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

“Then Joseph adjured the children of Israel saying, “When God will indeed
remember you, then you must bring my bones up out of here.” (Genesis 50:25)

Parashat Vayechi is the last parasha, or portion in the book of Genesis. It also is a parasha of “firsts: ” the first time someone is aware of impending death (Gen. 48:29), the first time grandparents and grandchildren interact (Gen. 48:8-21), and the first time a blessing is given to every son, uncontested. (Gen. 49:1-28). It also is the first time the concept of chesed v’emet is mentioned in the Torah.

When Jacob realizes he will die soon, he demands of Joseph, “…Please place your hand under my thigh and do chesed v’emet, kindness and truth, with me: please do not bury me in Egypt.” (Genesis 48:29) Because each word is mentioned individually (rather than connected, as in the phrase “true kindness”), each signifies a distinct meaning. Rabbi John Moscowitz (Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto and Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem) suggests chesed refers to universal acts of kindness while emet refers to particular loyalty to the Jewish people.

For many, being Jewish means engaging in acts of chesed directed at the world community, universally. For others, being Jewish means engaging in true acts of loyalty directed at the Jewish community in particular. Each direction is valid, each is necessary. However, Jacob’s deathbed language implies neither is sufficient, alone. Being a member of the Children of Israel (that’s how Jacob is named at the start of the verse) means staking out a place in the world through acts of kindness as well as demonstrating a concern for the well-being and future of the Jewish people through true acts of loyalty. Kein Y’hi Ratzon. So may it be.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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