This week’s Torah portion is “Vayechi” (Genesis 47:28-50:26) and with it we conclude the book of Genesis.
There is much to discuss in the week’s reading, but what I want to focus on today is simply the name of the reading. The word “Vayechi” means “to live on.” Oddly enough, however, our portion focuses on the death of Jacob! What an odd name, then, for this week’s Torah portion. Why is it named the way it is?
Perhaps the answer, or at least some “food for thought,” can be found in the words of Mark Twain. As Mark Twain wrote in 1899:
If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of; has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people…He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it…The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to the dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but burned it out, and they sit in twilight now or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, be at them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
Mark Twain couldn’t have put it better. We are indeed, a nation that is “Vayechi,” always manages to live on. As mentioned in last week’s UWI Torah message, we are called “Jews” after Judah, the founder of the tribe of the same name. We are not called “Reubens,” “Zevuluns,” or “Dans.” We are called Jews. Judah is our patron father.
Before Jacob died, he blessed all his children. To Judah he said:
A lion cub is Judah… He crouches, lies down like a lion, and like an awesome lion, who dares to rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh (The Messiah) arrives.
As we can see, it is Judah who is prophesized to live until the very end of times. Jacob, in his blessing to Judah hints to the secret of his, and by extension our, survival: We are a nation of lions! The lion represents both leadership and survival.
Throughout history the Jewish people continue to assume positions of leadership and initiative, serving as a “light unto the nations.” Even today, it is Israel who is the first to respond to disasters and lead the way with humanitarian assistance. The recent disaster in the Philippines is a perfect example of this. And in terms of survival, the Jewish people have come through it all, from Pharaoh to Hitler and now to Rouhani (and everything in between!). There is nothing that can destroy the Jew.
There you have it. The secret to our survival is the blessing that Jacob gave to Judah. It is the lion that symbolizes –and inspires- our survival.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
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Shabbat Shalom from Israel!