This week’s guest Parsha Post was written by Aaron Mandel, Assistant Director of Camp Tawonga.
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, we are presented with themes of transition and taking action. With the passing of Jacob, the era of the patriarchs draws to a close. This is also the last book of Bereishit. As Jacob lies on his deathbed he goes through some profoundly human meditations. Surrounded by his numerous family he considers his legacy while blessing and rebuking each of his children for aspects of their character and prior actions. In doing so, he begets them legacies of their own to fulfill and live up to as they transition into lives of their own as the head of the future 12 tribes of Israel and into a life without their father.
When teens and young adults come to Israel on a program they transition as well; from the life they know at home to 10 days, 4 weeks or 9 months of living, working and learning in Israel. They will not be the same afterwards, new responsibilities will be thrust upon them and they will begin to realize their own responsibility and power to live up to the Jewish imperatives of service and the pursuit of social justice.
In Vayechi, Jacob asks his children to leave Egypt and bury him in Canaan, the promised land, in the same cave as the other patriarchs and matriarchs. This requires the next generation to take action, a powerful metaphor. They cannot stand idly by to fulfill this wish, they cannot simply discuss and talk. They must gather themselves for a journey and have the courage to take that first step. His children must journey from Egypt and carry out this wish, which they do.
At the end of the portion, Joseph also dies and makes the same request to be buried in the promised land. His request does not come true with the same immediacy, indeed it is not until the permanent exodus from Egypt that his remains are laid to rest in the promised land. As participants on Yahel programs learn from the Ethiopian Israel community, some wishes (such as coming to Israel!) take longer than others, are fraught with complications and come with unforeseen and unfortunate challenges. This fact should not be a deterrent; it is only when the head, heart and hands come together through thoughtful action that our most courageous and righteous selves shine through and the world is inched along on its long arc toward justice.