In these final chapters to the Book of Genesis, Jacob dies at a ripe old age of 147. But before dying, he blesses the children of Joseph, placing his right hand on the head of Ephraim, the younger of the two, and telling Joseph that he is doing this on purpose, because the younger will be greater than the older.
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Jacob also gives a specific blessing to each of his children, renouncing Reuben for having slept with his father’s concubine, telling Levi and Simeon that their anger and violence was a sin (when they slew all the men of Shechem), telling Judah that he would be prince among the tribes and rule over them until the coming of Shiloh, which is generally considered to mean the Messiah (not all Jewish commentators agree that this is a messianic prophecy), and establishing what will become the identifying traits of the other sons.
He makes them swear to bury him in the cave at Machpelah, where his father and grandfather are buried, along with their wives. He then dies, is embalmed, and carried to the cave along with a giant retinue, and the whole country mourns for him.
When all are back in Goshen, the brothers of Joseph are concerned that now, with his father dead, Joseph might take revenge on them and they approach him promising to be his slaves, but he tells them that what they intended for evil, God turned to good so that many lives could be saved. Joseph promises his brothers to take care of them and their little ones. He tells them that one day God will bring them all back to their homeland, the land God gave to Abraham and makes them swear that when that day comes, they will carry his bones out of Egypt.
The book ends with the death of Joseph at 110 years of age.
חזק חזק ונית חזק!
(Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!)
For me, one of the most meaningful messages for us from the story of Joseph is how God has a plan, for every one of us, but we never really know what it is until it happens.
I am pretty sure that when Joseph was thrown in the pit by his brothers, he wasn’t looking forward to the future, but was wondering if he would even have a future! Yet, he managed to end up as the second most powerful man in the known world and in a position to save God’s chosen people from extinction.
I find it interesting (because I don’t really believe in coincidence) that we are coming to the end of this story just as we are entering a new year. For just as Joseph didn’t know what plan God had for him until it happened, coming through this past year we all are somewhat concerned about what the future holds. Normally, we look forward to the new year, but right now I think most people aren’t looking forward to the new year as much as they are looking forward to ending the one we just came through!
So what does Joseph’s story have for us today? Simply this: we don’t know what God is planning for us, and we don’t know when it will come about, and we don’t even know if it will be easier or if we still have more fire to pass through. But, what we do know, what we can learn from Joseph, is that so long as we maintain our faith in God, which we demonstrate through obedience to his instructions, and trust that he is working all things for our good, eventually, then we will come out of this tsouris better than when we went into it.
Personally, I believe this horrible year is just the start. We have, as a country, kicked God out of nearly everything important, from our system of justice, to our schools, and even from society, in general. We are more concerned about offending sinful people and those who want to kill us than we are about offending God! And sooner or later, as we see throughout the Tanakh, when we reject God he will reject us. And for those who are still righteously faithful and God-fearing, we also see throughout the Tanakh how the innocent become collateral damage when the sinful leaders must be punished.
So, let us hope I am wrong and that we are coming out of the fire, cleansed of dross and purer than when this year started.
As we leave 2020 behind, pray that the light at the end of the tunnel is, in fact, the opening to a new and better place, and not actually an express train barreling down on us.
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For those who celebrate the New Year, may it bring you joy and blessings.
Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!