The power of perspective
: Vayechi (And He Lived) B’resheet/Genesis 47:28-50:26
Haftorah Readings: I Kings 2:1-12
Tonight we finish the first book of Torah with a portion about the last days of the life of Jacob. As I pointed out in my questions this week there is one other portion that begins with basically the same words. In Genesis 23:1 we read a portion beginning with this verse, when translated to English reads, ”The life of Sarah.” What is scripture telling us in these two portions?
It seems to me scripture is telling us that death is not the end. It is telling us that our lives are measured by what we leave behind, our legacy of children or others that were influenced by us. These are the things that count. These are of lasting value. Death is but a transition between this world and the next. Here in our reading this week we see Jacob coming to the end of his life here on earth. From here the story carries on with his children and their children and the founding of the twelve tribes of Israel. As history unfolds we see Jacob’s life even intersecting our lives, through his lineage, Yeshua the Messiah.
These opening words, “And he lived,” tells us our lives should be measured not by what we have accumulated, as we all leave this world leaving everything of material value behind. What remains are the people, friends, and family we have influenced. How we spend each day and how we impact others is what will remain. So it was with Jacob here, so it will be with us as well. It doesn’t matter how old we are or how much we have. What matters is what lives on. Live each day to its fullest.
Our portion today has much to teach us about perspective. How do we look at the events that come into our lives? How do we look at difficult events that impact our lives? Let’s take a quick look at Jacob’s life and also the life of Joseph. First, Jacob, in Genesis 47:7-11 was asked by Pharaoh how old he was. He responded in verse 9 by giving his age and saying, “Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life.” He finished by telling him that both Avraham and Isaac had lived longer than him. When we look at the life of Jacob we see a man who had hardships. But we also see a man whom G-d had blessed greatly. He left Israel with nothing but what he could carry. He returned with a large company of people, two wives, children and much livestock. However, when he looked at all G-d gave him he still saw his days as few and troubled.
By contrast, when we follow the life of Joseph, what do we see? We see a young man sold by his brothers into slavery. Next he was falsely accused of assault by his master’s wife and sent to prison. In prison he rose to be the warden’s right hand man. He interpreted the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants and asked them to remember him to Pharaoh. He waited two years possibly thinking he had been forgotten. However, in G-d’s time, the butler remembered, he was set free and became very powerful in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.
Which of these two men would most people say had a hard life overall? No doubt they both endured difficulties, however, the difference comes in how they interpreted those times. The best example of this is shown by an incident in the life of Joseph that we read about in our portion today. In Genesis 50:19-20 we read of Joseph’s response to his brothers after the burial of Jacob. In verse 15 we read of their apprehension concerning Joseph taking revenge on them for what they had done to him earlier in his life. Now they tell him their father had asked them to go to Joseph and ask him to forgive them for what they had done to him. There is no verse that shows Jacob making this request. We read his response to his brothers in verses 19-21. Here we see a picture of how he looked at his life and the things that had happened to him. He held no grudges against his brothers but rather saw G-d’s hand in all the things that had happened. Joseph understood that G-d was in control of everything. Joseph gives us all an important lesson in how to let go of resentment and anger over things, even unjust things, that have happened in our lives. All that happens to us G-d is able to use in his benevolent plan for us. The person that may have hurt you may have intended it for evil but that is between that person and G-d. He is the final and ultimate Judge. Your concern is how you react to what happened. Do you carry the anger and hurt through the rest of your life or do you accept that G-d was there and can redeem dark times in your life.