On the End of Genesis

Here we are at parshat VaYechi, this week’s Torah portion, and the end of the book of Genesis. It seems to be the end of all of the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs and the tying up of all the loss ends.  Yaakov gives all of decencents their blessings, he will give instructions for his death, he will die and then Yosef will follow his father’s lead.  There seems to be a lot of reconciliation with Yosef. Most obviously is that his children Efraim and Menashe are elevated to the status as two of the original band of brothers.

Reuven as the eldest child of Leah should have received the birthright, but it was permanently taken from him because of his sin. Here the Midrash makes an interesting claim. Yaakov told Reuven: “The birthright, the priesthood, and kingship were yours. Now that you have sinned, the birthright has been given to Yosef, the priesthood to Levi, and kingship to Yehudah” (Gen. Rabbah). Juxtaposed this we see that Yaakov is not to be buried with Yosef’s mother, his true love Rachel, but rather in the cave with Reuven’s mother Leah.

As Genesis comes to a close we are reminded that family is complicated. As Rachel’s son Yaakov treated Yosef differently in his childhood. He cannot undo his missteps, but Yaakov can recognize how he mistreated Leah. Even if it seems to work out for Yosef in the end there seems to be some recognition of the lives lived and mistakes made along the way.

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