Posted on December 29, 2023 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck
This Shabbat, as we prepare to 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 back and ahead, a time to take stock and 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 suggest possibilities for 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 someone lived in Hillsborough or Bridgewater, it conveys nothing about the quality of that person’s life. It tells us only the location of their residence. But in Hebrew, the word used to note the place of a person’s residence is not “va-y’chi, he lived,” but “va-yagor, he resided, or “va-yeishev, he settled.”
The words “va-y’chi Ya’akov” tell us something significant about Jacob’s 17 years in Egypt. They are conveying that during this time Jacob was doing more than marking time — he was truly living.
In our current moment of transition — the close of one year and the beginning of another — it is a propitious moment to look back and ahead and ask “va-y’chi” kinds of questions: 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 opportunities and made it possible for others to do the same? Are we truly living?
2023 has been a particularly difficult and painful year for the Jewish people and Israel. The year began with our fears for the future of Israel’s democracy and is ending as we are still reeling from the shock and trauma of the Simchat Torah Massacre. The war against Hamas is ongoing. We fear for the lives of 129 of our Israeli siblings still held hostage in Gaza. And we are justifiably anxious about the rise of antisemitism here in America and around the world. But, thank God, we are a courageous and resilient people, and we have found renewed strength and unity as an extended Jewish family. Despite our tragic losses, we can say Am Yisrael chai, Israel and the Jewish people live and will endure. For this, and for the blessings of our own families and of our TBE family, we can be extremely grateful.
So let us look to 2024 with hope and determination to move forward with purpose, focus, and vitality. Let us greet this new chapter of our lives with enthusiasm, so that when the last chapter is written it may be said of each of us as the Torah says of Jacob, va-y’chi — that we truly lived.
Rabbi Arnie Gluck