Originally published on Jewschool.com.
I’ve always been something of a post-modernist, fascinated particularly with the ways in which form and content intersect, interact, support and destabilize each other. Blame it on an early obsession with Stephen Sondheim from an early age. (Yes, folks, that link is a peek into dlevy’s early high school adventures on the internet. But I digress.)
With that in mind, I find it particularly delightful to encounter parshat Vayechi during the week that our secular calendar advances a page. You see, the content of this week’s Torah reading involves Jacob putting his affairs in order at the end of his life, bestowing blessings on his sons (but not his daughter) and two grandsons (you can guess whose progeny they are) before shuffling off this mortal coil. But the form — oh, the form! First we’ll notice that this is the final nugget of Sefer Bereshit (aka Genesis, not the Peter Gabriel/Phil Collins band), the first book of the Torah. When this story ends, we get a flash forward to everybody’s favorite
Easter Passover story, The Ten Commandments Sefer Shemot (aka The Book of Exodus, no not the Leon Uris one). That’s a new book – same scroll, but with a nice big, clear differentiation in the text. Plus, we divide our reading up so that we don’t get into that story until next week. And in case anyone wasn’t sure, we’ll all leap to our feet on Saturday morning and sing “חזק חזק ונתחזק” to punctuate the end of our current book. So between the end of the patriarchal era (ha! as if!), the end of the book of Genesis, and the rhythm of our Torah reading that keeps us from reading the next chapter until (at the very least) later on in the afternoon, we’ve got a nice, tidy ending to our story. Continue reading