With this week’s Parashat Va’yechi we reach the end of the most significant Prophetic metaphor for the Times that we are living in: that of Yoseph, the Family Restorer. Yoseph devoted all of his ingenuity as an illustrious World Ruler in the Egyptian Empire in order to restore and reconcile his family of which his own brothers sold him into slavery after almost murdering him. This final of the four concluding Parashot in the book of Genesis about him, provides the most significant guidelines for our Time – leading up to the Final Redemption and the establishment of the Universal Kingdom of the Creator G-d of Israel. The commentaries from various sources that we publish here, all highlight this Golden Yardstick. Tragically though, beyond the awareness of most of those souls who will be reading or teaching on this topic across the World this week.
The commentary that we feature here below, by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks, eruditely emphasizes the role of the Family in life, as Divinely intended, with all its stresses and heated relationships and events. It depicts the underlying Divine Lesson in all this – a lesson that intends to guide us on this last stretch of this 6 millennium Age towards the 7th millennium Shabbat:
- A Lesson to show how a nation is formulated and intended to evolve – exemplifying the Divine Intent of the Creator formulating a refined Nation, reconciled after a 3-millennia Family Feud, to rule with Him in a Universal Kingdom, to serve as a Light unto the Nations of a Life of Peace and blessed prosperity.
- A Lesson to show how the family unity is prior to all else, to the land, the nation, politics, economics, the pursuit of power and the accumulation of wealth. This Goal of Family Unity serves as a model for us in this End Time run-up to the Final Redemption – how to work tirelessly, like Yoseph, towards National Unity by restoring the Family Feud which so disruptively divided the Holy Nation of HaShem for millennia.
- The Genesis Message teaches that this strife ruling in the Elect Family of HaShem is not easy to solve. Solving the Family strife is the main vehicle of Divine Blessing; the Gate Posts to the establishment of a reconciled Nation which has to unite across all the barriers of division.
- Solving and overcoming Family Strife and division is the means through which love brings new life into the world. Similarly, for our Time, solving this 3 millennia old Family Strife in the Nation of Israel will bring New Life to the wider Universal Family of nations of the World (all being the Creation from the Hands of HaShem)
Tragically, from both sides of this age-old Family Strife (viz. the House of Judah vs. the House of 10-Israel) there reigns a spirit of careless obstruction. It is claimed from both sides that “HaShem (or Mashiach) will bring about this Family reconciliation and re-uniting. The entire lesson of ‘Yoseph’ is missed!
Rabbi Sacks concludes “This, surprisingly, is what Genesis is about. Not about the creation of the world, which occupies only one chapter, but about how to handle family conflict. As soon as Abraham’s descendants can create strong families, they can move from Genesis to Exodus and their birth as a nation.” What is also escaping the notice of the striding sides of this Family Nation, is that the ‘descendents of Avraham’ is still greatly in exile amongst all the nations of the World and that they are our “Captive Family”.
Only Awareness and acceptance of the True Message in Genesis can solve this Problem and bring Final Redemption. And that part undoubtedly is left to the Family members to solve between themselves.
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Family, Faith and Freedom
By Rabbi Dr Jonathan sacks
Parashat Vayechi 5780
DISCLAIMER – the authors and promoters of the articles and videos that we place here are mostly not connected in any way to KOL HATOR and may well not share our views and interpretations. We do however thank them for their insight and pointers that confirm our understanding and often broaden our insight.
Genesis ends with three deeply significant scenes.
First, Jacob blesses his grandsons, Ephraim and Manasheh. This is the blessing that Jewish parents use on Friday night to bless their sons. My predecessor Lord Jakobovits used to ask, why this blessing of all the blessings in the Torah? He gave a beautiful reply. He said, all the others are from fathers to sons – and between fathers and sons there can be tension. Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasheh is the only instance in the Torah of a grandparent blessing a grandchild. And between grandparents and grandchildren there is no tension, only pure love.
Second, Jacob blesses his twelve sons. There is discernible tension here. His blessings to his eldest three sons, Reuven, Shimon, and Levi, read more like curses than blessings. Yet the fact is that he is blessing all twelve together in the same room at the same time. We have not seen this before. There is no record of Abraham blessing either Ishmael or Isaac. Isaac blesses Esau and Jacob separately. The mere fact that Jacob is able to gather his sons together is unprecedented, and important. In the next chapter – the first of Exodus – the Israelites are, for the first time, described as a people. It is hard to see how they could live together as a people if they could not live together as a family.
Third, after the death of Jacob, the brothers asked Joseph to forgive them, which he does. He had also done so earlier. Evidently, the brothers harbour the suspicion that he was merely biding his time until their father died, as Esau at one point resolved to do. Sons do not take revenge within the family while the father is alive – that seems to have been the principle in those days. Joseph speaks directly to their fears and puts them at rest. “You intended to harm me but God intended it for good,” he says.
The Torah is telling us an unexpected message here: the family is prior to all else, to the land, the nation, politics, economics, the pursuit of power and the accumulation of wealth. From an external point of view, the impressive story is that Joseph reached the heights of power in Egypt. The position of the Israelites in Egypt was very vulnerable indeed, and all the power Joseph had centralised in the hands of Pharaoh would eventually be used against them.
Genesis is not about power. It is about families. Because that is where life together begins.
The Torah does not imply that there is anything easy about making and sustaining a family. The patriarchs and matriarchs – Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel especially – know the agony of infertility. They know what it is to wait in hope and wait again.
Sibling rivalry is a repeated theme of the book. The Psalm tells us “how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together.” It might have added, “and how rare.” Almost at the beginning of the human story, Cain kills Abel. There are tensions between Sarah and Hagar that lead to Hagar and Ishmael being sent away. There is rivalry between Jacob and Esau, and between Joseph and his brothers, in both cases coming close to murder.
Yet there is no diminution of the significance of the family. To the contrary, it is the main vehicle of blessing. Children figure as central to God’s blessing no less than the gift of the land. It is as if the Torah were telling us, with great honesty, that yes, families are challenging. The relationship between husband and wife, and between parent and child, is rarely straightforward. But we have to work at it. There is no guarantee that we will always get it right. It is by no means clear that the parents in Genesis always got it right. But this is our most human institution.
The family is where love brings new life into the world. That in itself makes it the most spiritual of all institutions. It is also where we have our most important and lasting moral education. The Torah guides us through [these] areas
Genesis ends on these three important resolutions:
- first, that grandparents are part of the family and their blessing is important.
- Second, Jacob shows it is possible to bless all your children, even if you have a fractured relationship with some of them.
- Third, Joseph shows it is possible to forgive your siblings even if they have done you great harm.
[In our modern society] the family was about to be dethroned, in favour of sexual liberation and self-expression. Rarely has so important an institution been abandoned so thoroughly and so lightly .In many parts of society, cohabitation replaced marriage. Fewer people were getting married, they were getting married later, and more were getting divorced. At one point, 50% of marriages in America and Britain were ending in divorce. And 50% of children were being born outside marriage. The current figure for Britain is 42%.
The consequences have been widespread and devastating. To take one example, the birth rate in Europe today is far below replacement rate. A fertility rate of 2.1 (the average number of children born per woman of the population) is necessary for a stable population. No country in Europe has that rate. In Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece, it is down to 1.3. The overall average is 1.6. Europe is maintaining its population only by immigration on an unprecedented scale. This is the death of Europe as we knew it.
Meanwhile in the United States, a significant part of the population is living in neighbourhoods with few intact families, disadvantaged children, damaged neighbourhoods, poor schools, few social facilities, and a desperate shortage of hope. This, for sections of America, is the end of the American dream.
People who look to the state, politics and power, to deliver the good, the beautiful and the true – the Hellenistic tradition – tend to regard the family and all it presupposes in terms of fidelity and responsibility as a distraction. But for people who understand not just the importance of politics but also its limitations and dangers, relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, grandparent and grandchildren, and siblings, are the most important basis of freedom.
James Q. Wilson put it beautifully: “We learn to cope with the people of this world because we learn to cope with the members of our family. Those who flee the family flee the world; bereft of the former’s affection, tutelage, and challenges, they are unprepared for the latter’s tests, judgements, and demands.”
That, surprisingly, is what Genesis is about. Not about the creation of the world, which occupies only one chapter, but about how to handle family conflict. As soon as Abraham’s descendants can create strong families, they can move from Genesis to Exodus and their birth as a nation. I believe that family is the birthplace of freedom. Caring for one another, we learn to care for the common good.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks