishet, the first of the five Books of the Torah. Chazak!


Message In A Bottle

“…and deal with love and truth with me, please do not bury me in Egypt” (47:29)

A couple of thousand years ago a famous Jew said that the outpouring of his kindness by dying for the sins of his followers would grant them eternal and unqualified atonement.

Possibly this is the source or our literary and cultural tradition that glorifies unstinting giving.

Our culture’s cult of romantic (and ultimately decadent) self-abandonment on the altar of giving makes it difficult to relate to the Torah’s insistence on limits.

The well-worn canard that the Judaic “letter of the law” extinguishes its delicate and self-sacrificing spirit is another symptom of this bias.

However, without truth, kindness descends into depravity.

The Hebrew word for kindness, chesed, is connected to the word meaning "to pour oneself out" (ashad). For example, when the Torah prohibits a certain kind of incestuous relationship, it describes the relationship as chesed. (Vayikra 20:17)

True kindness is always controlled and appropriate. Thus, the ways of G-d are always described as chesed v’emet, “kindness and truth.” No Being can be kinder than G-d, and His Kindness is tempered by Truth.

Where would the newspapers be were it not for the foibles of the young and the restless? Our society adulates romantic abandon, head-over-heels love, and extravagant emotional indulgence.

Unbridled kindness is not what G-d wants from us, He wants kindness with our heads screwed on.

Yaakov knew that Yosef would inter him with all possible pomp and ceremony, but despite the true chesed of burying the dead, Yaakov preferred not to be buried at all rather than have his bones rest in the soil of Egypt.

The question remains, however, why was Yaakov so concerned that he not be buried in Egypt?

After seventeen years of living in Egypt, Yaakov had seen the effects of living next to the fleshpots. The Jewish People were already starting to mistake the Nile for the Jordan River. The Exile was so comfortable that it seemed that Egypt was not an exile at all.

Egypt is the matrix of all exiles, and we, the children of Israel, of Yaakov, find ourselves in the last of all those exiles.

Yaakov was sending a posthumous message not just to his children in Egypt, but also to his most distant descendants across the millennia, saying, “Your hope is to live in a land in which I refuse to even be buried.”

The more comfortable are our lives, the more difficult it is to feel the reality of the exile in which we languish, and the more important is Yaakov’s message in a bottle.

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