In Every Place

In Every Place

Jan 1, 2021 By Rafi Cohen | Commentary | Vayehi

Just about anyone who has moved homes will agree that sometimes one place will take on outsize influence in our lives. Indeed, even environments in which we’ve only briefly resided can have a resounding impact on our upbringing and outlook.

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Difficult Blessings and the Love Within

Difficult Blessings and the Love Within

Jan 10, 2020 By Jacob Blumenthal | Commentary | Vayehi

At the age of 90, my mother’s mind was still “sharp as a tack” (she loved those kinds of somewhat anachronistic expressions), even as her body was failing. With the growing realization that the solution to each physical ailment aggravated her other challenges, Bernice, z”l, agreed it was time to engage hospice care. “I want two things,” she said. “I don’t want to be in pain. And I want to see everyone I love before I die.”

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Questions of Life and Legacy

Questions of Life and Legacy

Dec 21, 2018 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Vayehi

This final parashah of Genesis bears a cryptic title: Vayehi, “He (that is, Jacob) lived.” Well, of course he lived, and soon he will die, but how has he lived? What legacy does he bequeath? These are the questions that concern Vayehi. What is the Torah’s final judgment of Jacob, a man who has wrestled, mourned and rejoiced, deceived and been deceived; a man who has been wounded and yet prevails, who has been humbled by his sons and yet manages to retain enough vigor and authority to command them until his dying breath? How has he lived?

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Can We Grow?

Can We Grow?

Dec 29, 2017 By Deborah Miller | Commentary | Vayehi

Family relationships are often complicated, but the family of Jacob is a particularly jumbled mess. In this week’s parashah, the story has hints and echoes of a decades-long, tangled skein of family dynamics. We see these in two particularly problematic scenes in this parashah. Both scenes illustrate William Faulkner’s truism that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And in this story, we see how the past leaks into the future.

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Pictures at a Benediction: Envisioning Jacob’s Blessing of his Sons

Pictures at a Benediction: Envisioning Jacob’s Blessing of his Sons

Jan 13, 2017 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Vayehi

The Tanakh is notoriously parsimonious when it comes to providing visual details. They are supplied only when they are germane to the biblical narrative. Was Isaac good-looking? We are not told. But we are told that Joseph was, because it explains why Potiphar’s wife cast her eyes upon him. Was Moses bald? We will never know. But it is made clear that the prophet Elisha was; because of this, he was taunted by jeers: “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!” This is the beginning of the brief but horrifying story in which Elisha curses the children who mock him, who are then mauled by bears emerging from the forest).

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Leaving a Legacy

Leaving a Legacy

Dec 18, 2010 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Vayehi

What kind of legacy will we leave when we die? Much of our fear of dying is similar to Jacob’s, as described in this week’s Torah portion and further imagined in the midrash above. We worry that our ideals and our values will not survive among the next generation.

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Judaism and the Afterlife

Judaism and the Afterlife

Jan 6, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayehi

The title of this week’s parasha is full of irony.

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Mercy and Truth

Mercy and Truth

Dec 25, 1993 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayehi

My father’s synagogue in the small Pennsylvania town of Pottstown was known by the name “Congregation Mercy and Truth.” As an irreverent youngster, more interested in sports than in matters of the spirit, I always thought it an odd name for a synagogue. Learning Hebrew befuddled me still more, because the Hebrew name of Hesed shel Emet (a merciful act of truth) didn’t fully correspond to the English. It was only years later that I discovered that the Hebrew name was based on a sage bit of midrash on a phrase used by Jacob at the beginning of this week’s parasha.

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Finding Peace at Home and Abroad

Finding Peace at Home and Abroad

Jan 10, 1998 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayehi

Sometimes the point of a passage hinges on what is missing rather than on what is said. I find this to be the case in the final exchange between Joseph and his brothers. The family has just returned to Egypt after burying Jacob in the cave of Machpelah in Hebron, and the brothers are overcome with fear of Joseph’s intentions. With their father gone, might Joseph now seek to punish them for what they had done to him years before? Was it only Jacob’s presence that had stayed his vengeful hand? The Torah uncharacteristically tells us what ran through their minds: “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him!’ (Genesis 50:15)”

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The Archetype of the Firstborn

The Archetype of the Firstborn

Jan 2, 1999 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayehi

As the book of Genesis daws to a close, it circles back to the beginning. The displacement of the firstborn, the theme which has dominated the narrative throughout, is reiterated one last time. And this final reiteration is as arbitrary as the first. At the dawn of human history, it was the sacrifice of Abel, the younger son of Adam and Eve, that found favor in God’s eyes and not that of Cain, even though Cain was the first to turn to God in a spirit of thanksgiving (Genesis 4:3-4). Divine rejection quickly led to human aggression. The episode foreshadows the pervasive preference for the younger brother which becomes the connective tissue of all the patriarchal stories.

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