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Parashat Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

“And Joseph called to his sons and said,’ Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come.’” (Genesis 49:1)

Parashat Vayechi is the last parasha (portion) in the book of Genesis. It concludes the story-cycle of Joseph and his brothers. Much of the parasha is taken up with Jacob’s farewell blessings to his children. Then Jacob, and later, Joseph, die. Rabbi Avi Weiss (1944-; Modern Orthodox rabbi, activist, and head the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale) observes Vayechi breaks new ground in the Torah in two ways: it is the first time blessings are extended without exclusion and it is the first time a grandfather interacts with his grandchildren.

Genesis is filled with familial strife: Cain vs. Abel, Isaac vs. Ishmael, Jacob vs. Esau, Joseph vs. his brothers. Often, a blessing is at stake. But now, Jacob offers blessings to all his children and no one’s blessing is altered or diminished because of someone else. The rival siblings are united spiritually now, as well as physically. Jacob also adopts Joseph’s sons, claiming, “Ephraim and Menashe shall be mine no less than Reuven and Shimon.” (Gen. 48:5) He invokes Abraham and Isaac, his own grandfather and father, when he blesses the boys, bringing together all five generations to bear witness to the fulfillment of God’s promise (Gen. 48:15).

The act of blessing unites these two episodes, with harmony between the generation of Joseph and his brothers and harmony across the generations of the first Jewish family, finally established. The Zohar (widely considered the most important book of Jewish mysticism) comments the blessing of children is incomplete until it is fulfilled in the next generation (1:227b). Vayechi is a dramatic enactment of this idea.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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