Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayechi December 12, 2013

Beresheit/Genesis 47:28-50:26

In this week’s portion, Jacob is on his deathbed and tells his children: “Gather around, and I will tell you what will happen at the End of Days” (Genesis 49:1). However, the prophecy is never disclosed! Instead, Jacob blesses each one of his sons, and no further mention is made of the prophetic vision.

According to Rashi, Jacob wanted to tell his sons what would happen at the End of Days.But the vision he received, which included the great suffering of the Jewish people through the ages, so saddened him, that he was unable to speak about it and turned instead to blessing his offspring and their descendants.

This teaches us a powerful lesson about what it means to feel the pain of others.

Holy people do not live for themselves; they live for others. The cares and concerns of others touch them deeply. The Torah states, “And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt” (Genesis 47:28). The Sages explain that Jacob did not merely ‘live’ – as in exist and pass the time – in the land of Egypt for his own sake; his “life” was for everyone! His care for others, including the Egyptians, affected the entire world – since, at the time, the whole world depended on Egypt for their food supply. Jacob recognized the supernatural workings that positioned his son, Joseph, to be a ‘savior’ in his generation and added his own concern for others to that of Joseph. He understood that despite the pain of separation he had suffered for all the long years when he thought Joseph had died, God had truly been at work, albeit in a way hidden from Jacob, and had provided salvation for Egypt, for Joseph’s family and for countless others during a time of widespread famine. Thus, Jacob’s complete lack of self-centeredness had a positive impact on the entire world.

As we conclude the Book of Genesis, we should reflect on the lessons it teaches us. Over and over we see an emphasis on showing compassion for others – shifting the focus away from our individual, self-centered concerns in order to be as sensitive as possible to the needs of others. Our patriarchs and matriarchs exemplify this quality. It is a necessary foundation – a prerequisite that must be integrated into the Jewish national character before we can appreciate the redemption we will soon study in the Book of Exodus.

In Tune with Torah this week = May we all seek to deepen our compassion and empathy towards others and be effective in developing true community so that we merit the ultimate redemption, soon in our days.

Shabbat Shalom

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