Torah Portion: Vayechi (And He Lived) Genesis 47-50

HafTorah: I Kings 2:1-12

Tonight we finish the first book of Torah, Genesis. Fitting that it is named, “And He Lived.” As we look forward to next week we read Exodus where we see after hundreds of years of captivity the people of Israel still live.

Before we get to the Torah section for tonight I have a couple of other things to cover. First one is the Fast of the Tenth of Tevet which began last night and ends with the ending of Shabbat tonight. (The only fast that supersedes the Sabbath is Yom Kippur) It is to remember the day when the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem. This would end with much of Jerusalem being carried away into captivity and the destruction of the Temple of Solomon. Most see this siege of Jerusalem as a sign for the Jewish people to repent for having drifted away from G-d. If they had repented G-d might have saved them. But they did not repent therefore they were faced with this siege. I bring this up to remind us that we are under siege every time we go out into the world, a siege that can lull us into becoming complacent and forgetting who and what we are. This brings me to the point. It is our responsibility to teach what we know. We must pass on the truth that G-d has given us to our children, family, and to other people when the opportunity arises. Ignorance leads to wasted lives. It is evident all around us both within the circle of faith and outside. G-d calls on each of us to be diligent in teaching truth that G-d has shown us. The clock is ticking. I pray each of us take every opportunity to pass on what we know and help those who do not know.

I also want to digress to last week for a minute to share a couple of Hebrew words which in some way have a bearing on this subject of our responsibility of passing on truth. Last week before Jacob went into Egypt G-d promised to go with him. The word used for the part of G-d that went down with Jacob, indeed that part that goes with us each day, is Shekinah. We hear of it today on occasion. At its root this word means neighbor. So G-d promises Jacob and us that wherever we go He goes with us as our neighbor. We may be in some dark places but our neighbor is always with us and that holy part of G-d will comfort and direct us each day. (Luke 24:49; John 14:16) The Holy Spirit, our neighbor is always there.

The other word is Ach (brother). This word in Hebrew comes from a root meaning unity, being connected, or coming from one Father. My point is that as brothers in the faith we all have an interest to help each other, to pick each other up, to teach each other what G-d has given us. We are not to use it as a weapon but to lovingly share one with the other. We can overcome the siege that we are in for G-d is with us as our neighbor. He is there to help us and comfort us and as brothers we are there for each other.

Now, to the Torah section. My question from Monday partly hinged on two words – one is the last verse of this week’s portion, Genesis 47:27 where it says, Israel dwelt in Egypt, then in Genesis 47:28 it says, “Jacob lived.” Why the difference and what can we learn from this difference? Remember in Genesis 37:35 Jacob had said he would go down to Sheol mourning for his son. Then in Genesis 45:27 when he finds out Joseph was alive it said, “The spirit of Jacob revived.” So Jacob had 17 years of living, living in Egypt. Now in Genesis 47:27 it says Israel dwelt in Egypt. Maybe he physically lived in Egypt but spiritually he was a resident of Canaan, the land of his fathers. Jacob’s spirit still lived in Israel. Egypt is a symbol of the material world we all live in here in this world. Our challenge is to not let it become our home spiritually. Israel lost this battle between spirit and flesh to some extent in that they chose to stay in Egypt. Remember the famine had been going on for 2 years when Jacob arrived. It was over in another five years. So the last 12 years he stayed was not because he had to but because he chose to. Our fight is to never lose sight of what is real. This world and all it offers is temporary. Jacob knew this and at the end made Joseph promise not to bury him in Egypt but to take him home to Israel. Hebrews 11:10 offers us insight into why he did this. We as G-d’s children must never lose sight of were our home really is. It is to be doing the will of the Father, not to become wrapped up in the temporary.

My prayer for each of us is that we not forget who we are and Who we walk with each day as our neighbor. Faith is what moves us from morning to night each day. Egypt is not our home.