Monday, January 09, 2017

The End of an Epoch

By Rabbi Dov Beryl Wein

Dedicated to the memory of Asher ben Chaim

The parsha of Vayechi marks the end of the story of the house of Yaakov and the conclusion of the book of Bereshith – the book of the patriarchs and matriarchs of our people. The parsha tells us of the end of an era that spammed many long centuries. People alive at the end of an era oftentimes are unable to realize that they are at the end of what has been so normal and expected for centuries. All of us expect things to continue apace and regularly as they have been until now. Thus great and sudden changes in circumstances always blindside us for we are never prepared for the unknown and completely unexpected. The Jews were aware that neither Yaakov nor Yosef would live forever. But they did not ever imagine how drastically their situation in Egypt would change after the death of the generation of Yaakov and Yosef. It becomes apparent that the presence of Yaakov and Yosef was the deciding factor in the "good exile" of Egypt. Therefore the Torah emphasizes that Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt. Yaakov's presence in the land of Egypt is the protection for his family and descendants from the natural resentment of the Egyptians to what they undoubtedly view as the undue power, wealth and influence of an alien group within its midst. It is the old and worn down Yaakov that saves Egypt from five more years of terrible hunger not the young and confident and wise Yosef. So the emphasis on Yaakov's living in Egypt is the Torah's way of warning us not to be as certain as to why things happen and who are really the main catalysts for the situations of national and personal life.

Yaakov's farewell to his children recorded for us in this parsha indicates his awareness of the problems that will yet face his children. The Torah teaches us that he wished to reveal the entire story of Jewish history to his children even till the messianic era but that the Lord , so to speak, prevented him from so doing. But Yaakov certainly indicated the immediate future that they would have to face – that there was going to be a change in eras and that the past remains the past and not the present and certainly not necessarily the future. The blessings that Yaakov bestowed upon his children were all long range meant to be fulfilled over many years and centuries. Yaakov cannot tell them of the end plot of the story of the Jewish people but he assures them that there is a bright ending somehow to the story. It is again an indication that the central figure in the era of the patriarchs and matriarchs is Yaakov. And therefore the first words of the parsha which indicated that Yaakov lived may also be understood to mean that Yaakov still lives. It is his personality and example that guides all Jewish history and life. We are all still under the influence of our great forefather on whose name –Yisrael – we are called. We should all be aware of this blessing.

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