A ‘BISSEL’ OF TORAH Parashat Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

by Student Rabbi Shelley Goldman

This Shabbat is my Grandmother’s Fourth Yartzeit. By Jewish reckoning, she died Shabbat morning of Parashat Vayechi, the last Torah portion in the book of Genesis. At this point in our story, our patriarch Jacob is lying on his deathbed and offering blessings to his sons. I remember hearing these words with profound sadness as I stumbled into shul the year she died. I was late because I am always late but also because on my way out the door, I noticed a missed call from my dad from earlier that morning. I knew as soon as I saw that he had called from Chicago at 7AM, that Grandma was gone. So I went to shul, because that’s what I do on Saturday mornings, and I listened as Jacob blessed each of his sons. I thought, how beautiful! He addressed each of his sons before taking his final leave.

I reflected on the last phone conversation that I ever had with my Grandma that occurred nine days before she died. As we were getting off the phone she said, “I am proud of you and I love you very much.” She had been saying “I love you” at the end of every call for at least a year at that point but it still took me by surprise because she had not told me that she loved me very often up until then. (I knew that she did, she just didn’t say it out loud.) In the course of our conversation she had also asked me about my girlfriend for the first time. I sat in shul on the day of her death, shocked and pleased. Grandma had offered me her blessing! She had spoken words of love, pride in my chosen life/career path, and acknowledged my love for my partner.

One interpretation of this week’s Torah portion is that Jacob’s blessings were not really blessings but rather insights into Truths about each of his sons. Many of them are harsh statements about the difficult character traits that Jacob (and probably many others) saw in his kids.  There is a Hasidic practice wherein the Rebbe looks into the soul of his students and presents them with truths about themselves that are meant to help them live better lives. Jacob might have been doing something like this and I think that at times my Grandmother was too.

There were many things over the years that she said to me that were difficult. And part of what made them so tough was that they were true. She had the chutzpah to say things to me that other people kept to themselves. And, while many of her truths belonged to the way that she understood the world, having been born in the 20s, she still gave me a lot to think about as I work to better myself.

I know that relationships with family members are not always easy and it is especially difficult to navigate your feelings after someone has died.  My blessing to you in this time when many of you are spending extra time with extended family is that you feel that you receive a blessing from them.  Their words might be a comfort and/or a comforting challenge and I hope that you have the wisdom to receive their insights with love and also with a grain of salt, if necessary.