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  • Writer's pictureJosh Scharff

Parashat VaYechi - Moving Forward

It is hard to believe that we have arrived at the end of Bereshit, the Book of Genesis. It feels like just yesterday that we welcomed in the new year, 5784, with hopes and expectations that only new beginnings can offer. But then, October 7th happened and all that changed. While we move forward, so much of us remains in the events and the outcomes of that fateful and awful day. 

In Parashat VaYechi, Joseph and his brothers say goodbye to their father, Jacob - Israel, as he passes away and is buried with his ancestors in the Land of Canaan. Before his death, Jacob imparts upon his sons and grandsons a list of stirring, beautiful blessings. The most well known of these blessings is that which he bestows to his grandsons, Ephraim and Menashe. 

Israel blesses his grandsons with the words: “HaMalach HaGoel oti mi kol ra, y’varech et ha’ne’arim - The Angel who has redeemed me from all harm— Bless the lads. In them may my name be recalled, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth.” (Genesis 48:16) 

He blesses them that his name, alongside the names of his fathers will be remembered through them. This connects them, and therefore us, directly back to Jacob, as every generation of the People Israel recalls his name and our connection to the generations our foremothers and fathers, and to all the generations that have come before us. 

The rabbis of the Talmud cite this verse in the context of a discussion comparing generations. They argued about whether it was in their generation or in previous generations that Jews were more righteous, more devoted to God. Claims were brought for both sides but, as so often it does, the Talmud does not provide us with a clear determination of one of the other. Rather, it compromises and recognizes that all the seed of Joseph can avoid the evil eye, the evil inclination. 

By not reaching an answer, the rabbis provide us an important commentary that we cannot win when we compare generations. More significant is that we should understand and accept that they are all very different from one another. Though, our tendency is to judge. This intergenerational tension is a tale as old as time. Even Plato in his time looked at the next generation with deep suspicion and criticism. Yes, the generation that included Aristotle was a threat to civilization, in Plato’s estimation. I think we can agree that hindsight has taught us that he was a bit off in his assumptions. 

We have inherited this legacy of intergenerational tensions, of the previous generations looking skeptically and apprehensively at the younger. While these forces are in balance, they likely play a positive role on society, finding balance by taking the positive from what was and mixing in the positive of what can be. But, perhaps more often that we would like, these fall out of balance. Either the backward or forward pull overwhelms 

the other and we feel the fallout, the tremors that this can cause in society.  

While balance is best, we also arrive at moments in history where we must recognize that what was can no longer be. We now live in a post-October 7th reality. So much of what was, tragically and painfully, failed us. So much of what we thought we understood has been turned on its head. 

As we arrive at the end of Genesis, let it serve as a reminder that every chapter, every book, every story must come to an end. While we look with reverence and respect to our past, we have to adapt to our new reality. We need to find the strength in ourselves to be open to new ways of thinking. We must demand from the leadership that got us here that their time has ended and find new sources of inspiration and direction for Israel. 

It won’t be easy. Change rarely is. But, luckily, we have the blessings of the angels that have watched over our people since the days of our ancestors, and the wisdom of hundreds of generations to know that we will come through this. 

As we say when we arrive at the end of a book of the Torah in synagogue, I want to bless you with the following words on this Shabbat: chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek - be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened in the face of the challenges and opportunities to come.

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