The Torah portion Va’yechi is the concluding parasha of the first book of Torah, B’reishit. It ends the narrative of the founding mothers and fathers of our folk and faith, and also concludes the complex and compelling story of Joseph. As such, it has many aspects of endings, including Jacob’s death-bed blessings given to his sons and grandsons plus explicit instructions regarding his burial. The parasha also contains a poignant exchange between Joseph and his brothers which echoes old duplicities but results in peace among them. Finally, the parasha tells of Joseph’s death and his final request, “When God has taken notice of you (i.e. the people of Israel), you shall carry my bones from here.”, fore-shadowing the events that will unfold in the next book of the Torah.
Despite all these endings, how this parasha begins is truly unique. All other por-tions in a Torah scroll start at the beginning of a line of text, and/or after an open space that indicates the start of a new block of text. Vayechi, meaning “and he lived”, starts right in the middle of a line. There is no clear indication where the previous portion ended and this one begins. The very structure of the Torah text impresses upon us the unavoidable continuity that characterises our lives. Past events influence future happenings. Present conditions cast new light on previ-ous circumstances. Future considerations determine present actions.
This Torah portion is a perfect match for the beginning of a new (secular) year that comes with so many uncertainties. The rise of anti-Semitism world wide, the horrible fires in Australia, and the possibility of a war in the Near East are only three of the many horrors that have cast their shadows on our future.
“Have no fear!” is Joseph’s answer to his brothers, when they are in fear of their future. Friends, we don’t know what 2020 will bring. We are somewhere in the middle of something, not able to see what is coming next. However fear cannot be our answer. Instead, I invite you to take the following words to your heart, which we recite when we end a book of the Torah, as we do this Shabbat:
Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazeik
Be strong, be strong, and we will strengthen one another
Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Adrian M Schell
(Source: Rabbi Jack Luxemburg)