This parsha ends the saga of Joseph, ending the book of Bereshit. It is the end of the story of the Patriarchs. Consistent with the value that Judaism places on Life, the parsha means “And he lived”, even though it deals with two deaths: the death of Jacob and the death of Joseph. It is similar to the parsha called “Chayei Sarah” in which we hear of the death of Sarah and the arrangements for her funeral, yet it is called “the life of Sarah”.
Vayechi contains the only detailed ‘death-bed scene’ in the Torah, which is later echoed in the dying scene of King David. (And the Haftorah of this parsha describes this episode from the Book of Kings I.) Jacob first calls his favourite son Joseph, and then his grandchildren Menashe and Ephraim, and then all his sons, so he can bless them all. The scene is reminiscent of the Jewish joke, where the dying patriarch asks if all his sons are present. When they all answer to their names, he asks: “So who’s minding the shop?”
Jacob lives 17 years in Egypt after the end of the last parsha, after Joseph makes himself known to his family. Jacob had not wanted to leave Canaan, but G-d promises him “there I will make of you a great nation. I will go down with you to Egypt and I will bring you up again.” G-d movingly adds “And Joseph will put his hand upon your eyes.” In fact, Jacob makes sure to be buried in the land of his fathers, in the Cave of Machpela bought by Abraham in Hebron, by making Joseph swear to do it. This oath helps Joseph later, as Pharaoh would otherwise have been reluctant to let Joseph leave the country. This is reminiscent of the Iron Curtain Soviet Union, as Joseph and his brothers are accompanied by a large group of Pharaoh’s servants, and the Israelites must leave their flocks and young children behind in Egypt.
The brothers and their families are all set up in Goshen, where they had been ‘fruitful and multiplied exceedingly’. They are no longer just a Jewish family of 70 souls, but a nation of tribes. When Jacob blesses his sons he describes their personal traits, but also prophesies their future roles as tribes of Israel. For example, Zevulun will be sailors, and their land will be by the sea, while Gad will raise brave soldiers. The word “gdud” is used today in Israel’s army.
The elephant in the room is the prophecy that G-d gave to Abraham (15:13), which presumably has been passed down, that “Your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them, and they shall afflict them four hundred years.” Surprisingly, this is not mentioned directly. Later, when Joseph is about to die, he tells his brothers, “Elokim pakod yifkod etchem”, G-d will surely remember you and bring you up out of this land to the land which he swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. These code words “pakod tifkod” are later repeated by Moses to convince the elders that he has been sent by G-d, in Exodus 3:16. Joseph, like his father, wants to be buried in Eretz Yisrael. But he’ll wait till his embalmed bones and body are taken back at the Exodus.
The fact that the children of Israel will experience a traumatic slavery in the near future, after their prosperous and secure beginnings in Goshen, and yet this is not dwelt upon, sends an interesting message. While things are good, we should appreciate this and look to a happy future. There was nothing Jacob could do regarding this prophecy of slavery and suffering, so he did not dwell on it. Should those of us today who see the worrying trends in our society dwell on them? Is there anything we can really do to stop future suffering due to those that threaten the Jewish people and other ‘infidels’ in Europe and other Western countries? Or are we better off living in denial? Like Jacob facing the threat of Esau, we must pray for help, give inducements (to whom?) and prepare to fight back. Those who are fighting this threat are trying to get the message of the truth out, and are building alliances. Chazak Chazak Venitchazek. At the end of the book we say, “let us be strong and strengthen each other.”