Breishit (Genesis)The Book of Genesis is concerned with beginnings: the creation of the world and the origin of humanity. It quickly shifts its focus from universal history to the history of the Jewish people beginning in chapter 12, with the introduction of Abraham, the first Jew. The remainder of the book focuses on the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Leah, and Joseph. The book ends with the entire family of Jacob descending into Egypt. There are fifty chapters, divided into twelve parashiyot. The parashiyot in Breishit are: Breishit, Noah, Lech Lecha, VaYera, Chaye Sarah, Toldot, VaYetze, VaYishlach, VaYeshev, Miketz, VaYigash and VaYechi.


VaYechi: We cannot finish everything we hope to do in the world --- but others who come after us can complete our efforts.

This final section of the Joseph cycle of stories, and this final parasha of the Book of Bereshit, begins seventeen years after Jacob's arrival in Egypt, when he was 147 years old. Jacob is close to death, so he summons Joseph to his bedside and has him pledge solemnly that he will not bury him in Egypt. He wants to be interred at the family burial place at the Cave of Machpelah, in Hebron. As Jacob's condition worsens, Joseph brings his two sons, Ephraim and Menasseh to see his father. Jacob blesses Joseph's two boys, effectively adopting them as his own sons and giving their future descendants the status of tribes. To receive the blessing, Joseph positions his older son Menasseh at Jacob's right hand, the hand of preference, and the younger son Ephraim at Jacob's left. But, following the trend of his own life where he, the younger brother, usurped the blessing of his older brother, Jacob reverses his hands so that the younger brother receives the blessing of the older. The boys are blessed together with the words that are used to this day by parents to bless a son (48:20). Jacob then calls all his sons to his deathbed and gives them his final words, an 'ethical will' of sorts that is a blend of assessment, prophecy, warning, prayer and blessing. Jacob then reiterates to all the sons that he is to be buried in Canaan, at Machpelah, next to Leah. Having said all he has to say, Jacob then dies, is embalmed and then mourned in Egypt for seventy days. With Pharaoh's approval, Jacob is taken by his family to be buried in the Land of Israel. With Jacob gone, the brothers become concerned that Joseph might now take revenge against them for having sold him into slavery. The brothers throw themselves on Joseph's mercy. In tears, Joseph assures them that he bears no grudge against them. He reminds them that God has brought them all to Egypt for a reason. The parasha concludes with Joseph's death at the age of 110. He is embalmed and buried in Egypt. But, prior to his death, Joseph also asks to have his bones taken up to Israel when the Israelite nation eventually leaves Egypt.

Copyright: Kolel, The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning.

These summaries and introductions are used with permission of Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning in Toronto, Canada. Kolel is a dynamic, pluralistic, egalitarian institution where men and women engage in Jewish learning which values both traditional and liberal interpretations. Kolel is a gateway into a richer expression of Judaism for each individual, wherever their journey of Jewish discovery may take them.

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