By Bob Kimsal
When, in the past, I have been asked to prepare a d’var Torah, I’ve always been keen to do it if the parashah is from the Book of Numbers. As a finance guy, that book of the Torah, suits me. This week’s parashah, Vayechi, however, is the last one in the Book of Genesis (47:28–50:26).
In it, we learn about the end of Jacob’s life. Having spent the last 17 years in Egypt, he called Joseph to come to him and made his son promise to bury him in the land of Canaan. Jacob then brought all his sons together to bless them and grant an inheritance to each of them, creating the 12 tribes of Israel.
After Jacob dies, the brothers worry that Joseph will exact revenge on them for their past treatment of him, but Joseph does not. Many years later, before Joseph dies, he gives hope to his brothers that God will help them out of Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land. He asks that they bury him there when that becomes possible.
Although this parashah is not from the Book of Numbers, I was able to find plenty of numbers within it: Jacob lived his last 17 years in Egypt, and he died at 147; Joseph lived many more years, dying at 110; and in the parashah, too, the 12 tribes of Israel are established.
What do all these numbers mean?
Many interpretations are given for the ages of characters in the Book of Genesis. Methuselah is purported to have lived to 969! According to some interpretations, the numbers do not represent characters’ ages in years, but rather, they are symbolic of something else. This explanation seems plausible to me. After all, didn’t we all just live through the 17-year-long 2020? And wasn’t the month of March at least 147 days long?
As we exit 2020, how will we define the blessings we will carry forward into the new secular year?
Just as Jacob and Joseph wanted to be buried in a familiar place, near their forefathers, we, too, when the pandemic is over and it is safe to do so, will want to return to what is familiar and meaningful to us—our own rituals and habits. What’s more, in the same way Joseph interpreted the cruelty shown him by his brothers as a blessing from God in last week’s parashah, I believe we, too, will find silver linings in the pandemic, for example, in the flexibility and adaptability we were forced to develop and in the growth that resulted from learning new techniques and protocols to keep us afloat.
Like Joseph, we should strive not seek to take revenge or feel bitter about all that we lost in 2020. Instead, we should return (when we can) to the habits that kept us balanced—and will help us regain our balance as we go forward. We should embrace the things we have learned about ourselves and about what is possible during difficult times and continue to use them when and where appropriate. From where we stand now, we can look back, and we can look forward, poised to blend the old with the new. Doing so, will ensure we can take our blessings and move forward as part of a wholly new tribe—pandemic survivors.
It’s not over yet, but now is the time to get ready. When it is over, we all will carry the banner of our new tribe high and move forward with purpose and with pride.