Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah#12: Vayechi (He lived) Genesis 47:28-50:26
Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings) 2:1-12
B’rit Chadashah: 1 Kefa (Peter) 1:3-9; 2:11-17
Just as we recently started a new decade and turn the page to begin another chapter in our physical and spiritual journey, the children of Israel were about to enter into a new chapter in the history of Israel as G-d prepared to move them completely out of Egypt toward the ultimate destination; the Promised Land. In both cases, the destiny of true believers was and is safely in the hands of YHVH/Yahshua, even though we do not know what tomorrow, or even the next second will bring. However, they, as we were told by G-d that the final destination for those who follow His Torah through love and obedience will ultimately lead to the Promised Land in the New Jerusalem where we shall reside with our G-d forever. The earthly example given us in the Torah of the journey from Egypt (the world) to the Promised Land (Israel and our salvation) provides us an excellent example of pitfalls experienced by a people who lived in the presence of Moshe and other biblical greats who had a most intimate relationship with G-d. It is arrogant for us to believe we are not subject to the same sins and errors as we learn to emulate Yahshua and follow His instructions (G-d’s Torah). Joseph was given great insight into this reality as he blessed the tribes as we shall soon see.
Locating the beginning of this parashah in a Torah scroll is very difficult, but there is no doubt a reason for it. The usual spacing cues are missing. All other parashot are separated by an empty space either nine letters wide or one complete line high. However, there are no space marks to indicate the start of this new section. Called a stumah (closed section), it is as if the last parashah (Vayigash) drew near to this parashah. This is quite poetic; one draws near in order to live on! Another point of interest is that Jacob lived 17 more years in Egypt under Joseph’s care before moving on to the next world. Joseph lived his first 17 years with Jacob! (Gen. 37:1-2).
The end of the book of Genesis is the beginning of an extended grand tour for Jacob’s offspring. In this parashah we find all 12 tribes settled in the best land in all Egypt in the land of Goshen. Nevertheless, it is still in Egypt which represents the world and secular humanism. This is a perfect illustration of G-d providing for His own as we are to live in the world to set the example for the rest of the nations of how G-d wants us to relate to each other and to Him without becoming assimilated to an anti-Torah lifestyle. Since the beginning scriptures in Genesis, the journey of those who seek and choose to follow G-d has involved leaving one place under G-d’s direction in some form or another and learning to live wherever G-d places them. A valuable lesson emerges for us. We are not to become too comfortable in our own “Egypt” in this world, and we must be willing to move wherever and whenever G-d prompts us through the Ruach HaKodesh. We must learn to bloom where we are planted, and this means to be content and glorify G-d no matter our circumstances. In the beginning, Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden due to the sin of pride and lust of the flesh. They had everything except equal status of G-d and they still wanted more.
Next, Abraham was told to pack up and move to a place to which G-d would direct him, but of which Abraham had no knowledge. Finally, Jacob’s extended family left Canaan for the unforeseeable future. Although we do not know what will happen tomorrow, we do know the end of the story for believers and unbelievers. We must forge ahead just as Abraham did in obedience and trust. In the case of Joseph, he had to function in new culture and way of life in the world. However, he never abandoned his faith in or loyalty to G-d. This narrative provides another lesson for us. No matter where we find ourselves, we must remember wherever G-d places us we can glorify Him. Joseph was the only one among his siblings who was given this mission. His brothers were living in Goshen where they could follow their own occupation and freely worship their G-d without Egyptian interference. G-d protected and blessed Joseph out of His love for Joseph and because Joseph honored G-d in the presence of a foreign culture and deity.
Jacob’s family presence in Egypt and Joseph’s behavior after his capture is such an example for us that it is the very last word in the Book of Genesis: “Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Gen. 50:26). This ending word is highly significant and a special pearl in the Torah. The last word of Genesis is a bridge to Exodus, a reminder that much of the book is set outside of Canaan and that Israel’s beginnings belonged to a nomadic or semi-nomadic past. I am reminded of this fact whenever I see the plant called the “Wandering Jew,” named for its quick- wandering nature and ability to thrive in a variety of environments. It is extremely interesting that put together, the last words of each book of the Torah provide the grand tour of the Israelites journey; Egypt, Journeys, Sinai, Jericho, Israel. This is a “virtual summary of the Torah’s narrative about the people of Israel, from slavery to Sinai to the Promised Land” (Etz Hayim Commentary, p. 310). The journey begins with the 430-year-long “gap year” that transformed the clan of people and a nation. It is no coincidence that there is a 4-month gap between Chanukkah and Pesach!
The conclusion of the patriarchal epoch is by no means the end of the story. The Israelite story to this point established the precedence, the nucleus of the future “nation of priests” mentioned in 1 Peter beyond that of the Levites to Mecezeldeck hypothesized to be Yahshua. Interesting to realize this concept completes a circle whereby Avraham paid tithes to Mecezeldeck before the Levites were born and became a priesthood. Joseph who delivered his own family by providing for the Egyptians, found himself between two cultures as we do today. Joseph had to function in Egypt as we have to function in the “Egypt” of our sinful world. He had to take on their dress and customs such as being embalmed and placed in a coffin. Yet, he never forsook his faith in and obedience to G-d. He made the sons of Israel swear to take his bones out of Egypt (Gen. 50:25).
Even more than Joseph, his children were raised in an environment that had developed adaptive traits. Before Jacob died, he blessed his two grandsons saying “By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: G-d make you like Ephraim and Manasseh” (Gen. 48:20). From the silence concerning these boys in the Torah, commentators claim they were the first two brothers in the Torah that didn’t fight with each other. However, what we know of their background provides a more substantial reason to make them the source of the traditional blessing for boys said every Shabbat. These boys had an Egyptian mother and an Israelite father who was one of the most powerful men in Egypt. They were born in the Diaspora, not only Egyptian but also Israelite- children living in two worlds just as Joseph did. This begs the question of why our sons are blessed in their names. Could it be because they grew up in the Diaspora and still remained faithful to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, like so many Jews and believers throughout history?
One question frequently arises that is answered with much speculation. That is, why did G-d allow Joseph to marry an Egyptian? There is no evidence that she was a Gentile who converted to the faith of her husband. She was from the line of Ham. Looking back to what was going on in Egypt at the time of our narrative, Egypt was under subjugation by Semitic conquerors known as Hyskos or Shepherd Kings. The Egyptian capital of the shepherd Kings, Avaris, was in the region of Goshen where the Israelites lived and On, the city of the sun god (Heliopolis), where Potipher and his daughter resided was located in very close proximity. Therefore, speculation is made that perhaps Potiphera and his daughter, Joseph’s wife might have also been members of the Semitic Shepherd Kings. Indeed, Josephus believed that the Hyksos were “the children of Israel.” If this is true, it harmonizes with other scripture where G-d orchestrated circumstances to keep the Semitic line pure as with the incident between Judah and Tamar. Other commentators maintain that Asenath was the daughter of Dinah, who, as we know was raped by a Gentile. Interesting to note that Dinah means “judged/vindicated” so if this is true, she was certainly vindicated through the marriage of her offspring to Joseph! In other commentaries, Asenath is said to have repented and converted. In some Jewish midrashim, she is told to be one who was reintegrated into the family of Jacob ( Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Gen.41:45,46:20, Soferim 21(43b), Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 36,38, Aptowitzer).Whatever the circumstances, we can rest assured that G-d uses who He will for His glory and that there are no “accidents” or compromises in His plan for mankind.
Sandwiched between Joseph and Moshe, Ephraim and Manasseh who, by the way are two separate tribes of their own in the Book of Revelation, represent the qualities we depend on for continuity: versatility, adaptability, and maneuverability surrounding a core of fervent conviction. All of us face the ever-present challenges of living a Torah-observant life in a non-Torah, antinomian world. Jacob was given the insight to know his grandsons had the ability and desire to meet these challenges. This is the reason he considered them equal (one stick) to his sons. This provides us insight into how YHVH/Yahshua views true believers. It matters not whether our parents were Egyptians, Israelites, or any other nationality. If we guard the commands of HaShem and carry the testimony of Yahshua as Yahshua defines the true believer or Israelite (Seven-fold witness in Revelation), we become partakers of the covenants of Israel and will be grafted into the single stick in G-d’s hand described in the book of Ezekiel.
Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings) 2:1-12
In this week’s haftarah, King David delivered his last message from his deathbed to Solomon. This reflects back on our parashah that discussed Jacob’s parting instructions to his sons and his blessings upon them. David encouraged Solomon to be strong and remain faithful to G-d. He assured Solomon this is the key to being successful in everything he did as well as for the continuation of the Davidic Dynasty. Then David imparted some of his insight and experience in tactics pertaining to some of the people who deserved punishment or reward for their actions during his reign. This may serve as a reminder to us that we will be held accountable for our actions at some point; either in this world or in the next. Reward and punishment will be justly administered by G-d (Matt. 12:36; Rom. 14:12). Rewards or the withholding thereof will occur at the first judgment (Rev. 20:6). Punishment for those destined for the lake of fire will occur at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 21:8; Jude v.12). The haftarah concludes with the death and burial of David in the City of David. King Solomon assumes the throne and his sovereignty established.
B’rit Chadashah: 1 Kefa (1 Peter) 1:3-9; 2:11-17
The first passage reminds us of what we learned in this week’s parashah through the narration of Joseph’s life. That is that we are destined to endure various trials and testings as a life-long litmus test of our love for and faith in YHVH/Yahshua. Furthermore, if we hold fast to our G-d, He will give us the strength against all temptation and provide us a way out of the situation without compromising G-d’s Torah. Peter tells us these testings may be likened to the refining of gold whereby the dross is continually brought to the top and skimmed off in the refining process. It is G-d’s purpose for us that we be found genuine in our desire to spend eternity with YHVH/Yahshua through our obedience and perseverance in rejoicing no matter our circumstances. The last verse in this first passage (1 Peter 1:9) proves once again that we are in the process of being saved and delivered: “And you are receiving what your trust is aiming at, namely, your deliverance.” Note these verbs are progressive and not written in the past tense. We have not arrived; we are not saved yet!
The second passage reminds us of something many of us would like to ignore. We read in 1 Peter 2:11-17 “Dear friends, I urge you as aliens (this does NOT mean space aliens) and temporary residents not to give into the desires of your old nature, which keep warring against you; but to live such good lives among the pagans that even though they now speak against you as evildoers, they will, as the result of seeing your good actions, give glory to G-d on the day of his coming. For the sake of the L-rd, submit yourselves to every human authority- whether to the emperor as being supreme or to the governors as being sent by him to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do what is good. For it is G-d’s will that your doing good should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Submit as people who are free, but not letting your freedom serve as an excuse for doing evil; rather, submit as G-d’s slaves. Be respectful to all- keep loving the brotherhood, fearing G-d and honoring the emperor.”
This passage is filled with evidence that we are not free to eat the forbidden foods, change the Shabbat, or assimilate with family and friends who celebrate pagan holidays as is taught as “freedom in Christ.” Evil is any action or speech not consistent with G-d’s Torah. Like Joseph, we are to submit to earthly authorities stopping short of disobedience to G-d’s Torah. Joseph never disobeyed G-d even as he lived in Egypt and submitted to the pharaoh of the time. G-d blessed him and his family for his obedience.
The old nature spoken of in the beginning of this passage that we war against on a daily basis is the yetzer hara (evil inclination). This is a spiritual war between the ideas and lifestyles exhibited physically by Esau and Jacob; Isaac and Ishmael; David and Goliath. I mention Goliath to whom I compare the majority of the world who subscribes to and encourages a non-Torah observant life. The remnant of true believers are the “Davids” who must learn to follow G-d’s Torah with courage, trust, and obedience as our defense. The only way we can achieve such resolve is to diligently study G-d’s Torah and pray for wisdom from above to understand the new knowledge G-d allows us to obtain and act upon it as a way of life.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart