וַיְכַ֤ל יַעֲקֹב֙ לְצַוֺּ֣ת אֶת־בָּנָ֔יו וַיֶּאֱסֹ֥ף רַגְלָ֖יו אֶל־הַמִּטָּ֑ה וַיִּגְוַ֖ע וַיֵּאָ֥סֶף אֶל־עַמָּֽיו׃
וַיִּפֹּ֥ל יוֹסֵ֖ף עַל־פְּנֵ֣י אָבִ֑יו וַיֵּ֥בְךְּ עָלָ֖יו וַיִּשַּׁק־לֽוֹ
וַיְצַ֨ו יוֹסֵ֤ף אֶת־עֲבָדָיו֙ אֶת־הָרֹ֣פְאִ֔ים לַחֲנֹ֖ט אֶת־אָבִ֑יו וַיַּחַנְט֥וּ הָרֹפְאִ֖ים אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
וַיִּמְלְאוּ־לוֹ֙ אַרְבָּעִ֣ים י֔וֹם כִּ֛י כֵּ֥ן יִמְלְא֖וּ יְמֵ֣י הַחֲנֻטִ֑ים
When Jacob finished his instructions to his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and, breathing his last, he was gathered to his people. Joseph flung himself upon his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. Then Joseph ordered the physicians in his service to embalm his father, and the physicians embalmed Israel. It required forty days, for such is the full period of embalming (Genesis 49:33- 50:3)
Tomorrow morning, Jews in synagogues around the world will study the portion of “Vayehi,” the last chapters of the book of Genesis. Joseph, after decades spent away from his beloved father, has been reunited with his father, his brothers, and their families. Jacob gives parting words to each of his sons and dies. He is embalmed for that magical number of 40 days, and the brothers settle in Egypt, putting down roots that will not be removed for hundreds of years. From 71 people– Jacob’s 12 sons and their families– the line of Israel grows into the people of Israel suffering under Pharaoh’s whip. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
At the end of each of the Five Books of Moses, what we call the Torah, there’s a tradition of chanting the words “Hazak hazak v’nithazak– be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!” We have reached the end of one significant part of our journey. We are moving on to another.
Tomorrow we will finish the book of family within Torah and we will move on to the book of peoplehood. Really, Genesis is about one family. We begin with the very first humans, and we follow their line, first through Seth to Noah, then through Shem to Abraham, and from Abraham to Isaac and to Jacob. But then, our lines become too many to track. We know that Moses and Miriam and Aaron are descendants of Levi, but the Israelites whom they lead from bondage come from each tribe. Family is still important in the book of Exodus, but it is not the focus. Peoplehood is.
This week also marks the end of a book in my life. A week from today, I will be on a plane to Barcelona. I will have moved out of my apartment here in Jerusalem. I will have completed my last final– a 10-page paper on some element of the Oslo Accords that I’m still narrowing in upon. My first semester, this first half of my time in Israel, will be over. Next shabbat, when we begin the book of Exodus, I will be beginning a new book of my own.
This morning, I found myself in a workshop at HUC on “Expressive Kavannah.” Kavannah is an important piece of my Jewish life– the focus or directionality or intention of prayer and other experiences. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect in the workshop, but I had heard that it would involve creative expression, and that usually interests me, so I gave it a shot. Our teacher spoke of blessings and of gratitude and linked them in with Jacob’s parting words with his sons. We had space to move, to meditate, and to write, and then we had space to create. Our teacher provided various materials and set us loose.
I am a creator, but I am not a visual artist, and this was freeing for me, because it allowed me to express however I wished instead of being tied to an ideal of what my work “ought” to look like. I ended up with this:
This week, I guess you could say that I crafted my own blessing. This image is all about groundedness and exploration. The colors, moving from top right to bottom left, represent a sunset over water, shore, earth, and sky. The strings on top, diverging and then connecting on both ends, represent the underlying support structures that allow me to feel safe enough for risk-taking. The ends are my foundations and the center my explorations.
I am reminded, whenever I am grounded enough to see it, that I am held, but often enough, when I’m flying, it is hard to see the ground. It is hard to remember that I am connected to supports no matter how far from them I go. Last week, loved ones were here in person. I remembered that I am held because I felt it physically. This week, I must remember that my family and other dear ones are still with me. I hold their hearts and they hold mine.
Sunset is still early, and I have more travel plans to make. So, for one last time, Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem.