We end Genesis this week. Vayechi is a portion of great drama and passion. In it we see the conclusion of the cycle that began with Avram and progressed to Jacob and Joseph. Family dynamics in these stories reflect so much of what we see in our families. In the end, however, despite a history in many cases of deceit and rivalry, Jacob is surrounded by his family and offers his blessings, albeit varied as they were. Here are the proof texts for what we call now Ethical Wills as well as a foundational support for the need for each of us to have “the conversation” about our own end of life wishes with our families. As Genesis ends, we are presented with the reality of blessing and the healing power that these blessings may convey. As I thought about this portion, I was reminded that perhaps the most powerful of our blessings as we age, may be the “Sh’hech’yanu” which gives thanks that we have the day, that we have lived to experience this moment in time.
This reflection I think can be seen in a text from the portion in which Jacob blesses Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph was told that his dad was dying and so he brought his sons to say goodbye. Jacob, blesses the boys in a manner that gives primary focus to the younger over the elder (a theme again of Genesis). “So he blessed them that day…” (48:20). Abraham Twerski, in his “Living Each Week” notes that you could read the verse as “He blessed them with that day” meaning that he hoped these boys would be able to lead lives on “that day” when they would be “unencumbered by the burdens of the past and without assuming futile worries about those future events which are not subject to change at the present”. (p.104)
In other words, here is a similar message to the one we see from Deuteronomy 29 and the emphasis on the word “ha yom” (the day). There is a sense of blessing to be able to live in the day, unencumbered by wishes to re-do the past or live in “what if” of the future, neither of which, past or future, can we control. There is a sense that we are asked to bless each day. Indeed, the tradition of waking and saying “modeh ani l’fanecha”, (I give thanks for this new day) carries with it the sense that many of us feel as we get older that each day is a blessing and presents us with another opportunity to give and receive blessings. So take with you this message from the end of Genesis, a message that each day is a blessing, that each moment of life is a gift and that to squander that gift of time is to refuse the blessing that is given to us with each new day.
Rabbi Richard F. Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.