Thoughts on Vayechi

This week’s parasha is Vayechi, (he, Jacob, lived) Genesis 47:28 – 50:26,[i] which is an interesting title considering that in this parasha both Jacob and Joseph die. However, before Jacob dies, he adopts and blesses Joseph’s two sons Manasseh and Ephraim and then has words to say over each of his natural born sons. The haftarah is 1 Kings 2:1-12, in which King David gives Solomon a blessing and a charge to take care of some unfinished business. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 5:30-47 where Yeshua continues to address the issue of His authority to heal on the Sabbath, as well as claims intimate relationship with ADONAI His Father.

The parasha begins with the statement, “Now Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years” (Genesis 47:28). This statement is not especially important by itself, unless one looks at the larger narrative of Joseph’s life. Ten chapters earlier in Genesis we read, “When Joseph was 17 years old (he was a youth), he was shepherding the flocks with his brothers…” (37:2). Robert Alter in his commentary notes that in the Middle Ages David Kimhi observed, “Just as Joseph was in the lap of Jacob seventeen years, Jacob was in the lap of Joseph seventeen years.”[ii] An interesting correlation to say the least.

Another connection with the beginning and the end of Joseph’s journey is that Jacob sent Joseph to Shechem to check on his brothers and the herds, though they were eventually found in Dothan. Much later, at the end of the book of Joshua, we see Joseph once again traveling to Shechem

Joseph’s bones, which Bnei-Yisrael had brought up from Egypt, were buried in Shechem, in the parcel of ground that Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for 100 pieces of silver.

Joshua 24:32

Was this just a coincidence like the seventeen years mentioned above? Or is it that the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob is a God of order and One who completes what He begins?

One last thought for this week is Joseph’s brothers’ reaction when they returned to Mitzrayim after burying their father Jacob in the Cave of Machpelah. When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father had died, they said, “Maybe Joseph will be hostile towards us and pay us back in full for all the evil we showed him.” (Genesis 50:15)

Even with all the assurances that Joseph had given that he held no ill will against them, (cf. Genesis 45:4-8) it appears that they had not moved past their former feelings and deeds against him (Joseph). Rav Shaul notes in his letter to the believers in Rome,

They show that the work of the Torah is written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts switching between accusing or defending them…

Romans 2:15

I realize that Rav Shaul was speaking about Gentiles who did not know the Torah but still behaved as if they did (cf. Romans 2:14). How much more would the Torah convict the hearts and minds of those specifically chosen by Adonai—even before Sinai. Joseph’s brothers knew they had acted wrong and had even felt hatred in their hearts toward their brother. For years they lied to their father. Nowhere in the narrative do we see Jacob holding ill will against his sons in spite of their deceit. Equally Joseph showed no ill will toward his brothers, though in the natural he had every right to do so. It is possible that the actions of both Jacob and Joseph extended something to the brothers that they could not appropriate for themselves, forgiveness.

Let’s look at similar situations in our own lives and consider the words that ADONAI spoke to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, “I, I am the One who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and will not remember your sins,” (Isaiah 45:25). If HaShem is going to forgive us our transgressions, can we afford to be so arrogant as to not receive His forgiveness. From the website of “All About God” comes this bit of encouragement.

Life is full of choices and every choice we make will either take us in a positive, life-giving direction or rob us of the opportunity to be a life-giving individual. Forgiving ourselves does not let us off the hook, it does not justify what we have done, and it is not a sign of weakness. Forgiveness is a choice that takes courage and strength, and it gives us the opportunity to become an overcomer rather than remaining a victim of our own scorn. [iii]

Forgiving ourselves means that we appropriate and accept HaShem’s forgiveness that has already been given extended to us. Just like Joseph’s brothers only had to receive what Joseph was extending to them. Joseph’s brothers had nothing to fear from him, but they did have everything to fear from their own imaginations. Though they lived in the choicest area of Mitzrayim and were recognized as the close relations of the man Pharaoh considered family, they still lived under the guilt of what they had done and thus could not accept Joseph’s forgiveness.

Between the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jews around the world perform the service known as Tashlich, that symbolizes the casting of one’s sins away, based upon the words from the prophet Micah

You will once again have mercy on us; You will conquer our evil deeds; You will hurl our sins into the depths of the sea. [iv]

Micah 7:19

Included in the prayers is the recitation of Psalm 130 where the psalmist’s cry is both bittersweet and yet hopeful.

If You, ADONAI, kept a record of iniquities—my LORD, who could stand?For with You there is forgiveness,so You may be revered. 

Psalm 130:3-4

I share this to encourage all of us to forgive and let go of past mistakes and transgressions. If HaShem is not holding on to them, keeping a record after He has forgiven us, then there is no reason for us to hold on to them. Last week I closed with Yeshua’s teaching on forgiveness in the prayer that He taught His disciples, “Forgive us what we have done wrong, as we too have forgiven those who have wronged us” (Matthew 6:12, CJB). [v] We are included in this forgiveness. May we all accept HaShem’s forgiveness and cast our iniquities, evil deeds and sins far from us so that the past does not control our future ability to accept others’ forgiveness extended to us.

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Robert Alter. The Five Books of Moses, A Translation with Commentary, New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 2004, (iBook edition), p 826.

[iii] last accessed 18 December 2018

[iv] New English Translation (NET), NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

[v] Paraphrased by David H. Stern, The Jewish New Testament, Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1989, p. 8.

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