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The Book of Creation - ויחי

Thursday, 20 December, 2018 - 10:19 pm

book.jpegThe Book of Creation

We are about to conclude the reading of the book of Genesis, the first book of the five books of Moses. We have traveled through the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, Joseph and his brothers, and we finally read of how the family of Jacob settles in Egypt. Jacob passes away and Joseph reaffirms his commitment to forgive and sustain his brothers. We have arrived at the climax, we are waiting for a verse that will capture the heart of all we have learned from our patriarchs and matriarchs.

Yet the book concludes with a somber tone:

And Joseph died at the age of one hundred ten years, and they embalmed him and he was placed into the coffin in Egypt.

Why end the book with this mournful verse? By simply switching the order of the last two verses in the book, the Torah could have concluded the book with a powerful message of hope:

And Joseph adjured the children of Israel, saying, "God will surely remember you, and you shall take up my bones out of here."

What better way to end the book of Genesis that the promise of redemption that would sustain the faith and hope of the Jewish people through the bitter slavery? Why then, does the Torah choose to conclude the book with Joseph's death in Egypt?

To understand the conclusion of the book we must first examine what is the theme of the first book of the Torah, what message is the entire book conveying, what is the overarching theme of the book?

In one word, the book of Genesis is about creation.

The book of Genesis is the story of creation. It begins with the G-d creating a physical world to be a home for the human being, and then, continues with the stories of human beings striving to reciprocate by sanctifying the world and creating a home for G-d. Genesis tells the story of a family who understands that the heaven and earth and all therein were created for the purpose of being sanctified, that the world in all its diversity yearns to be connected with the Divine oneness its source.

Story leads to story until we reach the climax of the book’s message. In its final verses Genesis tells of the creation of a spiritual haven, of a home to holiness, not in Israel but in Egypt. Not only during Joseph's lifetime, when he ruled the land, but also after his death.

Even in Egypt, at the time considered the most morally debased location on earth, the Jew has the power to be like Joseph, to rule over Egypt, to resist its temptations and eventually transform its environment.

Thus the Torah concludes with the passing of Joseph and his placement in a coffin in Egypt, teaching us, that even while being away from the land of Israel, Joseph’s bones, his essence, power and inspiration is with us.

This is the core message of the book: from the description of the magnificent creation, to the story of Joseph ruling the mighty Egypt, all of the book of Genesis carries the same message: no land too dark, no culture too distant,, no circumstance too foreign, for the holiness. By their example, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs demonstrate to the future Jewish people that they too can create holiness within the mundane, imbuing the material with meaning and spirituality. 

 

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