Vayechi – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis
Vayechi is the last Parasha of Bereishit. Winston Churchill used the phrase “the end of the beginning but not the beginning of the end” after the Battle of Britain in the 1940’s. It could well apply to the Sedra this week.
We begin with the death of Jacob and conclude with the death of Joseph. Joseph wants his father to bless and accept his sons. When Jacob received his blessing Isaac was blind and deceived by Rebecca whilst Esau was not present. In the case of Joseph
וַיַּ֥רְא יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יוֹסֵ֑ף
Then Israel saw Joseph's sons
יוְעֵינֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ כָּֽבְד֣וּ מִזֹּ֔קֶן
Now Israel's eyes had become heavy with age
Although Jacobs’ sight was poor, he knew what he was doing. This is the first time the blessing is made by a grandparent. He blessed Ephraim with his right hand before Manasseh (against the protests of Joseph), To this day, boys receive the blessing
יְשִֽׂמְךָ֣ אֱלֹהִ֔ים כְּאֶפְרַ֖יִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁ֑
May God make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh
Jacob goes on to enumerate the twelve tribes; together with their attributes before reminding them that he is to be buried at Machpelah. This is accomplished with great ceremony by Joseph. Once across the Jordan
וַיִּ֨סְפְּדוּ־שָׁ֔ם מִסְפֵּ֛ד גָּד֥וֹל וְכָבֵ֖ד מְאֹ֑ד וַיַּ֧עַשׂ לְאָבִ֛יו אֵ֖בֶל שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים
and there they conducted a very great and impressive eulogy, and he made for his father a mourning of seven days
This is the format of a Shiva after death.
Joseph himself would be buried in Shechem where Jacob had bought land. It was where he, Joseph, had gone to see his brothers before they sold him into captivity. Renamed Neopolis by the Romans the name was eventually changed to Nablus.
No longer just a family, we are to become a people, a nation. We will have many beginnings but what holds us together is the memory of that covenant made with Abraham. We have a mission, whatever our differences.
Each day we address Jacob by his given name, Israel.
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד
Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One
Wherever we go that is what we take with us.