Parshat Vayechi, like the relationship among Jacob’s family, is complicated. Jacob’s crossed hands over grandchildren Menashe and Ephraim and the language used in blessing his own children is convoluted. Trust between Joseph and his brothers is complex. Yet, through Joseph, a profound reconciliation takes place echoing back to the start of Bereshit!
Vayechi is about promises: the promise to bury Jacob in Canaan. The promise that Ephraim and Menashe will be given full tribal status, and Joseph the city of Shechem.
Returning from his father’s state funeral, Joseph promises to sustain his brothers, and their descendants promise to take Joseph’s bones out of Egypt.
Of the 12 blessings, Reuben, Shimon and Levi are rebuked. Zebulun is put before Issachar. Dan is not followed by Naftali, nor Gad by Asher. Leadership goes to Judah and ancestral blessings to Joseph. Rashi suggests this occurred while the darkness of exile was settling in, a transition from freedom to oppression. From the archetype of Abraham’s righteousness emerged Jacob’s dysfunctional family.
Yet their cris de coeur, and Joseph’s response, redeems them as cathartically as the final curtain at a Shakespearean play. Foregoing revenge,
Joseph acknowledges the
Divine hand. As Genesis closes, his self-restraint, forgiveness and compassion redeems the family, ending the cycle of dysfunction and preserving the Almighty’s promise to Israel.
- Rabbi Jeff Berger is Interfaith adviser for Mitzvah Day and can be contacted at RabbiJeffLondon@gmail.com