Thoughts on Thoughts on Vayechi

Parasha Vayechi (Genesis 47.28 – 50.26)[i] ends the first book of the Torah, Bereishit (Genesis), as Jacob comes to the end of his one hundred and forty-seven years. First and foremost, he is concerned about his final resting place (Genesis 47.29-30 & 49.29-32). Jacob knew the importance of his burial with his fathers in the land of Canaan. He knew the prophetic word spoken to his grandfather Abraham,

Then He said to Abram, “Know for certain that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. But I am going to judge the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will go out with many possessions. (Genesis 15.13-14)

He was equally sure that his progeny would be the ones to return to take possession of the land where the patriarchs and matriarchs rested. “Then Israel said to Joseph, “Look, I am about to die. But God will be with you and will bring you back to the land of your fathers” (Genesis 48.21). Rabbi Sarna notes that in both Genesis 15 and 48, “future redemption is assured because God wills it.”[ii]

After Jacob’s blessing of his sons in chapter 49, he quietly “breathes his last and is gathered to his people” (49.33). While he does not share his grandfather’s epitaph that he “died at a good old age, old and satisfied” (Genesis 25.8) Jacob did leave his family in a somewhat restored condition with at least their immediate future secure. Sadly, Josephs brothers were not quite so sure of their future. Even though Joseph had assured them that he held no ill will against them, the brothers were not at peace. “Maybe Joseph will be hostile towards us and pay us back in full for all the evil we showed him” (50.15). Rabbi Dena Weiss draws on the Malbim for understanding the brothers concern.

They said, “Perhaps Yosef will bear animosity towards us… Regarding that which the wise one said (King Shlomo in Mishlei 25:21),7 If your enemy is hungry, feed him bread, that the greatest revenge one can take upon his enemy is to repay his hatred by placing him among those who sit at [the aggrieved]’s table and to do only goodness and kindness to him. For then he will constantly remember what he had done wrong, and that is [why the next verse, 25:22] says, for you are stoking coals on his head. And Yosef’s brothers sensed this, and the goodness of Yosef was like he was stoking coals on their heads. So they said, “If only Yosef would clearly bear animosity towards us! And if so, he will return to us all of the evil that we have done to him. Let him be actively bad to us, and not kind, which is like being stabbed with a sword.”[iii]

Rav Shaul’s exhortation to the believers in Rome (cf. Romans 12.20), a direct quote of Mishlei 25.21, reiterates the kingdom principle of divine reversal, “Bless those who persecute you—bless and do not curse” (Romans 12.18). Joseph chose to forgive his brothers and not hold animosity in his heart towards them. The problem is that they, either had not or could not forgive themselves. A search for scriptures on self-forgiveness returned zero hits. However, if we are to forgive others how much more should we forgive ourselves for the errors we’ve made. In the Besorah we read,

“For if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6.13-14)

Earlier, Yeshua taught, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering upon the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5.23-24). Yeshua also taught, “Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your transgressions” (Mark 11.25). Therefore, is it possible to be truly reconciled with your brother or sister, if you are not first reconciled with yourself? Returning to Joseph and his brothers, Joseph reassured his brothers once again that he did not hold their actions against them but that it was the overall plan of Hashem for their salvation (Genesis 50.19-21; cf. 45.5-8). He could have equally said to them, “Stop holding on to past mistakes, so that you may truly receive the forgiveness of Hashem and be at peace.”

This week’s Haftarah, 1 Kings 2.1-12, records King David’s final exhortations to his son Solomon. David begins with “I am going the way of all the earth. So be strong, and be a man” (1 Kings 2:2). “Be strong” is a common charge throughout scripture. In Deuteronomy 11.18 the children of Israel are commanded to be strong and to possess the land the LORD is giving them, and in Deuteronomy 31.6 He encourages Israel to be strong and courageous because He is going with them and will never leave or forsake them. Moshe tells Joshua to be strong as he passes on the mantle (Deuteronomy 31.23 and Joshua 1.6). In the Haftarah David is encouraging his chosen heir not only to “be strong,” and to “be a man.” Rav Shaul encouraged the believers in Corinth to “Be on the alert! Stand firm in the faith! Be men of courage! Be strong” (1 Corinthians 16.13). David also tells Solomon how to be strong and to be a man, “Keep the charge of Adonai your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His decrees, according to what is written in the Torah of Moses, so that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn…” (1 Kings 2.3). David was repeating what Moshe told all of Israel

“So now, O Israel, what does Adonai your God require of you, but to fear Adonai your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve Adonai your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the mitzvot of Adonai and His statutes that I am commanding you today, for your own good?” (Deuteronomy 10.12-13)

These are the same words I leave with you as we prepare to enter into this last Shabbat of 2017. Be strong and be a man (or woman) dedicated to the LORD. Make peace with those you need to and most of all be at peace with yourself.

Shabbat Shalom

[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] Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Commentary Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, Commentary, Philadelphia: JPS, 1989, p 330.

[iii] , p 3.

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.