– how should we respond to its uncertainty?
It has no beginning.
Every parsha starts at the beginning of a fresh paragraph. There’s either a short gap or a longer gap before it. Parshat Vayechi, however, has no beginning. It flows directly on from the end of the previous week’s parsha. So why is this the case?
The 15th Century scholar Rav Meir Yechiel of Ostroff gives a beautiful peirush. He tells us that when the 70 souls of the family of Yaakov Avinu came down to Egypt, they didn’t know at what point in their journey they were.
There was so much doubt, so much confusion. They knew they were going into exile. But how long would it last? Would it be happy? Would it be trying? When would their redemption come? When would they be going back to their land?
Because the beginning, the middle and the end of their journey was not known to them, that’s why the beginning of the parsha is not clearly defined.
What was the response of Yaakov Avinu during those challenging times of uncertainty? In a word: Beracha. Blessings.
Yaakov Avinu counted his blessings, and he wanted those around him to do likewise. In particular, at that moment he appreciated his family. Coming right at the end of the book of Bereishit – the book of the dysfunctional family – Yaakov Avinu wanted to bring his divided family together, and he showed them how his grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe, got on so well together – a model for future peaceful domestic coexistence.
Berachot, blessings, are what Yaakov Avinu gave to his family. Vayechi is full of them: a blessing for each and every child, a blessing for his grandchildren, charging us to bless our children likewise for all time. Indeed, the blessings of Yaakov Avinu as presented in Vayechi continue to provide inspiration for us to this very day.
I believe that all of this is highly relevant to us at this very point on our journey of Covid-19. Ever since the pandemic commenced, we’ve known we’re on a journey but it’s been a very challenging time for us because usually, you can plan ahead. We know when we’ll be working, when our holiday period will be, and we’re able to put things in the diary. But even now as the vaccines are starting to be rolled out, we don’t know what’s waiting around the corner for us – no point in this journey is clearly defined for us – so what should our response be?
It should be berachot.
Just like Yaakov Avinu, we need to count our blessings. We need to step back and prioritise what is really important in life and like Yaakov Avinu, highlight how crucial our families must be for us all.
In addition, we need to bless others, to let them know how much we appreciate them, to give them words of praise and also to invest in the future. The pandemic presents us with many challenges. These are trying times – people are dying, people are ill, people have lost their jobs, people are lonely and there is an increase of mental illness. But together with that, like Yaakov Avinu, let’s invest now in our future. And through our actions, our deeds and our blessings, may we provide an inspiration now for all time to come.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis