You Call This Living?

Categories: Friendship Circle, Parsha, Vayechi
A Torah scroll

Art by Sefira Lightstone

This week’s Parsha concludes the Book of Genesis. There is much to learn from it; it contains “the last will and testament“ of Jacob, including his final blessings and instructions to each of the tribes. The name itself – Vayechi – means, “and he lived,” which references the legacy of Jacob; what teachings and example live on through his children. And yet the portion concludes with Joseph’s passing and we find something wondrous. The books of the Torah always conclude with, “chazak chazak venischazek,” which means, “be strong, be strong and may we be strengthened,” connoting the conclusion of each book on a high note. So how does the “high note” of this book conclude? Joseph asks his children to take his remains out of Egypt when it’s time to leave, and then, to conclude, we read how Joseph passes away and is buried in Egypt. That’s it. This is the inspirational episode? Sounds a little depressing to me! So let us dig a little deeper (please mind the pun). What happens is that for years the Patriarchs were promised by G-d that they would spend time in slavery, but would eventually be redeemed from their bitter exile. And yet, when it came to their burial, they were buried in Israel (in Hebron). But Joseph was different. Joseph didn’t just make promises that they would get out; he took it one step further. Bury me in Egypt, he told his loved ones, and take my remains with you when you leave. This is a whole different story. Joseph was making a “landmark” decision; he knew his children would face challenges in the coming years and this burial request would provide them with steadfastness and hope. His very burial was proof positive that the end of this bitter exile would surely come!
Last week, we lost another Joseph in our community. Rabbi Yosef (Hebrew for Joseph) Itkin was a friend and teacher of mine and someone known throughout the community for his kind demeanor, his love for a fellow man and his inspiration. Rabbi Itkin was also largely responsible for Pittsburgh’s Kosher certification, so he attended many Friends All Around events, and general FC happenings, in that capacity. I can recall how he always had a nice word to say about those events. It is fitting that his family gets up from “shiva” (the seven day mourning period) on the week when we commemorate the original Joseph’s passing with the message, “And he lived.” As Rabbi Itkin’s children, students and legacy live on, so does he. May his memory be a blessing and may his family find comfort. Good Shabbos!

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