This weeks Torah Portion, ‘Vayechi’, is named for the first Hebrew word of Genesis 47:28 – וַיְחִ֤י יַעֲקֹב֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם <- (‘Vayechi Ya’cov b’eretz mizraim). The AV translates it exactly as written, “And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt…” The first Hebrew word in the above phrase is וַיְחִ֤י(vah-yi-chi). The root of וַיְחִ֤י is חיה and means ‘live’! Often it is used in the plural, חַיִּים֙ – chaim, like in Genesis 2:9 speaking of the ‘tree of life’. However, it is always translated into English in the singular ‘life’. Chaimis a frequently used Hebrew word. Perhaps you have heard the phrase l’chaim meaning, ‘to life’. Chaim is also a popular male name in Israel. Israel’s first president was Chaim Weizemann.
Jacob’s life was basically lived in three different places. For 77 years he lived in Hebron ( חֶבְר֑וֹן ) with his parents – Isaac and Rebekkah. [This was also where Abraham had lived.] Then he left Hebron (not as young man as many tell the story, but at the age of 77), to find a wife among Rebekah’s family back in Syria ( Padanaram). He lived there for 20 years where he married his wives and had 11 sons and one daughter. Upon his return to Hebron, Rachel gave birth to the 12th son, Benjamin, but died in childbirth and Jacob buried her near Bethlehem. Jacob lived 33 more years back in Hebron. The last 17 years of Jacob’s life, however, were spent in Egypt. At the time of his death, he commanded his sons to return his body to the family burying place, the cave of Machpelah in the plains of Mamre that Abraham had purchased from Ephron the Hittite.
The 12 sons of Jacob all died in Egypt, but only Joseph had the faith to tell the children of Israel, “God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.” (Genesis 50:24-25) The final sentence of Genesis says, “So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.” (Genesis 50:26) The English word ‘coffin’ is translated from the Hebrew word אָר֖וֹן (ah-ron) which literally means a closet, or something with doors that you store things in. In this case, Joseph’s body was stored inside. As Viceroy of all of Egypt, Joseph could have no doubt requested to be buried in one of the great Pyramids where the Pharaohs were buried. Joseph had lived most of his life exiled in Egypt, but he never forgot that Egypt was not his home and he did not want his final resting place to be there! Joseph was the only one of the 12 brothers whose final resting place was Israel. The children of Israel honored his wish and when they left Egypt on the first Passover, Moses himself made sure they took the bones of Joseph as he had commanded: “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you. ” (Exodus 13:19) This action guaranteed his placement into the honor roll of faith in Hebrews 11: “By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.” (Hebrews 11:22) It takes a huge amount of faith to pray prayers that we know won’t be answered in our lifetime. Joseph had that kind of faith! I want this kind of faith too!