Va-y’chi – Genesis 47:28 to 50:26: With this text we finish Genesis. Looking back, it seems that the development of the characters can be compared to an individual growing from infancy to adulthood…. From Adam and Eve taking direction and punishment from God to Jacob -actually fighting with God… and Joseph, like a young adult, on his own in a strange land.
“Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years: Jacob’s days – the years of his life – were 147.” (Gen. 47:28) In this week’s parsha we conclude Genesis with the deaths of both Jacob and Joseph.
Looking back at the entirety of Genesis, there are several observations I would like to make.
First, I see the opening two parshot, B’reishit and Noach, as establishing the power of the Eternal and the relationship with mankind.
The remaining bulk of the book describes the roots of the Jewish people. Amazingly, these roots are established in just four generations. When compared to my life, that same generational span would include my grandfather, father, me, and my children. That’s an incredibly short period of time when you compare it to the totality of Jewish history and its impact on the world.
As I look at the story of these four generations, I also see a constant pattern of growth – both in thought and action. This growth can be seen as a progression from infancy to adulthood.
The stories of Adam and Eve and Noah show people that demand the constant care and direction of the powerful God who seems to be in control of the earth’s population.
Adam and Eve are told what to do, then punished when they eat of the fruit that was denied to them. Cain and Abel have a disagreement that ends with the murder of Abel and God’s punishment of Cain. People make bad choices and then the Eternal acts to punish those actions. There seems to be minimal objection from the people involved and the punishments don’t seem to have much impact on the behavior of those people. By the time of Noah, the world is so corrupt that God acts to destroy it…. And after the flood, we learn that Noah grows a vineyard and get drunk….. It’s like the actions of an infant and frustrated parent.
Then we see the beginnings of the Israelite people. Abraham listens, hears, understands and acts on what the Eternal says. It’s as if God asks Abraham to “jump” and Abraham responds by asking “how high.” As a final test, God even asks him to kill his beloved son. Abraham responds without a word of objection. Yes, Abraham did raise questions regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. But, in this case the Eternal did not ask for any action from Abraham. It was just a friendly discussion in which Abraham never went against the word of God. I see a relationship like one of a very young child following the directions of a parent.
And the ability to make decisions can be reflected in the relations between siblings. Ishmael and Isaac do something that upsets Sarah. The reaction by Sarah was to expel both Ishmael and his mother out of the community and into the desert… an almost certain death penalty. There was no effort toward reconciliation. However, this is a step forward toward peace when compared to the actions of Cain versus Abel.
The second generation, Isaac and his family, seem to follow in the steps of Abraham. They imitate, but really don’t add any new factors. This is not unlike a youngster with the ability to make decisions, but who is always trying to please by imitating what he or she witnesses… without being told how to act.
We see progress in the actions of sibling behavior. Jacob and Esau have differences to be sure… threats are made … but in the end there is reconciliation. However, in the end the brothers do take their separate paths.
In the third generation, Jacob, actually argues with God. When he flees home after stealing his brother’s birthright, he tells God that he will be faithful, if he returns home safely. Then, before actually returning home … before meeting with his brother … he earns the name, Israel – one who has wrestled with God. In regards to his relationship with others, Jacob is capable of making decisions on his own; we see this in his relationship with his father-in-law, Laben.
The children of Jacob, like preceding generations, also have major disagreements. But in the end there is real reconciliation and they actually live together in peace.
In the fourth generation, represented by Joseph, we see Joseph actually forced from his home when sold into slavery. As a result Joseph is forced to act on his own as a young adult would. However, we see that many of the decisions he makes are formed by this faith in the Eternal which he learned. The “child” representing Israel’s growth is now a young adult creating a very successful life on his own. However, Joseph believes, and actually states, that his actions are the result of the powers of God.
Real growth can also be seen in the actions of Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. When Jacob blesses them and gives the birthright to the younger son there is no disagreement. It is accepted with total peace by the brothers. This may be the reason why, when we bless our sons, we ask that they grow like Ephraim and Manasseh.
So, we have seen the Israelite family grow from individuals accepting total direction to individuals able to successfully live by their own actions… like a growth from infant to young adult. We have seen many real life situation involving conflicts, problems, and life events that can be seen as lessons from which we can learn and help pattern our own lives. This is a real value we can gain from these Torah stories … and why they can be reread year after year.
…. And, as we say when we reach the end each book of Torah … Chazak, chazak, venitchazak: From strength to strength we strengthen each other. May we continue to find strength through the study and friendships that are built through our study of Torah.