This week’s portion is a perfect one with which to end the secular year. Called VaYechi(meaning: He lived) this week’s portion is the final parashah of the book of Genesis. You can find it in the Book of Genesis 47 28 – 50:26. The parashah brings the reader to the conclusion of the first stage of Israel’s history and prepares us for the next stage.
Just as a new year provides a transition from one period of time to the next, this week’s section provides a transition from what we may call universal history to national history. It is the bridge between Genesis and Exodus, and also a theological and psychological summation of much within Genesis. As such, if we choose to read the weekly parashah on a more profound level rather than as a mere biographical narrative we see that it is much deeper that it at first appears to be and provides us a great deal more data than merely telling us about Jacob’s and Joseph’s final days.
This week’s section touches upon a number of essential issues to modern men and women. The section’s p’shat (the overt text or the surface-text ) concerns the blessings of Jacob upon his sons and Joseph’s assurances to his brothers that despite their less than forthright actions. It premise is that everything that happened to him (Joseph) was really part of a divine plan. Thus, at the end of the parashah we read Joseph’s statement: V’Atem chasavtem ali ra’ah, Elokim chashavah l’tovah,,,,/Although you meant (for your actions) to harm me, G’d changed these actions from evil to good…”(50:20)
Joseph provides the basis for many deep religious questions. Assuming that he is correct, that his coming to Egypt was part of a Divine plan, then we need to ask ourselves to what point does G-d direct our individual lives? Furthermore, if G-d directs history than do our actions matter?
Certainly, we can argue that the theme of G-d determining the course of history is found throughout Genesis. Yet if we read below the surface another picture begins to emerge. The Hebrew language calls this Divine oversight “hashgachah” (the same word that is used to oversee a kosher kitchen). The verbal root means to “look intensely; to see below the surface.” The term does not state that G’d is directing what we do, but rather hashgachah implies that G-d is inspecting/supervising what we do. The difference is great. To determine what we do, implies no freewill, but to inspect what we do, means to pass judgment not only on our mistakes but also on our successes. Is the text teaching us that it is not for us to live G-d plan but rather it is for G-d to judge how good a plan we develop for ourselves? Does the text then shift responsibility from G-d to each of us?
In the first instance we put the responsibility for our actions on G-d, in the second instance it is we who must accept the responsibility for our path in life. A closer reading of the text then provides us with a new paradigm: G-d inspects our actions; G-d nudges us to do right, but in the end, human beings have freewill. Genesis teaches that G-d set the world in motion knowing that some will take advantage of the options given and others will not. The choice then is ours
If we read this final portion of Genesis carefully and in the original Hebrew then we may well determine that G-d’s job is not to direct how each person behaves but rather that G-d gives us each day multiple options and opportunities, but in the end it is we who must decide which options to choose and what the course of our lives will be. As we enter the secular year of 2018, these are questions each of us needs to ask.
Youtubes of the week: The Russian Immigration
The 1970’s hymn of Soviet Jewry desire to emigrate to Israel:
Russian parents being reunited with their children now serving in the Israel army: