Rabbi Shafir's Weekly D'var Torah
B'reyshit (Genesis)
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Vay'khi (And he lived)

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1. Parsha Details
2. Questions (and a few observations) on the excerpts
3. Some Observations
4. We complete B'reyshit -- Khazak!
5. Exercises
1. Parsha details:  Gen 47:28-50:26 (tri 49:27-50:26) [Haftorah I Kings 2:1-12] 
2. Questions and a few observations

Summary: The end of B'reyshit.  The conclusion of Jacob's life and the conclusion of Joseph's.  The stories of the two men end intertwined and paralleled.  Similarities and differences, the traditional dance.  We also have the adoption by Jacob of Joseph's two sons, the blessings of the sons and Jacob's burial.

The parsha opens with Jacob charging Joseph (only) that he be buried in the family cave in Canaan, not in Egypt.  He makes Joseph swear to this (in the same manner as Abraham had made Eliezar swear to him).

The next scene has Jacob falling ill and Joseph rushing to his side with his two sons, Ephraim the younger and Manasseh the older.  Jacob reminisces over the loss of Rachel and justifies giving Joseph a larger inheritance through his two sons by adopting them.  Torah again gives us quite some detail on what must have been a very formal oral ceremony of placing the children upon Jacob's knees to indicate to the world that they are 'his'.  And the family tradition of the younger getting the birthright continues through this generation.  Joseph objects to this, but Jacob is adamant.  Torah makes a very big point about this detail -- seven pasukim.  And these two adopted sons are blessed at this time, not with the larger group.

Side bar on Asenath, wife of Joseph.  Ah, the traditions.  Thank you to everyone that has sent me wonderful details and explanations.  The abundance of agada speaks to the importance and the silence.  An important woman because her name is mentioned more than once.  And the silence is loud here, too.  Not much hard evidence to go on.  Not talked about much -- many list of Genesis women even leave her out.  And yet Torah mentioned her more than once.  Judah's wife is not named.  Lot's wife was not named.  Women are not named unless they are important.  Asenath was important.  She was the daughter of a priest of On.  On is related to ani -- I (aleph, nun).  And then there is Aknat - on.  

And then the blessing of the sons/tribes.  Probably very ancient text -- the spacing is quite unique. Look to the white spaces -- if you get a chance look in a Tikun or the Torah itself.  We do not see such spacing often -- three times in B'reyshit.  More on this in the next section.

Let's just look at a tiny bit of the blessings -- from those of Joseph.  The blessing uses Shaddai, Almighty as one of its references to God.  And as is typical with Hebrew poetry, there is a parallelism, a play on words with shaddayim - breasts and perhaps some rhyming with shamayim - heavens. There are definite plays on words and sounds in this part -- and therefore many interpretations possible.  This type of word-smithing is an excellent reason to study Hebrew -- the translations don't even come close and so much is lost.  Hebrew words, especially without the vowels and notes (which are the punctuation, if you will) can be taken MANY ways.  This is the kind of passage that one could spend hours on.    

But let's get back to Jacob and Joseph.  Jacob's primary charge to Joseph and later to all of his sons is that they NOT bury him in Egypt, but rather in the family cave of Machpelah.  Which they do with great pomp and ceremony.  Jacob is embalmed in Egypt -- this takes 40 days (interesting number...), then he is mourned in Egypt for 70 days (another interesting number, especially in Egypt).  In Canaan, they mourn seven days (shiva).  Can you picture this elaborate event -- Torah tells us that the Canaanites were suitably impressed by the Egyptians.

And then the brothers and company return to Goshen and Egypt.  Can you imagine the thoughts going through the brother's heads now?  Joseph had been devoted to his father -- if nothing else comes out at us from this account, this bond certainly does.  And now, this man, whom Joseph revered and respected is gone.  Do behaviors of people and what they do ever change when someone they didn't want to hurt dies?  Would you want to be part of the group that tortured little Joseph when he was growing up, that flung him into that pit?

So what do they do?  They send a messenger to Joseph relaying a charge from Jacob.  Did Jacob really make that charge?  Hard to say.....  Torah seems to imply not, but does it really matter?  The brothers go through this elaborate ceremony including a very public confession (since it would have been recited to Joseph by the messenger and probably in one of his 'audiences').  Joseph is moved to tears at the ceremony.  Then the brothers come to him in person and bow down before him (sounds like a dream again......) and Joseph puts them at ease.  Joseph used an interesting phrase -- hatakhat Elohim ani -- Am I in place of God?  This exact phrase was used by Jacob when Rachel asked him to grant her children (well, he used anochi, and older, more formal form of ani).  In modern phrases this might be, "Do I look like God to you?" meaning that's not in my hands, guys!

And then we get to the end of Joseph.  He has the blessings of seeing the third generation of children -- was this not common?  Possibly not.  And he only lived to be 110.  And he simply died -- as opposed to the righteous who expired (like Jacob, earlier in this Parsha).  He, too, is embalmed, but he is not buried in the family cave.  We are only told that he is placed in an ark or coffin.  Were his bones carried up when they left Egypt as he charged his brethren?  

And so we close B'reyshit -- from creation to Egypt -- and we will start next Parsha with the prelude to Moses's birth.  Khazak!
3. Some Observations

Spacing and language -- two key points in this parsha.  We have unique spacing on the blessings.  Many scholars tell us that when we see this kind of spacing it indicates very old material.  And I think this is true, both from the content and from the Hebrew used in these portions.  

There are many parts of Torah that cause 'detective' work and insight to translate the ancient Hebrew.  Although we speak Hebrew today in Israel, it has not been a continuously spoken language -- and even if it had, there would still be differences and shifts, especially in thousands of years.  Does this challenge detract from Torah and from its wonder and mystery and value?  Hardly!  Indeed, it in fact adds to it.  Although committed to scrolls thousands of years ago, the lessons and insights we need so much today are with its words AND its white spaces.  That is the true wonder of Torah -- it is as true today as it ever was -- we just have to work at it!

And if you think things don't change, I might recommend a trip to Williamsburg, Va.  There is a great deal of modern archeology going on there.  And this is a town from just 225 years ago -- and in 'recorded' history.  And scientists have more questions than answers there -- even the English has changed so much that we have to wonder what they meant by some things they said.....   That's less than one tenth the years that separate us from the events and use than we see with Torah.  No wonder we have questions.

So let's go back to that white space and ancient text.  Earlier in B'reyshit, twice in fact, we have somewhat similar spacing.  Both of the earlier occasions are sections where several pasukim start with vay'khi (and he lived) .....  The first is in the generations of Adam and the second is in the generations of Shem.  

The Hebrew used then has words whose meanings we do not know for sure.  We look to older translations to see what they thought these words and structures meant, we listen to modern Hebrew being spoken (as even the Rabbis of the Talmudic period did) to see if we can find clues.  We look to multiple uses of the same word -- when we can find them.  We look to roots of the words, similar words, similar sounding words -- and then we find a translation that may work for us. But we may not be right.  And that's okay.  It is part of the process, it is part of the wonder -- it leads to incredible 'ahas' as we track down little hints and clues.  And sometimes, we just learn these things from somewhere.  Sometimes it is hard to track down exactly how we learn or know.  

An example of a word like this is used in 49:24: avir Ya'acov -- usually translated as Mighty One of Jacob.  Used exactly once in B'reyshit.  The only related word in Torah is Abiram, a proper name used ten times later in Torah (he was one of the sons of Eli'av who led the rebellion against Moses and Aaron and was swallowed up by the earth.... stay tuned for this when we get to this part of B'midbar -- it will not be dull).  This word is used seventeen more times in Tanakh with varying meanings, perhaps.  The earliest use is in Judges 5:22 where it is usually translated as Mighty One.  Sometimes it is used in a way that could be translated as chief.  Sometimes it refers to bulls, sometimes it is used to mean, perhaps stubborn (bull-headed we might say now?).  Does this mean that the Mighty One of Jacob was a bull?  While some scholars might say so, that is by far, not the only translation possible.  This is one of those cases were the Hebrew may be doing one of any number of things.  Just as the blessing played on the closeness of Shaddai and shaddayim, there may well be word play here.  Or the phrase 'bull of Jacob' could refer to the steadfastness (an atribute) of the God of Jacob.  Or it could even be a way of referring to God that others would understand -- have you ever described something in 'strange' words to make it sound more similar to a concept you knew somebody else had?  So how would you translate this?  Remember, these things are very ancient.....

And it is not surprising that these things would be ancient.  Generations and familial blessings -- these were major parts of who someone WAS then.  This is what distinguished people from each other -- especially in a day of oral traditions and few 'permanent' possessions.  Birthrights were very important and who you were was among one's most treasured 'things'.  So these would have been carried for generations and recited to family members and 'outsiders'  -- dor l'dor.  Faithfully learned by young children and carried in their minds and hearts through their lives to be passed to their children.  And so on.  Even an enslaved people would find the time and effort to pass these things on -- perhaps even more so for it reminded them of a time when things were grander and who they really were.
4. We finish B'reyshit

Khazak, khazak, v'nitkhazeyk.  This is the traditional phrase to indicate completing a book, a unit of learning.  It means Strength, strength, and let us be strengthened!

It is always a celebration when one completes a volume of learning.  We are now challenged with strengthening ourselves through what we have learned in the now completed volume of study.

This celebration is so important that if one were fasting and one completed a volume of study, one would be enjoined to break the fast and celebrate (Which we always do with food).  In fact, people sometimes schedule things so that this is the case for some of the minor fasts -- such as the one for first-borns right before Pesakh.

For those who enjoy trivia -- the following is included in many Chumashim:

Bereyshit:  Number of verses:  1,534
                 Number of Parshayot (weekly portions): 12
                 Number of Sedarim (triennial weekly portions): 43
                 Number of Chapters:  50
Other trivia:  God mentioned as Elohim or HaElohim -- 188 times
                  God mentioned as Elohay (God of...) -- 31 times
                  God mentioned as YHVH -- 165 times 
5. Exercises

1. Finish: Finish a unit, a book.  Stepping stone.  Good job.  Bar/Bat Mitzvah -- stepping stone -- one book.  Start the next.  Endings and beginnings.  We finish one reading and start the next.  

2. Life: Statements of life.  What marks a person's life?  What will your children say of you to describe your life?  Your brethren and friends, your co-workers, history.  How will you live your life? 

3. B'li rayshit, b'li takhlit: Without beginning, without end.  He, She, One.  How do we understand infinity with finite minds and bodies?  How can we comprehend the Almighty, the One, the Source?  So many names, attributes, wonders, ahhhhhhhhhhhh.  How can we approach?

There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available. 

Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!

And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.



(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved

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