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Vayechi: Transmuting Evil into Good

"Fear not. I will sustain you and your children.” (Bereshit/Genesis 50:21)

Vayechi means "and he lived." But it's the answer to how a great many people lived. Joseph promises to sustain the lives of his brothers and their descendants. It's the shortest parsha, notable mainly for the intricate blessings--in ancient and difficult Hebrew--that Jacob gives to each of his sons.

"Joseph Blesses His Sons"
"Joseph Blesses His Sons"

As blessings, some of them leave something to be desired.

Reuben is told he SHOULD have excellency but won't because he slept with one of his father's concubines. Simeon and Levi get divided and scattered for their rash behavior after Dinah's rape.

Judah, on the other hand, gets designated to rule over his brothers (and gets to be a "lion's whelp"). Joseph is also promised that he will get to be a prince among his brothers, which seems like it's already come true at this point.

Dan gets to judge over his brothers, Benjamin gets to be a ravenous wolf, both of which seem pretty badass, but Issachar only gets to be an ass, and do lots of work. Asher is maybe going to be a baker?

The parsha ends with Joseph dying and making his brothers promise to carry him back to the land of his fathers and bury him there.

Which is going to happen... eventually.

So all of the Israelites are nice and settled in Egypt, setting the stage for their great escape.

Join us at 9:00 am this Saturday for coffee, donuts, and what's always a lively discussion.

Other lenses

Want to know what other Jewish thinkers are saying about this parsha?

Wikipedia has an incredible treasure trove of geekery about the weekly portion, laying out everything from the number of Hebrew letters in the parsha to summaries of classical commentaries. Prepare to go down a very deep rabbithole.

Sefaria is an amazing free resource--an ever-growing library of Jewish texts in both Hebrew and English. In addition to the Hebrew text and translation, it provides the text of most of the classical commentaries (not all of which have been translated... yet). The parsha is one of the first links on the main page.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, does a podcast called Ten Minutes of Torah--perfect for when you're time-constrained. The Union for Reform Judaism has a whole page of resources for the parsha, ranging from beginner's guides to pieces on the contemporary relevance of the portion. The Women of Reform Judaism site has a glorious archive of the entire text of The Torah: A Women's Commentary divided up by parsha.

My Jewish Learning has a summary of the portion, the parsha itself and the haftorah, and commentary.

For a Reconstructionist take, visit Reconstructing Judaism's weekly learning page.

T'ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, has a weekly d'var that looks at the parsha as a starting point for contemporary political issues.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism has a parsha commentary archive.

Keshet's Torah Queeries page provides commentary from an LGBTQ perspective (search on the portion name).

The Jewish Theological Society (the Conservative Branch seminary) provides weekly commentary at JTS Torah Online.

Yeshivat Maharat, the first Orthodox yeshiva to ordain women, has a collection of Divrei Torah written by women and organized by parsha on its site.

Limmud, a 35-year-old grassroots Jewish learning event that started in the UK and has become an international phenomenon, maintains an archive of commentaries.

Liberal Judaism's Thought for the Week provides concise but thoughtful analysis of the portion.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi Emeritus of England, engages in profound commentary on the weekly portion in Covenant & Conversation.

InterfaithFamily puts out an animated Torahlog including contemporary reactions, poetry, folk music, and Jewish scholarship on the parsha.

The Jewish Renewal movement's site maintains an archive of commentary. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, the Velveteen Rabbi--an author and Jewish Renewal rabbi--does commentary on her site.

The #parshachat hashtag on Twitter marks a constantly-running social media conversation on the parsha.

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