Parshat Veyechi “Jacob asks, Why? Jake asks, Why not?”
By Jake Goodman
Verse Per Verse
By Jake Goodman
Verse Per Verse
"The time drew near that Israel [the Hebrew formerly known as Jacob] must die," and he knew it. (He was 147 years old, after all.) After micromanaging his own funeral arrangements, Israel gathers his grandsons and sons around him to offer each a specific blessing: birthrights are switched left and right, some sons are richly praised, some are harshly judged. Jacob dies, Joseph cries (again and again), Jacob is buried in a homey cave and the brothers trick Joseph into forgiving them for past transgressions against him. Years pass. Suddenly Joseph is 110 years old and it is time for him to die. Like his father, he gathers his progeny, makes funeral arrangements and continues Israel's covenant by swearing that God will eventually remember them and take them back to the land of their ancestors. He dies, is embalmed and buried in Egypt. And there are four more books to go!
I am fascinated by the whole concept of blessing. What does it mean to be blessed? To offer a blessing? What is the difference between a blessing and a curse? Can I bless anybody or anything, any time I want? Are there limits? Do I have to somehow purify myself first? Or put on a costume? Or climb a mountain? Should I outstretch my arms? Do I have to be a rabbi, a priest, an Imam, a witch doctor, a Master in Theology? Do I have to be on my deathbed? If I were childless—which I am—am I prohibited from blessing anybody?
I think people today are too proud give blessings and too humble to receive them. I wouldn’t even know how to go about doing it. And it is with this thought that I read Parshat Vayechi, the last chapter of the Book of Beginnings. Here are some instructions I have gleaned from the parsha:
· To be able to give a blessing, one must first believe in one's own self-worth. One must believe that one has something to give. (If I am not worthy of giving a blessing, how could I ever give a blessing?) In a different language, to bless someone else, one must first be blessed.
· To give anything worthy of the name "blessing," this parsha seems to take for granted that one must believe that it is in harmony with—or comes from/is ordained by/is the will of—some higher power. Inherent to believing in a higher power is the knowledge that there is something greater than the "I" that is at the core of Me. Otherwise a blessing might more properly be labeled a promise, a compliment or a desire.
· To be able to give a blessing, one must also believe in the worth of the person or thing being blessed. Anything otherwise would be flattery.
o This could explain Israel's brutal assessment of some of his sons. If he did feel any affection for the sons he castigated, he could not let that get in the way of the integrity of the blessing. Priorities.
· SO, as I understand this story, to give a blessing requires the belief that I am not the highest power in the universe, and that the person or thing I want to bless is worthy of being blessed. It takes a lot of nerve. (Good thing I think I believe in my own self-worth.)
· Also, to be able to receive a blessing, one must first believe in the blesser's own worth. (How could I possibly receive a blessing you are not worthy of giving?)
o Possibly this is why Joseph feels no choice but to let his father switch the birthright from Menasseh to his younger brother, Ephraim.
But still, after this, I am still left wondering why? I reflect back upon the blessings that Jacob has alternatively craved, stolen and fought for during his earlier life, and I wonder what meaning blessings hold for him. It's more than something a son wants from his dying father, or that father is obligated to pass on to his most deserving (or eldest) son. It must be. After all, why does Jacob demand a blessing from the strange man he wrestled by the River Jabbok, when he earned his name change from "heel grabber" to "god struggler"? If his opponent really was an angel or even God, as I've heard some say, he could have asked for anything. Why a blessing?
And as I ask why for Jacob, I also ask why not for Jake. How would blessings play out in modern life? What is holding me back from giving and receiving blessings? Because there are times when I feel so grateful, I would be willing to say that yes, I do feel blessed. I have received blessings. But am I willing to ask anybody for a blessing? Would I be open to stopping somebody and asking, "Hey, I'm Jake, would you bless me?" …probably not. But why not?