Va-y’chi (And he lived)

Genesis 47:28 to 50:26

As finish the book of Genesis, I look back at the major people we have observed and see what we can learn from their lives.

This week’s parsha begins with these words: “Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years; Jacob’s days – the years of his life – were 147.” (Gen. 47:28)

A look at the book of GenesisThis is a week of “endings.” In this, the last parsha of Genesis, we read of the deaths of both Jacob and Joseph. … Over the past few months we have seen the creation of the world – a second rebirth of mankind after Noah and the flood – the birth of the Israelites through the Patriarchs and Matriarchs – the beginnings of the connection with the nation of Israel – the movement to Egypt during and time of famine.

We have seen the Israelites grow from one person – Abraham – to a family of 70 relocating in Egypt. All this happened over a just four generations… or about 150 to 200 years. This family is now about to settle in Egypt and grow to become a mighty nation over the next 400 years.

Looking back over the twelve parshot of Genesis, I can’t help but think of a question that one of the members of Shabbat Torah Study Group I attend frequently asks; “So, what does this mean for us today?”

I see these stories, not so much as history, but as a survey of the different types of people we find in our personal worlds. By examining each, we can view … and learn … the positive and negative factors in each lifestyle.

All of the major characters we view in Genesis have one thing in common – a personal contact with God. All believe that God created the world and all it contains. They believe that God plays a major role in their success or failure.

Looking at each individually, we see that Adam and Eve rejected God’s instructions regarding the Tree of All Knowledge. As a result their lives were changed as they were ejected from the Garden of Eden.

Noah followed the instructions of the Eternal. But after the flood and his salvation, he reverted to his old ways and the world slid back in decadence.

Instead of attempting to create a perfect world, God decided to select a single family and build a nation which would follow his ethics.

Abraham, the first of the Patriarchs, followed every instruction of God. It could be said that he was our first religious extremist. In the end, after being asked to sacrifice his favorite son, he lost his wife and ended the relationship with his son. It seems that to Abraham, his relationship with God was more important than all else… including family.

Isaac, represents the second generation. After the attempted sacrifice, it can be said that he is a product of a severely dysfunctional family. This may have been the cause of the apparent lack of leadership he demonstrates. He doesn’t resist Abraham’s sacrifice. He accepts Rebekah as his wife. Through his life, he seems to be directed by both events and those around him. However, it is significant that through his life he remained dedicated to God. Even though he didn’t really contribute any significant achievements to the history of our people… he did continue the belief in God through this second generation. This fact can be seen as significant because in many cases the second generation often fails to continue the teachings of the first.

In the third generation, Jacob demonstrates a new relationship with God through questioning his relationship, both before leaving home when he confronts God after his dream where he sees angels going up and down the ladder. When Jacob returns to his family home, he has a wrestling match with a “man” who may have been a representative of God or the battle may have been Jacob wrestling over the internal problems he was having. This trait of questioning has always been an important part of our faith.

Jacob’s son, Joseph, also is the result of a dysfunctional family involving Jacob’s four wives. Joseph adds the dimension of a life in the Diaspora. Even though he completely adopts the lifestyles of Egypt, he never loses his faith in God. He becomes a role model for life in a non-Israelite world. This is even more important because during most of their history, Israelites lived without a homeland…. Until recent history, it was always a dream for the future.

While we see many differences in each of these people… we also see a real progression toward more peaceful relationships between siblings.

Cain and Abel argued and the first murder was the result.

Isaac and Ishmael had different mothers and may have fought between themselves. They were separated for life. The only time they came together was to bury their father.

The relationship between Jacob and Esau resulted in Esau threatening to kill his brother. Jacob fled. However, they met and settled their differences years later. But, they continued to live apart.

Joseph was hated by his brothers who sold him into slavery. In this generation, Joseph forgave his brothers and cared for them by creating a new home for them during troubled times. They continued to live in the same country… but not really together.

In the last generation, we see Joseph’s Ephraim and Manasseh living together without conflict… even though the older brother did not receive the blessing of his grandfather.

Through all these sibling relationships I see two factors…. First, even though there is great conflict between all but the last pair of brothers, there is a continuing movement toward a greater peace between the siblings…. Second, we see that the first son of each generation never receives the blessings they are due. The fact that the presumed sibling (oldest male) doesn’t get the leadership role may show the Israelite nation that… even though they are not the most powerful, they will have a major role in the future.

Looking at each of these people, we can see similarities to people we know in our world. By studying each of these biblical players, we can look at ourselves and those around us and learn how to react to the world around us.

And, with these words, once again we celebrate the completion of book of Torah by reciting: CHAZAK, CHAZAK, VINETCHZAK…. From strength to strength, we strengthen each other. (and isn’t that what Torah study is all about?)

Earl Sabes

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