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Vayechi – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

The Sedra this week, Vayehi, begins with the words

וַיְחִ֤י יַֽעֲקֹב֙,
and Jacob lived

As written in the Torah scroll, Vayehi follows directly upon the last word of Vayigash, last week's parashah, without any break in the Hebrew text. It is the continuation of the Jacob story and goes on to record both the death of Jacob and that of Joseph.

We had settled in Goshen; an area of about 900 square miles, near the city of Ramses. Around 385 CE a pilgrim named Silvia (or “Egeria”) identified Goshen as being close to Heeropolis (Heliopolis) on the east of the Nile delta. She described travelling through vineyards, balsam plantations, orchards, tilled fields and gardens.

Jacob, aware that his death was near, has time to prepare. He calls on Joseph to bury him at Machpelah and not in Egypt. When he spoke of his “sojourning” last week he acknowledged that where we now living would be temporary and transient; the prophesy that we would become slaves had been spelt out. (Sadly that is a message which we, as Jews, learnt in many places and at many times for over 2000 years.).

Joseph, seeing his father declining, goes back to him to have his sons accepted. Repeating his own life when, as the second son, he received the blessing before his brother Esau, Jacob gives primacy to Ephraim, the younger son. (To this day we make the blessing “to be like Ephraim and Manasseh). Both Isaac and Jacob had poor sight but unlike his father, Jacob knew what he was doing. Manasseh had been named by Joseph

for God has caused me to forget all my toil and all my father's house

Manasseh did not choose his own name but the implied message to “forget” is to risk losing everything. In the end Joseph would not forget and he would ask not to be buried in Egypt. Nor did Manasseh forget: his tribe would march with that of his brothers.

Before Jacob dies he called his sons together and he sets out their strengths, their weaknesses and limitations together with what he perceives to be their inheritance before he finally blesses them. He predicts not just their present but their future as the tribes of Israel.

Limitations do not have to be what we inherit. We can exceed them without forgetting who and what we are.

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