Vayechi - Microcosm of Destiny
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
The Book of Bereshis has been the story of the family of Avraham. It has
focused on their development from the nuclear unit of three-father, mother,
and child-to the fundamental family / nation of 70.
However, there is far more to this presentation of national development
than the embryonic start of the Chosen People. Inherent in the tale is a
microcosm of a world struggling toward responsible identity and eventual
The Book of Bereshis began with the creation of the world and concludes
with the creation of the Jewish nation. Bereshis started with the story of
latent potential and ends with the same. At the inception of the world and
at the conception of the Jewish people, neither had true value beyond their
potential. In both instances it would be up to free willed humans to invest
themselves in realizing G-d's intentions and unlocking the universe's
inherent power and majesty.
From the very first verse in Bereshis, G-d's focus was the division and
separation inherent in the natural order of creation. As we have often
discussed in the Rabbi's Notebook, separation is the clearest indication of
G-d's intention and the individual worth of every element in the universe.
The story of Bereshis then moved from division in nature to the natural and
imposed divisions inherent in humanity. Given the politically correct
nature of our present times it is very difficult to discuss separation,
division and differences within humanity without sounding biased or
bigoted. However, regardless of political sensitivities, the Torah presents
immutable facts that we must deal with. G-d, Torah, and nature do not
change; it is our attitudes and feelings that must change.
The concept of separation and division within the human race was intended
to organize humanity into groups of families / nations responsible to
themselves, humanity, and above all else, G-d. It suggests a vast
conglomeration of individuals working together for the greater good. It
suggests a utopian vision of messianic brotherhood and redemption.
The magic number was 70. Seventy nations sharing common moral and ethical
values with a singular belief and devotion to G-d and His chosen teachers,
the Jewish people.
The purpose of the Jews was to teach by example and share their
understanding of G-d and His intentions with all the rest. The Jews were
not intended to be superior or inferior. They were intended to simply
embrace their designated jobs as humanity's teachers. Through the study of
Torah and the performance of the 613 Mitzvos they were to be trained in all
nuances of G-d's revelation within nature and live their lives according to
His revealed laws.
Specific commandments were first revealed to the Forefathers through
prophecy. However, the final mandate occurred at Mt. Sinai at the time of
Revelation. As the Rambam (Maimonidies) discusses in the Thirteen
Principles of faith, Principles 6 through 9 qualify prophecy as G-d's
chosen method for revealing His intentions. Prophecies were at first
directed to individuals and did not carry the weight of a national
imperative. At the time of Mt. Sinai that all changed. Revelation was a
public prophecy shared by the entire nation and it established the
irrevocable obligation and destiny of the Chosen People.
Had the Jews done their job and the other nations theirs, our world would
have been a much different place. The Jews would have accepted the
responsibility and the joy of divine intimacy and the other nations would
have shared in the joy by embracing us as their loving teachers and
mentors. However, the Jews struggled with their commandments and the other
nations struggled with the designated place of the Jew within G-d's
As noted in last week's essay, the story of the Jews changed dramatically
with the birth of Yakov's twelve sons. No longer was monotheism the
prerogative of the individual. All of a sudden it became a shared value
requiring adjustments for individuality and collective destiny.
The Torah turned our attention to the emerging egos and conflicts of Reuven
the Eldest, Dina the Curious, Yoseph the Righteous, Shimon and Layvie the
Extremists, and Yehudah the Royal. It was the story of siblings struggling
to understand their individual place within the family. It was the story of
potentially great individuals struggling to understand their responsibility
for the legacy of Avraham. It was the story of a family struggling within
itself to build a cohesive whole on a foundation of shared devotion and
beliefs. It was the story of a family struggling to realize the gift of
redemption. It was the story of separation and division embraced,
understood, accepted and working.
The last chapters of Bereshis detail Yakov's final instructions to his
sons. Yakov had already lived in Egypt for 17 years. From the relative
smallness of his family of 70 he had witnessed the geometric progression of
four generations. The promise of nationhood was now more real than ever
The Medresh relates that the twelve sons stood around their father's death
bed and proclaimed, "Hear O' Yisroel… You have succeeded were others did
not. You gave birth to a family and all of us are whole and complete in our
devotion to each other and G-d! 70 years ago you asked G-d to return you
whole to your Father's home. G-d fulfilled your request. You did what you
had to do and all twelve of us stand before you as testimony to your hard
work as our father and teacher. We are whole and your are whole!"
Yakov responded, "Blessed be the name of His Kingdom…" It is true. I am
whole! G-d did protect me! He even watched over my beloved Yoseph and today
I can boast grandchildren like Menashe and Ephraim whom I am proud to call
my own! Gather around me and I will bless each of you. Gather near and hear
my final instructions to you as independent components of the greater whole.
Some of you I will criticize and most I will bless; however, both criticism
and blessing will be known in history as "my blessings." My purpose is to
neither compliment or to criticize. You all know how much I love you and
care for you. You have all been my greatest challenge and my greatest joy.
But, I am not just Yakov the Father. I am also Yisroel the progenitor of a
nation. In that capacity I summon you to listen carefully to my words of
blessing. My propose is to tell you what G-d's intentions are for each of
you in relation to all of you.
Each of you must listen as one and as twelve. I am not speaking privately.
That I already did with each of you as I did with Yoseph and his sons. Now
you must listen to the composition of the nation as a nation."
The end of this week's Parsha is the end of Bereshis. The end began with 12
individuals struggling to understand their place and their
responsibilities. The process they underwent was deliberate and divine.
Yoseph the dreamer decided that he had to tell his brothers his dream of
national and universal stewardship. For Yoseph it was a prophecy that had
to be shared.
The brothers moved to protect their positions within the Chosen People
misinterpreting Yoseph's insistence as the egomaniacal ravings of an Eisav
Shimon and Layvie, the proven defenders of the family's honor, conspired to
remove the threat of Yoseph and save the family.
Reuven, hoping to return Yoseph and their sibling rivalry to the loving
embrace and direction of Yakov their father and mentor, failed in his
attempt to save Yoseph.
Yehudah made his first executive decision and consigned Yoseph into the
relative protection of slavery and G-d's divine plan.
Seduction, imprisonment, dreams, and 12 years climaxed with Yoseph becoming
Tzaphnas Paneach and the savior of Egypt and the world.
The brothers descended into the world of Egypt and their perceived
adversary directed them through stages of self-discovery and Teshuvah
In the end, Yoseph forgave them, not by forgiving their original intentions
but by thanking G-d for directing every step of the family's destiny. As
far as the Tzadik was concerned, no apology was necessary.
The family soon to be nation of 70 arrived in Goshen. 70 members and 70
nations. 70 individuals with a singular task and destiny. Twelve
individuals who had to figure out their places and how to live with each
other. Twelve sons who in the end embraced each other and forgave each
other. Twelve sons who like the twelve stones of the Mizbeach (alter) would
elevate the world in service to G-d and bring redemption.
The family as a microcosm of the world: struggling to understand each
other; struggling to understand G-d; struggling to accept the differences
and embrace the divisions; struggling to learn how to forgive, and
struggling to attain redemption. That is the story of our people. That is
the story of our world. That is the story of the Book of Bereshis.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.