Parashat Vayechi – Erev Shabbat 10 January 2020
Week of 4-11 January 2020
Torah portion: Gen 47:28-50:26 Haftarah: 1 Kgs 2:1-12
Theme: From generation to generation
The Torah portion which winds up the book of Genesis tells us about the death of Jacob after blessing his grandsons and sons. Years later, we learn that Joseph dies, bringing to a close the age of the patriarchs (the next book of Exodus will deal with the nation that grows out of this family). The haftarah is also about the death of another family head, King David. These are not just sad narratives about deaths and endings, but rather they are also about continuity and new beginnings. The narrative on Jacob’s death begins with the words “Jacob lived” (vayechi) which is apt because Jacob’s achievements and his legacy are stressed, rather than the fact of his death
To prepare for his death, Jacob first blessed Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and legally adopted them as his sons. He later gave blessings as well as curses to his ten sons, tailoring each berachah (blessing) to the personality and temperament of each son but he also gave them a common berachah, one that he had received from Isaac, who, in turn, had received it from Abraham.
To this day, Jewish parents during Shabbat bless their daughters: “May God make you like Sarah, Rebekah and Leah” and their sons: ”May God make you as Ephraim and Manasseh” (this may be because they were the first brothers in the Bible who got along peacefully unlike Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ismael, etc.). Altogether, Jacob’s ten sons and two grandsons formed the twelve “tribes of Israel”, a term first used in Gen 49:16. ETZ Hayim says that the phrase expresses the collective awareness of a national unity and common identity that is “Israel.” We also read for the first time the clustering of the three patriarchs in “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob” when Joseph who was about to die told his brothers: “God will surely take notice of you and bring you up from this land that He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob” (Gen 50:24).
Can we Christians also claim the patriarchs as part of our spiritual heritage? In the Magnificat, Mary, who was a Jew, said that the Lord has looked with favor on her and that “from now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). She also said that the Lord has helped his servant Israel “according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (Luke 1:55). In his narrative on the birth of Jesus, Matthew also traces the genealogy of Jesus through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David (Matt 1:1-17).
The Vatican II document Nostra Aetate (‘In Our Time’, 1965) states that the Church remembers “the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock” and therefore she “cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant” (NA 4).
For Reflection and Discussion:  Why can we as Christians find common ground with Jews and Muslims by considering Abraham as our father?  What do you consider to be the best blessing you have received from your parents?  Give examples of blessings that parents and adults can give to children.
Bibliography: Lieber, D., ed. ETZ Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York 1990); Harrington, D., ed. Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Matthew (Minnesota: 2007); Pollak, Y. What is Your Blessing? https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/what-is-your-blessing/