Posted on January 1, 2021 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck
This Shabbat, as we turn a page in the secular calendar, we also turn a page in Torah. With Parashat Va-yechi and the death of Jacob, we come to the end of the Book of Genesis and the days of our patriarchs and matriarchs. It is the end of an era, the end of our beginning, and the beginning of a new chapter in our story.
Moments such as these are like milestones on our journey, places from which to look backward and ahead and take stock, to ask reflective questions: Where has our journey brought us? What have we made of our years? Where do we go from here, and how?
The opening words of the parashah offer insight into the life of Jacob and the possibilities of our own lives. It begins: “Va-y’chi Ya’akov b’eretz mitzrayim, Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years.”
In English, when we say that a person lived in a certain place, it conveys nothing about the individual or the quality of their life. But in Hebrew, the word used to note the place of a person’s residence is not “va-y’chi, he lived,” as in this week’s portion, but “va-yagor, he resided, or “va-yeishev, he settled.“
The words “va-y’chi Ya’akov” tell us something more significant than Jacob’s address for the previous 17 years. They are conveying that during these years Jacob was doing more than marking time – he was truly living.
At this moment of transition – the close of one year and the beginning of another, a time when the arrival of vaccines marks the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic – it is a propitious moment to look backward and ahead and ask ”
va-yechi” kinds of questions: Are we truly living? Are our lives a true reflection of our values?
Have we loved enough, cared enough, been generous enough? Have we taken sufficient advantage of life’s possibilities and made it possible for others to do so?
We can also look back at the year that is ending to note the blessings and accomplishments for which we are grateful and proud of ourselves. It has been no small thing to endure the challenges of these past nine months, and we should give ourselves credit for the good we have done and want to continue in the new year.
The path to the future lies before us and the journey continues – may we move forward with purpose, focus, and vitality. Let us greet this new chapter of our lives with enthusiasm and determination, so that when the last chapter is written it may be said of each of us, va-yechi – that we truly lived.
Rabbi Arnie Gluck