Parshat Vayechi

14 Tevet 5769

Jan. 10, 2009


What is it about the number 12? The sublime number. A dozen, a troy pound, 12 pence in a shilling, 12 months to a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, twelve pairs of ribs in the human body, 12 cranial nerves. Twelve is the kissing number of Euclidian space, the perfect divisor of 24 hours, 60 minutes and 60 seconds, there are 12 Jacobi elliptic functions, 12 angry men, 12 tones in the chromatic scale, 12 function keys on a computer keyboard, 12 sons of Jacob, 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 parshas in the book of genesis of which vayechi, today’s parsha, is the last.

If we take 12 to signify parts of the whole, then the first parsha, bareishit, is part one, the beginning in which we experience creation and divine purpose, the source of Torah and the Jewish people. The twelfth and last parsha of Genesis is vayechi, meaning “he lived,” representing the fullness of life itself; vayechi frames the death of Jacob with the word “life,” the destiny and continuity of Israel, Israel the man and Israel the nation. Between bareishit and vayechi are ten parshas, a chol hamoed representing the full spread of life.

Life begins but is quickly buffeted by storm. In the second parsha, Noach, God provides tranquility afloat in a sea of chaos; soon after introducing divine purpose, the lesson is calm amidst the storm, keep your cool, plan ahead and god will float your boat.

Lech lecha,” God tells Abraham in the third parsha, “you go, go on, giddyap, vamoose” leave your home, your spiritual space, and go to the earthly place, there to make it holy. To assist you on your journey, a vision to enlighten your soul; this vision comes in the fourth parsha, vayeira, where God reveals himself to Abraham.

And if vision and revelation aren’t enough to sustain you for your holy purpose, parsha five, chayei sarah, the life of Sarah, embodies the integration of divine vision and soul in our matriarch. Sarah knew her business and had the spiritual resources to carry it out. So by extension, do we all.

The generations unfold in the sixth parsha, toldot; the progeny of Abraham through Isaac to Jacob, find footing in the world to transform the physical to the divine, sanctifying living through deed. And in vayeitzi, the seventh parsha, the vision is extended into the wider, hostile, materialistic world beyond the tents of Torah; Jacob toils twenty years for Laban, but it’s here that he rises to the peak of his personal growth and founds the nation of Israel.

In vayishlach, parsha eight, Jacob sends angel-emissaries to his brother Esav to create a receptive environment, reaching out further into the world, extending his influence and the impact of his spiritual message, paving the way for transformation of society.

In vayeishev, the ninth parsha of Genesis, Jacob settles down in peace in the land of his father’s dwelling,” but his work isn’t done; though he has brought to the land a state of holiness, this spiritual state is still impermanent; the transformation and elevation of the world is yet unfinished.

In the tenth parsha, mikeitz, the end result of Joseph’s exile in the constricted, wild and wooly world of Egypt is his elevation to political office and power, and Joseph elevates political power to a spiritual state, governed by divine dreams and visions.

Judah approaches Joseph in vayigash, the eleventh parsha, and there’s a reconciliation of Jacob’s brood, a greater perfection of Israel’s divine mission through the tribes descended of the12 imperfect sons.

When Jacob dies in today’s parsha, vayechi, the last and 12th parsha of Genesis, his death is only figurative; his soul extends through his progeny, the 12 tribes, and through his name, Israel, immutable father of a nation with a spiritual destiny to lift up creation.

Taken together, the 12 parshas of Genesis track the purposeful life of the soul on earth, born floundering, but with a vision, floating, surviving, integrating God’s purpose, extending higher meaning in the world, transforming the physical to spiritual reality, and ultimately uniting the world with God.

Today a daughter honors a mother and the mother’s soul extends through her progeny; motherhood the immutable; the forever love. Heather’s mother, Basha Hinde bat Zelda, lived and endured the physical until ascending for a transcendent laugh with Chayei Sarah.

And the daughter who was cherished has returned every favor with love and devotion.

Today, we’ll make a brucha and a motzi in kavod of Beatrice Harr and ask that she continue to intercede for us on high, especially for her progeny, her offspring and legacy afloat in this world, until moshiach iz gekumen.