This week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, is all about endings. It is the last parasha in the book of Genesis. In it we find Jacob’s blessing of his grandsons Manasseh and Ephraim. We also find Jacob’s final words to his children. In the words of the Plaut Torah Commentary, they are “a combination of prayer, blessing, curse, warning, psychological assessment, parable, recollection and hope.”1
The parasha then concludes with the death and burial of Jacob, which is ultimately followed by the death and embalmment of Joseph at the age of 110. Before he died Joseph requested that his bones be brought out of Egypt to the land of his fathers, a little foreshadowing, if you will.
In the words of Rabbi Heidi Cohen 2, “A midrash from D’varim Rabbah recalls how when Jacob calls all of his 12 sons to gather around him, he is concerned that all that has been passed on to him through his father Isaac, his grandfather, Abraham, and from God, will be lost with this new generation. He is struggling with his death because he is concerned that once he is gone, no one will continue this relationship with God and the responsibility of being the Israelite people and the commitment to this faith. But his sons gather around him and say, ‘Shema Yisrael, listen Dad (Jacob), ADONAI Eloheinu ADONAI echad!, ADONAI is our God, ADONAI is one.’ Upon hearing this conviction, hearing in their voices that all will not be lost, Jacob is able to say in a final quiet voice, ‘baruch Shem k’vod malchuto l’olam va’ed’ Blessed is God’s holy name, now and forever; I know that you will not forget your covenant with God, that you will teach it to your children, and pass it on for generations to come.”
Therefore, even though Vayechi is all about endings, it is also about beginnings. The end of one journey foretells the start of a new one. For the past two years it has seemed at times that all we are is stuck in a vicious cycle, but the truth is, we keep inching forward, even if it is ever so slowly. In these times, may we continue to prepare ourselves for new beginnings both for ourselves and the generations to come.
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff
1 Plaut, Gunther, ed. ,The Torah: A Modern Commentary, URJ Press, pg. 304.