VaYechi - Weekly Torah Portion

The Haftarah for the portion of VaYechi is from Kings 1 and finishes with these words, “Then David lay down with his fathers, and he was buried in the city of David. Now the days that David reigned over Israel were forty years: in Hebron he reigned for seven years, and in Jerusalem he reigned for thirty-three years. Then Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his kingdom was firmly established.” The reading from VaYechi ends with another case of passing away, “So Joseph died at the age of 110 years; and they embalmed him and placed him in a coffin in Egypt.” Two great leaders end their days on earth, and while for David the count is of the years he reigned, for Joseph it was the years he had actually lived. The scripture provides quite a lot of detail regarding these two men and seemingly the stories are similar. There is still one significant difference that we ought to consider.

It bring us back to the beginning of this week’s reading where it is said that, “Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years; so the length of Jacob’s life was 147 years.” The detail of the length of Jacob’s life prepares us for his death. As part of that preparation he asks of Joseph, “Please, if I have found favor in your sight, place your hand under my thigh now and deal with me in kindness and faithfulness: please do not bury me in Egypt, but when I lie down with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.” Jacob does not request this from the other brothers but rather goes to the one who is their leader and directs it to him. By transferring this responsibility there is also a message that Jacob perceives Joseph as the senior of the brothers and therefore he transfers the authority and responsibility to him. The tale about King David is not really different. We learn that from the short sentence that end our week’s readings, “Then Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his kingdom was firmly established.” Here too there was a successful succession of leadership.

This does not happen in the case of Joseph. We cannot find there anything to suggest that someone, anyone, took a leadership position to take care of a large group of people whose leader lay dead before them. In next week’s reading from Exodus, we will read about the price that had to be paid because of that, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” There was no one to remind because somehow, as things so happened, no leader emerged to lead and prevent such cases from actually happening.

Such phenomenon we can see with leaders of today too, may be even more so these days, certainly here in Israel. A generation of leaders who have a problem in developing the next generation of young leadership and that are also provided with a genuine opportunity to do so. Rather, they allow one leader, as good as he or she may be, popular as only possible, and successful above and beyond the predecessors, who will still lead the people to oblivion. This happens because of one simple truth – the days of a human being, even if long, even if good, are numbered. As leaders this time ought to be used not only to govern, maybe if enjoy the riches of government, but also to thoroughly prepare the next generation of leader. The thought that any one person is irreplaceable has no basis in reality. Great leaders have come and gone, perished like every other human being. They always had someone who replaced them. Some were good, even better, others less so.

Here in Israel, yet again, we are facing elections. Sadly, the rumbling noise of conflict will overcome that of reason and calmness. It will certainly not be easy for those of us seeking a party to vote for. The Israel Reform Movement, in non-partisan and as such encourages its members to get out and vote, freely, fearlessly, and proudly of the opportunity to be living in a democratic country where each citizen has an equal voice on the ballot.

Equal? May be, but that is only true for those who actually go out and cast their vote at the polls. Those who refrain from doing so actually give up on this equal opportunity in support of the other side. With so many parties around there is certainly one we can find ourselves voting for. Hopefully with a leadership that is serious enough to prepare the country for future challenges, leadership that is not trapped in yesteryear fears, one that can harness the opportunities that lay in the future, and can build this on the foundation of Jewish and democratic values so as to be a beacon of light among nations. This means that we have to be first in line to vote.

One last word on the issue of responsibility. Israel is getting vaccinated against the coronavirus. A significant effort was made by the government to bring as many as possible vaccines and as early as possible. The hesitation from using a new kind of vaccine is certainly understood however, boundaries to that should also be erected. It is easy to shift the burden of proof of safety upon others, they should try it out first, they should take the risk. Well, ten of thousands of people have already done that during the early phases of the safety and efficacy trials. Now, in Israel alone, we are speaking of hundreds of thousands who had the COVID-19 vaccine. We must be responsible and take our place in the line. I have done so and received the first shot, scheduled to get the next one too. I ask each and every one of you to do so too.

Shabbat Shalom and wishes for Good Health.

Reuven Marko, 1 January 2021, 18 Tevet, 5781

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