We begin this new year by completing the Book of Genesis, the first of the five books in the Torah. And like most endings, this one is filled with reflection, nostalgia, and sweetness.
It is at this point in the Torah, Parashat Vayechi, that we leave behind the story of the first Jewish family. For much of the book of Genesis, we have focused on the very first Jews, Abraham and Sarah, and the four generations that follow. The Torah has taken us through the drama of this family: its births and deaths, its joys and triumphs, its betrayals, rivalries, and heartbreaks.
In this week’s Torah portion, we encounter Jacob and his sons in Egypt, having found refuge there during a famine in the land of Israel. Knowing that he is close to death, Jacob calls his sons, one by one, to give them each a special and honest blessing. He recognizes their unique strengths and faults, and shares with them his final pieces of advice. His blessing to his grandsons, Ephraim and Menassheh, has been turned into one of the most treasured Jewish lullabies:
“Ha’malach ha’goel oti mi’kol ra, yevarech et ha’ne’arim v’yikra vahem sh’mi, v’shem Avotai, Avraham v’Yitzhak. V’yidgu la’rov b’kerev ha’aretz… The Angel who has redeemed me from all harm — Bless these children. In them may my name be recalled, And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac. And may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth” (Genesis 48:16).
He also shares his final wish: to be buried in the land of Israel, at the Cave of Machpelah, next to his wife Leah; his parents, Isaac and Rebekkah; and his grandparents, Abraham and Sarah. He wants to be close to his roots.
Jacob seems to know that the spotlight of history will soon leave his family and will instead be cast upon the Israelites as a collective: their enslavement in Egypt, struggle for freedom, journey toward the land of Israel, and covenant with God. Indeed, Jacob claims that his twelve sons will no longer be understood as individuals, but as leaders of the twelve tribes into which the Israelites will be divided. The next chapter will be bigger than the story of this individual family.
Jacob ushers his sons, and the Jewish people, into a new stage of their existence. It will be a grand future, filled with national challenges, joys, and miracles.
Though we have a tough winter ahead, we are on the precipice of great hope: a vaccine in sight, the possibility of a return to our communities, the anticipation of hugging our loved ones again. As we transition into this new year, I can’t help but imagine us all as Jacob, ushering in a new era of history, blessing and guiding our families with courage as we face all that lies ahead.
May you have a New Year filled with blessings, and, as always, a Shabbat filled with peace.