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Parashat Vayigash

December 25, 2020
10 Tevet 5781
Parashat Vayigash
Genesis 45:18 - 47:27

Dear Friends,

We come to the end of the calendar year 2020 even as we come to the end of the book of Bereshit -- the first book of the Torah -- next week. Our tradition teaches us that endings are also beginnings. As we end the book of Bereshit, we are in the very place from which we began. Our journey through the Torah begins with the story of creation -- the beginning of everything.

The canvas is large, almost too big for us to take in, although everything seems to occur over a very brief span of time. We move from this perspective to a far more intimate setting. The backdrop is Egypt, and times are challenging because of the lack of food. But our attention is drawn into the intimate setting of a family, albeit a large family, as the patriarch Jacob is on his death bed ready to bless his twelve sons. The complicated history of the family starts with Joseph’s days as his father’s favorite lording it over his brothers and his brothers’ selling him into slavery while telling their father that he was dead. Those events lead to this moment where Joseph is able to save his family in a time of famine. A true reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers is about to take place, with the acknowledgement of everything that is between them.

Jacob is far from perfect. He has clearly made mistakes along his journey; yet his family is able to gather around him. His blessings let us know how he feels about his children, but not how they feel about him. Even if they do not forgive him, they do forgive one another and are able to bury him together. This united family settles in Egypt and lives in relative peace for 400 years, somehow maintaining their identity and family ties. It is a new beginning.

Over and over again, we are faced with new beginnings. Our beginnings do not erase the past, but they allow us to turn the page. They allow us to become unstuck. We are at a crucial juncture as we begin 2021. Vaccines against the pandemic exist, although we do not know when we will receive them. There is light at the end of the tunnel. As hard as 2020 has been, we have learned much about ourselves as individuals and as a community. 

We know, much the way Jacob’s family ultimately realizes, that we are stronger together. We have learned that community can be strengthened and created across geographic boundaries. Our skill sets have expanded and both young and old have learned new things. But we have also learned how precious the ability is to see one another face to face, to be physically present with one another in times of joy and sorrow. There really is a light at the end of the tunnel; just a bit further and we will embrace one another and hear one another’s voices in song and prayer. 

In the meantime, let us bless those who have worked so hard to keep us safe, to feed us, to innovate, to explore, to teach, to fight for justice, to make the world safer, and most amazingly, to collaborate – sometimes with complete strangers. It is with them in mind that we begin the new year.  

I invite you to think of the ways in which you have done new things, expanding your horizons. Let us take all of that which is good into the new year and leave behind the darkness as we approach the light that is so clearly at the end of the tunnel. May we all be blessed as we continue to go forward.

Chazak Chazak V’nitzchazek: Be Strong, Be Strong, Let Us Be Strengthened. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, April 13 2021 1 Iyyar 5781