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Rabbi's Blog
Vay’ḥi
Dec 17th, 2021

Torah Reading: Genesis 47:28-50:26
Haftarah: 1 Kings 2:1-12

Triennial #3
Aliyah #1: 49:27-30
Not only do we finish the story of Yoseif (Joseph) this week, but also the entire book of B’reishit (Genesis)! In chapter 49, a dying Ya’akov (Jacob) offers a half-prophecy, half-blessing to each of his children. In the 1st Aliyah this week, we pick up with the ending of such blessings as he calls Binyamin (Benjamin) a ravenous wolf. The text reminds us that Ya’akov has given blessings to each of his male children, each being the head of their own tribe.

Aliyah #2: 49:31-33
Ya’akov tells his children that he has come to the end of his life. He asks his children to be buried not in Egypt with they currently reside, but rather in the cave of his parents and grandparents. We’re reminded that not only are Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebecca buried there, but that it is the same cave in which Abraham purchased from the Hittites. This fact reminds his children of their eternal ties to the homeland in K’na’an (Canaan— present day Israel). (Additionally, we are reminded that Leah is buried there, but not Rachel). The aliyah ends with Ya’akov taking his final breath.

Aliyah #3: 50:1-6
In sorrow, Yoseif weeps over his father’s body. Yoseif, having spent so much time amongst the customs of Egypt, takes a uniquely non-Jewish approach to caring for his father’s body: he has him embalmed, which is the primary method of respect for Egyptian officials. We learn the process takes 40 days and the Egyptians also engage with Yoseif in the mourning of his father. (In today’s Jewish tradition, there are 3 separate periods of mourning—one that takes 7 days, one that takes 30, and one that takes 11 months).

When the period of mourning had finished, Yoseif approaches his boss, Pharaoh, and requests leave to fulfill his father’s wishes to be buried in K’na’an. Pharaoh, of course, agrees to this, and Yoseif departs with the promise to return to Egypt.

Aliyah #4: 50:7-9
There is a very large processional who makes their way with Yoseif to bury Ya’akov. This includes not only Yoseif’s family and brothers, but also Egyptian dignitaries and horsemen. The herds and flocks (their property and livelihood) remain back in Goshen (outside Egypt).

Aliyah #5: 50:10-14
When they arrive at their destination, Yoseif and his brothers switch customs and engage in a ritual mourning that is much more familiar to Jews of today: a 7 day mourning period following burial. The bothers lay their father to rest in the family cave and all return to Egypt.

Aliyah #6: 50:15-20
The scene quickly shifts from one of sorrow to one of fear as the brothers realize that despite their happy reunion, Yoseif had never explicitly offered them forgiveness for selling him into slavery so many years prior. Fearing that his kindness would end now that their father has died, the brothers gamble again on a small bit of deception. They send word to Yoseif that Ya’akov had a dying wish that Yoseif would forgive his brothers. They then lay before Yoseif and beg forgiveness, even offering themselves as slaves as repentance for their actions.

Nevertheless, Yoseif reassures his brothers that he sees that their treachery had actually lead to much good in his life. He holds no grudge against his brethren and puts them at ease—guaranteeing that his accrued wealth in Egypt shall sustain the entire family.

Aliyah #7: 50:21-26
Not only our parshah, but indeed the entire book of Genesis, ends with the death of Yoseif. The family remains in the land of Egypt and Yoseif lives to see his great grandchildren. Knowing he will be embalmed and buried in Egypt as an Egyptian official, just like his father before him, Yoseif makes his family swear that one day they shall bring his bones back to the land of his father—the land of K’na’an. Yoseif knows that one day God will lead his people back home (a foreshadowing of the book to come), and that on that day he shall not be left behind. Yoseif dies at the old age of one hundred and ten years.

Ḥazak, Ḥazak, V’nit’ḥazeik! Be strong, be strong, and we will have strength!

We draw our strength as a people from Torah. When we finish a book, or Torah we use this phrase to acknowledge the strength the reader of the Torah has shown which gives us strength to listen and learn. The reader then acknowledges the strength that we have shown by listening and learning and it provides them with the strength to begin the next book.