Monday, December 28, 2009

Parshat VaYechi

The end of the book of B'reisheet, this parasha is also the end of the stories of the avot and imahot - the founding generations who were the source of the Jewish people.  The book is called B'reisheet - In the beginning - because of the first word of the first parasha, and refers to the beginning of the world, to the creation.  I would like to suggest that it is also an appropriate title for the entire first book:  B'reisheet - In the beginning of the creation and development of the People of Israel.

A big section of this parasha is devoted to the blessings Yaakov/Yisrael gives to his sons.  There are many ways to understand these blessings.

Before reading any of the commentaries, I urge you to look at the text of the blessings and see if the text raises any questions for you.  B'reisheet Chapters 48 to the end of the book.
Here are a couple of thoughts to get you started:

  • Why does it take a third party to let Yosef know his father is sick, and to let Yaakov know Yosef is coming?
  • Why does Yosef bring his sons?  Why doesn't Yaakov (here referred to as Yisrael) recognize them?
  • Why do you think Yisrael reverses his hands when he blesses Yosef's sons?  What does it remind you of?
  • What do you expect Yisrael to say to all his sons?  Why?
  • What surprises you about the blessings of the sons?
  • Do you think Yisrael has changed during his lifetime?  Explain why you think so.
  • Why do you think Yisrael wants to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah?  Why not with his favorite wife Rachel, who is buried in Bethlehem?
  • Why do you think Yosef had his father embalmed?
  • Why do you think the Egyptians mourned Yisrael?
  • Why do you think Yosef's children and animals remained in Egypt, in Goshen, when Yosef and his brothers went to bury Yisrael?
  • What do you think about the brothers telling Yosef what their father supposedly said to them before he died?  What does it tell you about them?  What does Yosef's answer tell you about Yosef?
  • In what way does this parasha satisfy you (or not) as the end of the first section of Torah?

The following commentaries suggest a few interesting interpretations, but don't answer all the questions above.

  • Yaakov 'opens his tent' to the diverse natures of his sons.  This commentary from Rabbi Kerry Olitzky builds on that thought
  • Aish HaTorah describes in detail the blessings of each of Yaakov's sons.  Go especially to the sections which are entitled Blessing the Tribes and The Future Leader for some traditional insights into the blessings.
  • Rabbi Elyse Winnick talks about the blessings at in an article entitled All in the Family.  I think she raises some thoughtful ideas about the tension between community and individual that are particularly relevant to our lives today.
Can you come up with your own interpretation of any part of the parasha?

Hazak, Hazak, VeNitchazek!

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