THISSHABBAT: Pray a little, sing a lot, study even more

Candle lighting for Friday, Dec. 29, is at 4:20 p.m.

Shabbat ends on Saturday with Havdalah at 5:23 p.m.

This  Shabbat's reading, Vayechi, brings to an end Sefer B'reishit (the Book of Genesis) and the story of the patriarchs. Its most astounding feature is Yaakov's death scene—it is the longest such scene recording in the Tanach. Yaakov first upsets his son Yosef, Egypt's viceroy, by putting his right hand on the head of Yosef's younger son when blessing the two boys. He then has all his sons gather together so he can offer them his view of Israel's futture. Often referred to as "The Blessings of Yaakov," it does not take much to realize that "Blessings and Curses" make more sense. The parashah ends with Yosef's death. To download this week's Shabbat booklet, click here.

THIS WEEK: Shabbat Parashat Vayechi

B'reishit 47.28-50.26, pages 293-311

FIRST ALIYAH: The parashah opens by telling us Yaakov lived for 147 years. Avraham lived for 175 years, and Yitzchak 180. What ties these ages together, and what does that signify?

FOURTH ALIYAH: Commentators see this Yaakov's testament as prophecy. Critical scholars say Yaakov appears prophetic only because a later author put words dexcribing the reality of a later age into Yaakov's mouth. Who is correct?

The haftarah, M'lachim Alef 2.1-12,

begins on Page 313

NEXT WEEK: Shabbat Parashat Sh'mot

Sh'mot 1.1-6,1, pages 317-341

FIRST ALIYAH: In verse 1.9, Pharaoh says Israel "is much too numerous for us." What, then, is the point he is trying to make in verse 1.10, about not letting Israel increase further, if it already is "too numerous for us"?

FIFTH ALIYAH: This aliyah opens with a repeat of the instriction God just gave to Moshe in the previous verse. Why does God need to repeat Himself?

The haftarah, Yirmiyahu 1.1-2.3,

begins on Page 347






"And Israel said unto Yosef, 'Behold, I die; but God will be with you and bring you back unto the land of your fathers. And I, I have given to you one shechem above your brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow." (48.21-22)

The phrase, "I have given to you one shechem above your brethren," continues to mystify commentators. Shechem is usually translated "portion," but without any philological support for such a rendering. The word means "shoulder," the part of the body that shoulders the burden. Shechem the location—the place where Deenah was violated, where her brothers committed mass murder in revenge, and where Yaakov sent Yosef on what became a fateful mission to meet his brothers—eerily prefigures Yosef's final resting place. Tradition has him being buried in Nablus, the likely location for ancient Shechem.

Yaakov tells Yosef he has already bestowed on him something above his brethren—perhaps two portions in the land of Canaan, one each for Efrayim and Menasheh; perhaps also two shoulders, one Efrayim's, the other Menasheh's?—on which to carry Yaakov to his grave (the Torah is ambiguous about which "sons" actually carried Yaakov into Machpelah). Yet Yaakov's bonus to Yosef carries also a dark shadow for readers who remember the full import of Shechem the city, and especially that it was to there that Yaakov sent Yosef to meet his brothers and from which he did not return. As Robert Sacks notes, Yaakov concludes the interview in which he himself destroys the tribe of Yosef, and removes Yosef from among his sons and inheritors, "by presenting Yosef with a Shechem in connection with his brothers." Yaakov tacitly, and perhaps unwittingly, thus makes a deathbed confession of his own contribution to the "filiocide" of Yosef, both long ago and now in displacing him from the names of his sons.

—Adapted from the writings of Lord Jonathan Sacks