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Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black- Parshat Vayechi




This week we conclude the first book of the Torah, Bereishit.

In this week’s parsha, Vayechi, Yaakov is nearing death and wants to bless his children. He assembles and gathers them together and “he blessed them, each according to his appropriate blessing.”

The Ohr Hachayim commentary explains that the phrase “each according  to his appropriate blessing” means that Yaakov specifically customized each blessing for each son based on their individual, unique talents and character traits.

A true blessing is one which enables a person to actualize his or her potential. That is why each blessing was unique because each was suited to each tribe’s respective personalities.

Yaakov recognized and embraced his children’s differences. He wanted each one of his son’s to hear the strengths and talents of the other and to recognize that each had a role to play in the destiny of the Jewish people. The Torah tells us that Yaakov blessed them (in plural) as a unit in order to show that each blessing was dependent on each other’s success. They needed to know that they were all part of the same team.

He gave each son guidance on how he would uniquely contribute to the future of the Jewish people and the future redemption. He made sure to imbue the message with a call for unity, emphasizing the importance of living in peace and harmony despite their differences.

We all have unique traits and talents, each one of us an important and critical part of the greater whole. We achieve greatness as a unit only when we embrace our individuality and not by trying to be someone else.   

Yaakov’s blessing to his children teach us that when we are united, we will find blessing and strength. Each of the tribes had their unique talents and strengths, as well as weaknesses, which were called upon in service of a common purpose.

In today’s divisive and polarized climate, it is important to remember that we are all part of the Jewish people, while respecting the disparate viewpoints and ideas of each other. We may not always agree with one another, but we all have something to learn from and contribute to one another.

When we conclude the first book of the Torah this Shabbat, we end off by saying, “Chazak Chazak V’Nitchazek” (Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened). We ask G-d to give us the strength to continue with and succeed in our Torah studies.

Rebbetzin Jungreis z”l shares, “Why do we ask for strength when we have just completed something?” Wouldn’t it make more sense to ask for strength when we begin something, as a plea to get through the upcoming endeavour we are about to pursue?

Rebbetizin Jungreis answers that when we begin a new project or begin learning something new, there is a lot of excitement, anticipation and enthusiasm. As we continue, the learning becomes more routine and monotonous. The hard work begins at that point, when we feel like abandoning the project. It is then that we need to keep going and push ourselves until we complete the task. After we’ve completed it, we can then give ourselves a blessing for continued strength to study, grow, and learn.

The parsha began with the words “Vayechi Yaakov” (And Yaakov lived). Ironically, the parsha continues with the death of Yaakov. It is only after Yaakov’s death that the true work of living our patriarch’s legacy begins, one that compels us to live in unity while embracing the diversity and myriad outlooks that comprise this unity. It is a legacy that celebrates learning and growing in our identities as members of the Jewish people, no matter where life takes us and whatever circumstances we may find ourselves in.

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