“Then Israel said to Joseph, “I am about to die, but God will be
with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers.” (Genesis 48:21)
Parashat Vayechi is the last parasha (portion) in the book of Genesis and brings to a close three nested story-cycles: the epic of the patriarchs, the travails of Jacob (now Israel), and the Joseph saga. Much of the parasha is taken up with Israel’s deathbed farewell to his children. Then he, and later, Joseph die.
Israel gathers his family around him and says, “…I will tell you what will befall you in the end of days.” (Gen. 49:1) What follows is the first piece of extended poetry in the Torah and is a surprising mix of blessings, curses, praise and censure—but it doesn’t include anything about the end of days (a reference to the Messianic Age). Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) explains Israel sees the painful Jewish future, which depresses him. He loses his ability to prophesy immediately because Divine inspiration requires joy (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 32b). It’s hard to know which thread of Jewish history causes Israel to lose heart: the many acts of oppression, cruelty, and destruction throughout history, or the many acts of indifference, assimilation, and abandonment of Jews to their own history and heritage.
The recent PEW survey of American Jews leaves many (but not all) depressed, and presumably, bereft of Divine guidance. Rabbi Abraham Twerski (1930-; an American chassidic rabbi and psychiatrist specializing in substance abuse ) reminds us when Moses pleads on behalf of the Jewish people after the incident of the golden calf, he says, “…For this is a stiff necked people.” (Exodus 34:9) Moses reminds us stubbornness, like joy, can be a virtue and is also a key to Jewish survival.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom