This Shabbat, we conclude the book of Genesis– Bereshit. If we were to summarize it in a few words, we could say that its content revolves around how families come together and fall apart, navigating through problems and differences.
Moving beyond the initial chapters of creation and how humanity takes shape and learns (or teaches the reader), from the moment Abraham decides to leave his homeland to follow the divine call, we learn about the disruptive nature of families. We learn how parents can influence their children's lives to the extent that they cause separation, hatred, and even modifications in their characters, turning great men into small beings who retreat into themselves and lose their brilliance.
We learn how brothers who could have grown up in peace end up avoiding each other or causing deep wounds that lead to separations, aggression, and lasting differences in some cases. We also learn about reconciliations, forgiveness, and how common sense can prevail even when we are hurt and locked in our justified or unjustified grievances, making it possible to restore severed ties.
The book of Genesis is a complex lesson in evolutionary family psychology that concludes in the best way a family can hope for: everyone gathered, children and grandchildren around the grandfather who blesses continuity.
Parashat Vayechi is the portion of Jacob's farewell and the loving blessing toward his grandchildren, the sons of Joseph, and the somewhat tense settling of accounts with his other 11 sons. Each one is blessed according to their attitudes and decisions made during their lives: some correct, others not.
I cannot help but emphasize that in this last family gathering with the patriarch, there is a painful and demanding absence. The absence of Dinah, the thirteenth daughter, is an inexplicable and somewhat unfair decision that leaves us with a bitter taste in an almost happy ending.
Nevertheless, it is the first time in the narrative that we find the family gathered at the deathbed of one of the patriarchs. This did not happen when Abraham died, nor with Isaac. It is also the first time a father blesses on his deathbed, a kind of last attempt to pass on a legacy to children and grandchildren.
When we begin the book of Exodus, Shemot, next week, we will enter a different stage: the formation of our People of Israel. But this cannot be possible without the formation and consolidation of what started as a family, evolved into a kind of clan, and continued to grow into a people through law: the Torah.
This evolution shows us, proclaims to us, that the foundation must be strong and well-constituted to become a people deserving of the Torah and able to follow its laws and teachings. We must work towards healing the discord in our families. We must strive to return to those family "photos" that keep us united. Then continue to grow, confirming a large community that unites congregations, which in turn supports joint work and coexistence in our city, in our country.
I do not agree with the message that there should be no divisions, no religions, no countries, or no differences. Differences exist and will continue to exist. It's about accepting and respecting those who think differently. It's about taking into account the truth of others in front of us. It's about finding agreements with those with whom we want to share, be they individuals or congregations.
We can build better coexistence, and we can strengthen ourselves as a Community. It's just a matter of looking ahead to a better future without forgetting that our past, our tradition, and our Jewish being do not discriminate against others for being or thinking differently. On the contrary, they accept those differences with respect and integrate those who approach with sincerity and peace.
Then comes the blessing, just as Jacob gave it to his children and grandchildren.
When we finish reading each of the books of the Torah, we exclaim: HAZAK HAZAK V'NIT'HAZEK (be strong, strong, and let us strengthen). This Shabbat, let us make this exclamation a daily ritual. Let us cry out for the return of the hostages who still await to come back home and are awaited by their loved ones and let us strongly denounce the silence of international organizations with a marked antisemitic bias.
Hazak v'nit'hazek. We need to strengthen ourselves; we owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to those who are putting their bodies on the line to sustain the home we want to continue having in Medinat Israel.
In this Parasha, Ya'akov blesses his sons and omits blessing Dinah, his only daughter. On this Shabbat Vayechi, let us attempt to weave a blessing for the Dinas of 2023, representing the struggle for each and every woman of our people, bearers of our identity and continuity.
Let us invoke for the safe return of all hostages. Let us continue to trust that understanding and harmony will prevail among the different sectors of our Family–Tribe-Nation.
May 2024 witness the promise inscribed in the Psalm: Ure'eh banim l'vanecha shalom al Yisroel (and you will see the sons of your sons, peace upon Israel).
May we be blessed as individuals, as families, as sister congregations, and as a people.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year!
Rabbi Gustavo Geier