“Jacob lived seventeen years in the land of Egypt, so that the span of Jacob’s life
came to one hundred and forty-seven years.” (Genesis 47:28))
Parashat Vayechi both closes the book of B’reishit (Genesis) and is the last parasha (portion) for 2012. Three important narrative cycles come together in Vayechi. The patriarchal cycle and God’s promise of nationhood begins with Abraham and is manifest here with the “Twelve Tribes.” The Jacob stories and God’s repeated promise of many offspring ends with the dying father surrounded by his family. Finally, Judah’s rising dominance is emphasized through the number of verses dedicated to him. Much of the parasha is taken up with Jacob’s farewell blessings to his children. Then both Jacob and Joseph die.
Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) interprets Genesis 49:28 to mean Jacob gives each tribe a specific blessing and then gives all the tribes an inclusive blessing. By acknowledging the common destiny of the tribes while emphasizing each one’s unique attributes and potential, Rashi makes two profound statements, one about individuals, and one about community.
The book of Proverbs says, “Educate the child according to his tendency,” (Proverbs 22:6). This means building upon a person’s strengths to increase the likelihood of success. Implicit is the recognition of individual differences and the variety of ways of learning. Jacob’s individual blessing to each tribe reflects this understanding. Jacob’s comprehensive blessing to all the tribes reflects the understanding that diversity strengthens the community. Together, the blessings validate the reality of differences and celebrate their contribution to Jewish life.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom