Parsha Vayechi – And He (Joseph) Lived

Genesis 47:28 – Genesis 50:26

In Vayechi, we find Jacob on this deathbed, gathered with the sons he fathered and called to his home. When reading Vayechi we are reminded of the family’s backstory and Jacob’s influence on the course of events.

Jacob was in a polygamous marriage with two sisters, Leah and Rachel. He made no bones about the fact that Rachel was his one and only true love and that Joseph, the first-born son of his beloved Rachel, was his golden boy. Jacob incited his other sons to despise Joseph, by blatantly bestowing preferential treatment upon him.

Jacob (Israel) loved Joseph more than all his children and he made him a coat of many colors. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably with him.

Genesis 37:3-4

Jacob was repeating a toxic pattern. When he was growing up, his mother favored him and his father favored his brother Esau. His mother, Rebekah took favoritism to a whole new level when she instructed Jacob to dress up in his brother’s clothing in order to trick his blind and bedridden father into believing he was Esau, so that he could steal Esau’s blessing.

Infuriated by the deception, Esau vows to kill Jacob. Fearing for his life, Jacob has to flee the family home. The end result was a broken family divided into hostile factions. Jacob’s parents created a family dynamic that pitted sibling against sibling to the extent where one brother wanted to kill the other.

Jacob recreated the same toxic dynamic with his own sons, to the point where Joseph’s brothers were plotting to kill him. When his brother Reuben objected to fratricide, they sold him into slavery to a passing caravan of Ishmaelites instead.

To cover their tracks, they dip his robe of many colors in animal blood and present it to their father, making him believe Joseph was killed by wild animals.

Here again we see a toxic cycle repeated generationally. Jacob used his brother’s clothing to deceive his father into believing he was Esau, now his sons are using their brother’s clothing to deceive him.

On his deathbed, the one child missing from the family gathering is Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter. In Genesis 34, we are told that Dinah was ‘defiled’ by Prince Shechem. When the Prince pleads for her hand in marriage, Jacob agrees to the nuptials and a lucrative partnership with the Shechemites as part of the deal. Acting alone, Dinah’s brothers Shimon and Levi convince Prince Shechem and his father to circumcise all the men of Shechem as a sign of allegiance and unity. While the men were recovering, Dinah’s brothers slashed them to death, plundered the city, hobbled their livestock and took their women and children as spoils of war. Dinah, who was unaware of their plan, saw and heard the screams and the slaughter first-hand.

On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and left. Jacob’s sons came upon the slain and plundered the city. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their babies and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and made their prey.

In the bloody aftermath, Jacob admonishes them for discrediting him and putting his small household in danger of being attacked and destroyed. No one voices any concern for Dinah or the impact the massacre had on her.

After witnessing their brutal rampage, Dinah pretty much vanishes from the Torah narrative. Dinah is the only one of Jacob’s children who isn’t present to receive a blessing from her father before he dies. Either she wasn’t invited or she wants nothing to do with her father and brothers. Again, no one mentions her or seems to care.

On his deathbed, Jacob finally lets loose on Shimon and Levi, cursing their murderous rage, violence and cruelty. He tells them he is repulsed by their company and relegates them to the fate of the scattered and dissipated.

He also curses Reuben, his firstborn son with Leah, for sleeping with his (Jacob’s) concubine Bilhah. As punishment, he condemns him and his tribe to failure.

It’s pretty telling that his missing daughter, Dinah, and the sons Jacob rebuked and cursed for their character defects, were all children of Leah, the wife he didn’t love or want. In the family class system he established, Jacob’s disregard for their mother was obvious.

Jacob repeats the toxic patterns he learned in childhood right up until the very end. When Joseph’s sons are brought to him for a final blessing, he deliberately confers the blessing of the eldest grandson onto the youngest grandson, mirroring the old switcheroo he pulled on his father, even though it ruined his relationship with Esau and fractured his family.

This parsha teaches us to take an honest look at any toxic patterns we may have inherited and break the cycle. Even on his deathbed, Jospeh does not make amends for his failures as a husband and father.

At the ripe old age of 147, Jacob only sees the failings of his sons, but not his hand in shaping them or the part he played in their brokenness. He doesn’t even mention his absentee daughter Dinah. Perhaps Dinah, the missing child, is the one who had the clarity to break the cycle.