Genesis 47:28 – 50:26; 1 Kings 2:1-12; John 13: 1-19
This Shabbat’s portion is the final portion in the Book of B’reishit. Therefore, as is our custom, after this d’rash, we will stand and together recite Chazak, chazak v’nitzchazeik’ – Be strong, be strong and may we be strengthened’.
8 Therefore you shall keep all the commandments which I command you this day, that you may be strong
G-d’s word is not only a lamp unto our feet and a light to our path; it is also the source of our strength and encouragement. And so, after each of the 5 books of Torah is completed, we chant Chazak, chazak, v’titchazeik – be strong, be strong and may we be strengthened! Our portion commences in Gen 47:28
28 Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven.
29 When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, "If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt,
30 but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried." "I will do as you say," he said.
31 "Swear to me," he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has sanctified us with commandments, and commanded us to study words of Torah.
Jacob and Joseph had spent the 1st 17 years and the last 17 years of their lives together. After the intervening years of grief and turmoil, when Jacob mourned the apparent death of his beloved ‘ben zekun’ – the son of his old age - Jacob’s final 17 years together with Joseph in Egypt were wonderful and peaceful years.
Now, the fact that Jacob living in tranquility and peace in Egypt for the rest of his life, speaks to us that we too can thrive in the galut (exile) if we hold on to the principles inculcated in Torah. Look at Acts 9:32
31 So the congregation throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.
Judea and the Galilee were under the often-brutal Roman occupation and yet, the fledgling believing communities thrived and flourished. This must encourage us that although we live in the galut – estranged so to speak from the Kingdom of G-d – yet, filed with the Spirit, we can accomplish much. We are not constrained or overly influenced by the depravity of the world. Instead, we are instructed to shine brightly and, it is in darkness that the light is most pronounced and observed!
32 Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.
Nevertheless, although living at peace in Egypt with his extended family, Jacob entreats Joseph: “Carry me out of Egypt!” So great is his urgency that he is not content with an agreement or a promise on Joseph’s part, but insists that his son take a solemn oath to fulfil his request.
A Jew might find himself living a most ideal life in galut (exile)—a life of material comfort and spiritual fulfilment; a life of Torah, mitzvot and charitable works. Nevertheless, galut (exile in the world) can never be our true home. We constantly sense that this is not our place, constantly beseech G‑d to “carry us out of Egypt.”
Nor do we content ourselves with the guarantees and promises written in the holy books that the redemption will eventually come. After praying for the redemption in the morning prayers, we do so again in the afternoon prayers, and yet again in the evening prayers. We approach G‑d every day, many times a day, to plead and clamour: Take us out of Egypt! (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Now, there is something unique about this final portion in the book of Genesis, but you will only notice it in the Torah scroll. It will be hidden from any casual reader. Usually in Torah, there is a space between 2 successive Torah portions and a new parashah commences on a separate line or sometimes, even a paragraph, which makes it easier to find.
In most modern Torah scrolls and Jewish editions of the Bible, there are two types of parashiyot:
an "open portion" (parashah petuhah)
a "closed portion" (parashah setumah).
An "open portion" is roughly like a modern paragraph. The general rule is a minimum of a 9-letter space between the end of one parashah and the start of another one.
What separates Parashat Vayechi from all the other Torah portions is that there is no separation between last week’s portion and this one. The one follows straight after the other. Rashi therefore describes Vayechi as ‘setumah’, closed and this can have a few possible interpretations:
It is meant to teach something about the mood of Jacob's children when he died.
At that moment, the hearts of the children of Israel were "closed" in anticipation of the suffering and despair because of the impending bondage. The sages teach that Jacob’s death marked the beginning of Israel’s spiritual exile. However, their physical and emotional travails of enslavement only commenced with the death of the twelve sons. They had lived for over 190 years in peace and prosperity in the land of Goshen. With the death of Jacob, their 210 years of enslavement and oppression commenced. There is a 2nd possible reason.
It has to do with the end times but it was not yet the time for this revelation
1 Then Jacob called for his sons and said: "Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come – acharit hayamim.
In Hebrew, the ‘days to come’ is rendered ‘acharit hayamim’ which is a direct reference to the end of days i.e it has eschatological significance. Most scholars agree that acharit hayamim refers to the messianic era.
In addition to the literal call that his children come to him to receive his blessings, there is a homiletical message here. Jacob intimated to his family that only if they avoided dissension -- if they assembled and gathered together with a united vision and calling – only then would they merit the final Redemption. This message was especially important then, for Jacob's "family" was becoming a "nation" composed of separate tribes. They had grown from the seventy souls who entered Egypt, to hundreds of thousands, possibly even over a million. And therefore, the potential for divergence is great as history has proved true. After the death of King Solomon, the nation split into two kingdoms, with disastrous consequences.
Yeshua’s prayed for our unity in John 17. He prayed that the Body made up of many different parts would be one even as He and the Father are one. There is distinctiveness, but spiritually speaking, we are one in the Messiah.
Following the Midrash, Rashi comments that Jacob wished to tell his children when Messiah would come in order to comfort them and their descendants during the long years of their exile from the Land and the long years under the yoke of the Egyptian oppression. But, the Spirit of HaShem constrained him from doing so. Jacob realized that God did not want the time of the end to be known. Israel therefore, would have to find comfort by exercising faith and trust in G-d and by obeying His instructions, even when faced with persecution. This message is very relevant to us today!
Rashi suggests that Jacob’s vision of what would transpire in ‘acharit hayamim’ - the end of days’ - was closed for it was not yet time for the vision to be shared with his sons.
In the book of Daniel, chapter 8, we read: "Understand, son of man, that the vision refers to the time of the end" (Dan 8:17). Yet, in Habakkuk, we see that the interpretation and understanding of the vision is yet future.
3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.
We see something similar in Acts, chapter 1:
4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, "which," He said, "you have heard from Me;
5 for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
6 Therefore, when they had come together they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (in other words, is this the beginning of the end times?)
Notice the repetition – vs 4 - being assembled together,
vs 6 - when they had come together
When man unites together to achieve a single goal, there is no guarantee of a positive outcome. This is clearly illustrated with the tower of babel incident where the results were disastrous. They attempted to reach the heavens but instead, G-d scattered them and confused their language. They no longer spoke one language. On one accession while attending a prayer conference in Israel, I shared a meal with four young men from an island nation which name slips my mind right now. But, they told me that there were over 400 distinct dialects on that island. And two of them, who lived in villages that were separated by only 6 kilometres, spoke such distinct dialects that the one could not understand the other. I a thought to myself “Wow. HaShem really did a good job in confusing the languages”.
Now, in Acts chapter 1, when the talmidim (disciples) asked Yeshua whether this
was the time when the kingdom would be restored to Israel, Yeshua responded as
recorded in Acts 1:7-8
7 And He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.
8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
And, by the way, the Greek word for ‘witnesses’ is ‘martus’ from which is derived ‘martyr’. Where you aware that this was your high calling. “Fear not, for I am with you, saith the Lord”.
It is for this very reason that I tend not to spend too much time speculating about end time scenarios. Our responsibility is to recognize the signs of the times and to live in accordance to His revealed instructions. Dev 29:29 – ‘the hidden things belong to the Lord but the revealed things are for man that he might do them”. Let’s prioritise and focus on doing the revealed things. As His followers, let us agree to walk as children of light. Let us choose to focus on leaving behind the fragrance of the knowledge of Him in every place!
2 Peter 3:10-13
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,
12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!
13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
Sometimes, the Father conceals things from us because if we knew what was going to happen, we might well hinder His plans and purposes. If Israel knew about the impending enslavement and oppression, they might have attempted to leave Egypt before the appointed time. There was an appointed time for them to emerge from Egypt and HaShem prophesied this to Avraham in Genesis 15 that this would be after 400 plus years had passed. For 190 years, they lived in peace in Goshen; for 210 years, they suffered under the cruel oppression of a despotic new Pharaoh.
HaShem constrained Jacob by His Spirit from revealing what the future held for Israel, thereby rendering the son’s incapable of understanding what was about to occur. It was, I suggest, deliberately hidden from them!
Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.
Isaiah 44:18 tells us something similar: They have neither known nor understood: for he has shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.
Sometimes, in His eternal purposes, the Father prevents us from understanding what is about to happen. In Romans 11, Paul says that the Father intentionally hardened Jewish hearts and minds so that the hand of salvation would be extended to the nations until the times of the nations had come to an end.
Thank G-d that there is an ‘until’ in Romans 11. Until the fullness of the nations have come in! Only after this, at the appointed time, would He regather His people from the galut, pour out upon them a spirit of supplication, cleanse them from their sin, and ultimately, at the appointed time, reveal Yeshua to them! His timing is always perfect!
What we further notice in this final portion in the Book of Beginnings is that Jacob - the heel grabber - is now the one with the vision of the future. Although he was constrained from revealing to his sons what would occur in acharit hayamim, he could speak prophetically into their lives.
Jacob first called for Joseph who was the only son who held power in Egypt, and made him promise that he would not leave his bones behind in Egypt. Knowing that his days were numbered, Jacob made Joseph promise that when the time was right for Israel to travel back to the Land promised to them by G-d, they would exhume his bones and transport them for burial in Eretz Yisrael in the Cave of Machpelah, in Hebron. This too was a prophetic act for he wanted the sons to know that their destiny could only be fulfilled when they lived in the Promised Land.
Now, if you recall, it was Joseph who was given the multi-coloured robe signaling tribal leadership. And this is further endorsed in our parashah when we read Jacob’s final words to his favourite son: “I give you one portion over and above your brothers, which I took away from the Amorite with my sword and with my bow" (48:22). The fact that Joseph was getting one portion above his brothers meant that he was getting the double portion which is the inheritance due to the first-born son. The reason why Rueben had forfeited this privilege is that he had slept with his father’s concubine, something that is forbidden in Torah. Simeon and Levi were also relegated in the order, because they killed the men who raped their sister.
Soncino throws casts further insight into this double portion. The double portion was for Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim who were given the status of a full tribe by their grandfather. When Joseph introduced Manasseh and Ephraim to Jacob, he stretched out his hands to bless them. But, once again, we see the principle of divine reversal being acted out.
Manasseh was the oldest son and Jacob should therefore have placed his right hand on his head but instead, it is Ephraim who receives the blessing of the firstborn. When Joseph protested, Jacob spoke soothing words to him:
"I know, my son, I know: he also (Manasseh) will become a nation, and will become great, yet his younger brother will become greater than he, and his seed will become the fullness of nations."
This blessing began to be fulfilled during the time of the Judges, when the tribe of Ephraim so increased in extent and power, that it became the head of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom. In the one census, Manasseh numbered 20 000 more than Ephraim, yet Ephraim is numbered before Manasseh. This blessing is of prophetic significance and even today, when a father blesses his sons on erev Shabbat, he blesses them with the words recorded in our parashah: "In thee (i.e., Joseph) will Israel (as a nation) bless, saying: God make thee as Ephraim and Manasseh". " Y’simcha Elohim ki Ephraim v’ki Menasseh’. יְשִׂימְךָ אֱלהיִם כְּאֶפְרַיְם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה.
And then, in closing, let me return to the fact that the Spirit constrained Jacob from revealing what would transpire in אחרית הימים - acharit hayamim. I believe that Yeshua alluded to this in Matt 24:32 when He told the parable of the fig tree. But, He preceded this with a caution:
23 "Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Messiah!' or 'There!' do not believe it.
24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
25 See, I have told you beforehand.
32 "Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.
33 So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near — at the doors!
34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.
35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
36 No One Knows the Day or Hour
44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Only the Father knows the day of Yeshua’s return. Instead of this endless speculation of what, when and how, we are instructed as to what should occupy our attention and our time. We are instructed to ‘be ready’ simply translates as ‘be prepared’. In Matt 25, Yeshua told the parable of the ten virgins, of whom, only five were really prepared. Those five had ensured that they had sufficient oil.
And then finally, the prophet Isaiah described acharit hayamim for us:
2 In the last days (acharit hayamim) the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. (the gatherings of the nations to Messiah Yeshua)
3 Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
G-d’s word is a forever word; it will come to pass. Every word that He has spoken will reach the target! It will accomplish its sent forth purpose BUT… BUT … at the designated time. Not a moment too soon and not a moment too late! The nations can plot, plan and rage, but G-d’s word stands unmovable and tenacious.
But, to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the Father peels away that which is hidden and at times, in His purposes, He allows glimpses of what is yet to come even as He allowed only three of His disciples to witness the events at the Mountain of Transfiguration.