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Parashat Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

When Jacob was one hundred and forty-seven years old, he realized his life on this earth was coming to an end. He called Joseph to him and made him swear that, when Jacob departed from this life, Joseph would not bury his body in Egypt but take it back to Canaan and bury it there. Later, when Joseph understood the severity of his father’s illness, he brought his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to his father so that he would bless them. Jacob tells Joseph:

And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. (Genesis 48:5–6)

Parashat Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27)

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the reunion of Joseph and his family. How appropriate for the name of the portion to be called Vayigash, which means, “and he came near.” After a long period of being apart from his family, Joseph was able to come near his family. Not only did Joseph reveal himself to his brothers after the long wait for his plan to succeed, but he was also reunited with his father who had given up hope of Joseph’s survival years beforehand.

After revealing himself to his brothers, he instructed them to go back and get their father and all of their possessions and move down to Egypt where he would provide for them. Once they got back home to their father, however, Jacob did not initially believe the news about Joseph:

Parashat Mikeitz (Genesis 41:1-44:17)

Our Torah portion begins exactly two years after Pharaoh’s cupbearer was released from prison. If we remember from our previous portion, both the royal cupbearer and the royal baker had been thrown into prison because they had displeased Pharaoh. One night they both had troubling dreams and told them to Joseph who interpreted them. Joseph interpreted the cupbearer’s dream as a message that the cupbearer would be restored to his position within three days. Joseph said the baker’s dream, however, signified that within three days he would be executed. Both of these dreams came to pass just as Joseph had interpreted them. When the cupbearer was released, Joseph asked him to put in a good word for him with Pharaoh. The cupbearer forgot, however, and exactly two years after Pharaoh’s cupbearer was released from prison Pharaoh woke to a disturbing dream of his own—in fact, two parallel dreams.

Parashat Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1-40:23)

Everyone enjoys a good magician. They appear to do what seems completely impossible. Although they can entertain people for hours on end, the craft of a magician is based on illusion and misdirection. They draw our attention to one thing in order to distract us from another. If they want us to watch what one hand is doing, then the other hand is doing the real “magic.” If they point at an object, it’s generally misdirection. But we don’t mind this. In fact, we pay money to be misguided and have our point of view misled.

Parashat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4[3]-36:43)

This week’s parashah begins with Jacob preparing to head back home to the land of Canaan after some twenty long years of working for his father-in-law, Laban. On the journey home, he is attacked by a mysterious figure during the wee hours of the night. As we know, Jacob spends the night wrestling with what most people know as an angelic being. Just before dawn, the stranger asks Jacob’s name. After he responds, the stranger replies, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:29[28]). From that point, there is a noticeable shift in Jacob. He begins a streak of name-calling. Let me explain.

Parashat Vayeitze (Genesis 28:10-32:3[2])

This week’s Torah portion begins with one of the most mysterious and little-understood events recorded in the Torah. When Jacob spent the night in what he later calls Beit-El, he had a curious dream charged with spiritual import:

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! (Genesis 28:11–12)

In Jacob’s dream, he saw a ladder stretching from heaven to earth, and angels were ascending and descending on it. Although he was puzzled by this imagery, Jacob realized that it held spiritual significance and determined that he had come to a place of holiness:

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