Judaism: Eternal Perspectives in the Parsha
Moshe KempinskiMoshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Jewish history has been circuitous and at times very difficult. The voyage forward at times seemed to head in opposite directions. The people have been torn a part at times with severe sibling rivalry and jealousy. Yet the voyage of Jewish history continues to unfold. What is the secret of that ever-developing growth?
How were Joseph and his brothers able to rift a chasm created out of jealousy hatred and murderous intentions .Ishmael and Isaac never really could and in fact only came together for their father's funeral. Esav and Jacob were to find themselves in eternal battle until "the redeemers will liberate Mount Seir”. Yet Joseph and his brothers eventually come to terms with their past and look forward into their long journey together.
Yet that did not come easily as well
When Joseph's brothers came to garner food and provisions in the land of Egypt we read;
"And Joseph's brethren came, and bowed down to him with their faces to the earth. And Joseph saw his brethren, and he recognized them, but made himself strange unto them, and spoke roughly with them". ( Genesis 42:7-9)
Joseph was set on tormenting them. Even if that was done to bring them to repentance and ultimate Tikkun (spiritual fixing) the anger and hurt was evident in the words and the actions. When all was revealed and just after their father's passing the brothers began to fear and expect the worst;
"And when Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they said: 'It may be that Joseph will hate us, and will fully requite us all the evil which we did unto him?. (ibid 50:15).
Joseph then answers them with the answer that changes the framework and paradigm of their concerns and fears;
"And Joseph said unto them: 'Fear not; for am I in the place of G-d?'"(ibid 19)
Joseph was reminding them what their father had already tried to convey. This is not just about us ..this is about the future and destiny of this whole people that will come out of our loins and our actions.
The Torah portion of Vayechi stands out from the other Torah portions in an interesting way. In the Torah scroll there is usually a space between the last words of the previous Torah portion and the next one. The Torah portion of Vayechi is not separated in such a way. In Jewish terms that situation is called “Satum” or closed. Rashi asks what we are to learn from the fact that this Parsha (Torah Portion) is “Satum”
“Why is this portion closed? The death of Yaacov caused a closing of the eyes and hearts of Israel, due to the troubles of the oppression which began (at this time).Also .. (Yaacov) wished to reveal the end of days to his children, but it was closed to him.”
Jacob wanted to explain to them what would happen in the "end of Days" and the secret was “Satum” -closed to him as we see in the verse; "And Jacob called unto his sons, and said: 'Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the end of days.'" (Breishit 49:1)
One wonders what benefit such a revelation would bring his children about to enter into exile and slavery. Would it offer them any sense of hope and comfort that redemption was over three thousand years away?
The Sfat Emet quotes writes , that Yaacov was not in fact attempting to reveal the secret of “ the end of days” but rather he was attempting to reveal to them that such a concept called “the end of days” was a fact, a promise and a reality.
Though the particulars of that end may have been closed to him, the message strengthened by his demand to be buried in the land of his forefathers forged that awareness clearly into their hearts. It is only in possession of that awareness that his children could withstand the long voyage still ahead of them. Only in this way could they weather the coming storms of oppression. An eternal people have no fear of a long voyage when they know that the voyage is headed towards destiny.
It is with this knowledge that Jacob then turns to bless his children
"Gather and listen, sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel, your father." ( ibid)
We note an enigmatic switching between the names of Jacob and Israel. Jacob as always is meant to represent “ the here and now” , while the name Israel represents destiny
Jacob was giving them the here and now blessings of Jacob so as to give them the provisions to walk the long voyage of the destiny of Israel.
That then is the secret of the healing of the rift. When this people are aware of their higher and common purpose it puts the difficult chapters of life in a very different perspective. In exile the individual growth and actions of each individual becomes the ultimate focus and purpose.
In the land of Israel one has to be very sensitive to a higher and deeper subtext. Being aware of the narrative of the people as a people gives each individual the strength to heal rifts and forge forward.
That is the closing message of the book of Genesis “Joseph said to his brothers: 'I am going to die; G-d will surely remember you and take you up out of this land to the land that He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob'." ( ibid 50:24)
LeRefuat Yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved