D’var Torah for January 2023 Board of Trustees Meeting: Vayechi By Howard Domfort
My parsha is Vayechi – translated to “And he lived.” Who is “he”? He is Jacob.
How did I come to choose Vayechi? I checked online and this was my bar mitzvah portion 55 years ago. I did not remember that. And at 13 I just wanted to get through the ceremony. I was not a good Hebrew language student, but I did prevail. My family and friends said I did a nice job chanting my part.
An aside: At our wedding on Sept. 9, 1990, my uncle said to me “You did it again to me.” I asked him what did I do? He said today is the US Tennis Open men’s finals. And my bar mitzvah reception was the afternoon of Super Bowl 2. I replied, “Oh well, c’est la vie.”
Vayechi. It is the last reading in the Book of Genesis. It is also the shortest portion. Jacob lived 17 years of his 147 in Egypt. He asked his son Joseph to swear to bury him with Abraham and Isaac in Canaan. Joseph agreed. Jacob blessed his sons. He also blessed Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Menassah. And in a way adopted them as his own.
Jacob had poor eyesight due to his age. Joseph had his 2 sons kneel before Jacob, Ephraim the younger brother on Jacob’s left and Menassah on his right. Jacob crossed his arms and put his right hand on Ephraim’s head and left hand on Menassah’s head. Jacob prayed that God would bless these boys and have many children. Joseph was upset as the older son should have gotten the right-hand honor. Jacob said “No! They will both become great men, but the younger will be even greater.”
Like written “wills” of today. Jacob told his sons his “will” and some of what he saw as the future for them. Some of his sons were good people and others bad people. In birth order:
Jacob’s sons became the 12 tribes of Israel. After he blessed them, Jacob commanded his sons to bury him in the Cave of Machpelah in Canaan where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and Leah were buried. Then he died. After Jacob died, Joseph ordered his physicians to embalm Jacob.
This took 40 days.
Joseph asked and received permission from Pharaoh to bury Jacob in Canaan. Joseph went with his entire family, Pharaoh’s court, Egypt’s elders, some chariots and horsemen. After passing the Jordan River, they mourned Jacob for seven days. The sons buried Jacob as he had asked, then all returned to Egypt.
Joseph’s brothers were worried that Joseph would be angry with them and do them harm. Jacob had ordered Joseph to forgive his brothers, which he did. Joseph said even if you meant me harm, God had a reason for it: To preserve the nation. Joseph told his brothers not to be afraid and that he would provide for them and their families.
Joseph lived to 110 years old. He even saw his great grandchildren. He told his brothers that God would one day take them from Egypt to the land of Israel. Joseph had his brothers swear to bury him in Israel someday. He was embalmed and put in a coffin. (Many years later, when Moses led the Exodus from Egypt, they took Joseph’s remains.)
To me this section is less about God and more about family, life and death: even 3,500 years ago some people made pre-arrangements for their funeral and burial. This concept or tradition goes on today. It is a good idea to make some arrangements or at least talk about it. I know it is not something you really want to talk about, but it will happen to all of us.
I know first-hand of not having anything in place when my wife suddenly died. I was in a panic. Thankfully my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were there to help Marcus and me.
Another concept that touched me was Jacob’s “will” when he was talking to his sons, telling them basically what they will inherit and become in life. Like wills of today should be in writing to let people know what they will inherit. It is a good idea to have one as it may stop some family infighting. But then again it may not.
Also, try not to hold grudges against people. Like Joseph, who forgave his brothers, we should do the same. I know it’s hard as we are only human, but it seems to be the right thing to do.