Vay’chee – “And He Lived”

This week’s passage is titled Va-y’chee, which means, “and he lived” and covers Genesis 47:28 – 50:26.  How appropriate that on this last Shabbat of 2023, we are covering the last parasha passage of Genesis, a passage filled with endings, but also new beginnings.

The passage begins towards the end of Genesis 47, 17 years after Joseph brings Jacob and his brothers, their families and livestock to live in Egypt.  Joseph lived his first 17 years in Jacob’s household, and now, Jacob has lived 17 years in Joseph’s country, so to speak, as Joseph is only second in power to Pharaoh. Jacob is now near death and he makes Joseph promise not to bury him in Egypt, but to be buried with his ancestors.

Chapters 48 and 49 recount the great blessings that Jacob bestows on his offspring, first for Joseph and his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, in chapter 48 and the rest of his sons in chapter 49.  In chapter 48, Jacob adopts Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own.  These sons were born to Joseph in Egypt, however, by Jacob adopting them as his own, he guarantees them the same portion of inheritance as if they were his own sons, like Reuben or Levi.  Jacob, or Israel, as he is now referred to, asks that Ephraim and Manasseh be brought into his presence so he can bless them.  As he reaches out his hands to do that, he places his right hand on Ephraim, the younger, and the left hand on Manasseh, the older.  Joseph is displeased with this as the right hand should be placed on the elder son.  Throughout biblical text, the “right hand” is seen as a place of honor and status and thus has greater significance than the left hand.  But Israel refused to change the positioning, saying, in 48:19: “I know, my son, I know; he also shall become a people and he also shall be great.  However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.”  Even today, when we bless our sons, we often pray, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh,” following the example that Israel laid down, raising the younger brother over the older.

We are also reminded that, although under very different circumstances, Jacob received the blessing from his father, Isaac, which should have been reserved for Esau and in time, the younger, Jacob, did become much greater than his older brother, Esau.

Jacob summons the rest of his sons in chapter 49, blessing each in turn.  There must have been suspense going on since as soon as the blessing is pronounced on Reuben, the oldest, the rest realize that he would not be the successor of Jacob to take over the family.  The reason for this is that in Genesis 35:22, we read that Reuben lay with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah, thus defiling her and also himself.  He is not given the preeminent leadership role due to this.

The next two sons, Simeon and Levi, are also disqualified from this leadership since they killed the Hivite men in Genesis 34 as revenge for the rape of their sister Dinah.

That takes us to Judah, the 4th son and Jacob bestows this leadership role, the right to be the next patriarch on Judah saying at the beginning of verse 8:  “Judah, your brothers shall praise you,” and later in verse 8, “Your father’s sons shall bow down to you,” and in verse 10:  “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

After blessing the rest of the sons, Jacob requests for them to bury him in the field of Machpelah, the field purchased by Abraham, where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and also Leah, Jacob’s wife, are buried.

In chapter 50, Joseph and the rest of the brothers carry out Jacob’s requests.  At the end of chapter 50, Joseph’s brothers are again concerned that Joseph will now turn on them after Jacob’s death, but Joseph reassures them they have nothing to worry about.  Chapter 50 ends with the death of Joseph who, before dying, requests that he not be left in Egypt when the day comes when the Israelis leave Egypt, a prophecy that was fulfilled hundreds of years later after God frees the Jewish people through Moses.

What can we learn from parasha Va-y’chee?

First, I think we can learn about the power of praying for and blessing our children.  We should do this each and every day, asking the Lord to help our children grow up close to Him, close to Yeshua and we should ask Adonai to help guide their steps each and every day so that in time, they too will take their place in Adonai’s economy.  Even when our children are grown, we should continue to pray for them and for any grandchildren we have, always lifting them up in prayer for God to use and bless.

Second, in the blessing for Judah, we see a prophecy of Messiah Yeshua.  In Jacob’s blessing for Judah, he uses three phrases that denote kingship.  As I read in 50:10 before, we see the terms ‘scepter’, ‘the ruler’s staff’ and ‘obedience of the peoples’.  Each one of these elements is a part of a king’s ruling right.  In Jacob’s prophecy, he states that none of these ruling rights would disappear until Shiloh came. This was understood in ancient Israel to refer to the Messiah.  In other words, none of the rulers of Israel/Judah would lose their ruling power until Messiah had come.

Pastor and Bible commentator, David Guzik, noted that by the time of the Romans, most of the ruling power of the king of Israel had been taken away.  Only the ability to pronounce capital punishment remained, but this was also taken away during the time of Herod causing the rabbis to despair that the scepter truly had departed from Judah.  However, Yeshua had already arrived on the scene.  The true ruler of Judah was present.  And, indeed, in Revelation 5:5, Yeshua is referred to as “The Lion that is from the Tribe of Judah…”.  He is the rightful heir to the true prophetic statement from Jacob and the true leader of not just the land of Israel, but the rest of the world and beyond.

Finally, my prayer for our congregation as we close out 2023 is that individually, we would each draw closer to Adonai and His Son, Messiah Yeshua, and He would build us up in our faith and through that, we would be a blessing to our families, our congregation and others.  And, that we would extend His Word to those in our communities and beyond.  And finally, that He would bless our congregation to continue to be a place where His Word is preached faithfully, where His love is demonstrated tangibly, and His light shines brightly and draws others to Him and His Glory.