Torah Weekly

For the week ending 22 December 2018 / 14 Tevet 5779

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 the first-born 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!


With the Help of Heaven

“And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt…” (47:28)

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a global campaign promoting various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets what the campaign describes as "[Israel's] obligations under international law", defined as withdrawal from the occupied territories, removal of the separation barrier in the West Bank, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and promotion of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

Voices against the BDS movement claim that it judges the State of Israel with standards different from those used to judge other political situations. For example, Charles Krauthammer wrote: "Israel is the world's only Jewish state. To apply to the state of the Jews a double standard that you apply to none other, to judge one people in a way you judge no other, to single out that one people for condemnation and isolation — is to engage in a gross act of discrimination." Retired Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz compares the way BDS proponents "single-out" Israel for its human rights violations with the way Harvard president A. Lawrence Lowell defended his decision to impose anti-Jewish quotas in the beginning of the 20th century. When asked why there should be a quota on Jews, Lowell replied, "Jews cheat." When reminded that Christians cheat too, Lowell responded, "You're changing the subject. We are talking about Jews now.”

In this week’s Torah portion the quintessential exile of the Jewish People into Egypt reaches its conclusion with Yaakov and all his family firmly domiciled in the Land of Goshen. In spite of all of Yosef’s public service to Egypt, rescuing the country from the ravages of a world-wide famine and skillfully navigating Egypt to a position of unrivalled prominence and power, we learn in the very first sentences of the book of Exodus that “a new king arose of Egypt, who did not know Yosef.” (1:8) Here is the archetypal source of the amnesia shown by host nations to their Jewish citizens: They welcome our skills and industriousness and then turn around and say, “Yeah, but what have you done for us lately?”

What causes this amnesia?

210 years later, when Moshe leads the Jewish People out of Egypt, they were immersed in idol worship. Clearly this did not happen overnight. In fact, from the moment the Jewish People entered Egypt, the effect of the spiritual impurity of that land started its work. Slowly but very surely it took its toll, and the Jewish people started to forget Who it is that helps and guards them.

When we write a letter or an essay or even a list or a drawing, we put an abbreviation of three letters either in Hebrew or English in the top right-hand corner of the paper. We write BS”D, meaning B’sayatta d’Shamaya, which is the Aramaic for “with the help of Heaven”. We declare that everything that we can write, think or create comes only with the help of Heaven.

When a Jew forgets from where his help comes, BS”D will turn into BD”S.

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