Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-Va-y’chi

We have come to the end of the book of Genesis. The Patriarch and Matriarch narratives are over and we move on to a new generation of conversation. As abruptly as the book and story line ends, one has to wonder as to its impact on the rest of the book. Is it simply a prelude to the Moses story? Is it a separate scripture unto itself? The tangible connection between it and the rest of the Torah hinges on one line at the beginning of Exodus, “A new Pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph.” That is the end of any Torah discussion of the life and impact of the Genesis characters. Yes, there are tribal names based on the Genesis story, but we do not see any immediate link between the tribe and Jacob’s blessing for each of his children. So, how do we move forward in the text without forgetting the ancestry?

My first thought is that we remember the Genesis ancestors in our liturgy. In the middle of our worship, we recall these ancestors, reminding ourselves and God that we are all still family (spiritual and otherwise). From this reminder flows the prompt to remember that everything that we are, that we do or that we say only happens because of the influences that come before us.

If we have no knowledge of our historical or spiritual inheritance, we cannot grow for tomorrow. Where we cannot acknowledge the blessings and challenges of the lives of folks upon whose shoulders we stand, we are doomed to repeat their errors and to fail in appreciating and growing the blessings they intended for us. We must then bring their legacies into the rest of Torah, as we study.

So, as we read of Moses and his relationship with the people and God, we must assess why we call Moses our teacher (Moshe Rabbaenu) and Abraham our ancestor (Avraham Avinu). As the storyline goes, were it not for Abraham, we would not have had a relationship with God. While earlier biblical figures share episodes with God, Abraham has a lifetime engagement. As with any new engagement, the text is unclear as to whether God or Abraham stood prepared for such a commitment. It ebbs and flows.

Through Moses’ story, we learn about how to manage our engagement with God, and by extension, with each other. While Moses and God don’t always see “eye to eye,” both know that they can argue with each other, but never lose the absolute love and respect that transcends any dispute. Some of their arguments move heaven and earth. God rebukes Moses and Moses rebukes God. At no point, though, do either contemplate walking away from each other.

In our society, I fear that we have left history in history. Too few study it, and fewer still invest themselves in the legacies it leaves us. For so many people, “That was so yesterday;” it has nothing to offer in terms of building blocks for a better tomorrow. In politics, religion, economics … and especially communal and family values, we make the same mistakes over and over again, as if there was nothing to learn from even our own pasts. We too often stay myopic thinking only from a “me and now” perspective. We cannot grow if we have no idea from where we came.

On this cusp of story lines, just as we force ourselves to remember the blessings and challenges of our biblical evolution, we need to remember to learn from our own histories. When we devolve relationships to single issues, when we dismiss people because we disagree, when we become more concerned with winning or maintaining power than we are with growing ourselves and everyone around us, we all lose. We have inherited a world mired in dysfunction. As Moses and God figured out, we have to work to engage more lovingly and compassionately as we move forward. Even when we disagree, we can never dismiss each other.

Shabbat Shalom.