Two shorts on life (Vayechi) and a page from the Journal of…

My friends and I. For decades now we meet in each others homes, wherever those are, share food and drink and stories from our days. In good Israeli fashion, the conversation often ends with a deep sigh and a yihye tov comment, “it will be good”, as in, some day, somehow, someplace, somewhere, but surely not here, not now.
The Torah reading of this week talks about the death of two great leaders, Jacob and Joseph, father and son. There’s a lot about burial customs, and crying and mourning, but it’s still called Vayechi, “and he lived”, from the word chayim, life. As it’s been said, “everybody dies, but not everybody lives”. It’s all about ‘living one’s life’ and ‘what we do with ourselves in this world’, and ‘be here and now’, right?
Well, almost. Life has to have a present, for sure, but it also must have a future. Having only one of them ultimately creates some form of reckless living, and when taken to extreme we see those who only care about the “fun” in the world to come, or alternatively, the “fun” here without a tomorrow. While the notorious yihye tov looks at what’s hopefully coming, the setting of when it is said is usually already tov, often very tov.
* * * * * * *
The 1st grade students listen attentively as we read this week’s parasha and are immediately alarmed: “hey, how come Joseph instructs his brothers regarding his death? He was the second youngest! They are older! He should not die before them! That’s not fair”!!
Yes, my dear, it’s not fair. And to be totally fair, we don’t even know what fair really means.
* * * * * * *
The midrash is called by some a “lacuna filler”: it looks for holes in the text and adds content and color where there’s a gap. We’re told that the Children of Israel came down to Egypt with “70 souls”, but a careful count of the names reveals only 69 (Genesis 46:8-27)! Who’s missing? The midrash itself offers more than one answer. I picked one. Here’s a page from that person’s imaginary journal.

… after what happened, my mom just disappeared from the story. The gossipers just couldn’t stop: It’s probably her fault, they said, she brought it on herself; she was her “mother’s daughter”, the mother also “going out” when she wanted a night with her husband, and now that daughter, a young lady herself, the only daughter among 12 sons, “goes out” to visit with her girlfriends. Or maybe, said others, it was him, the good looking, insistent prince whose father ruled the ancient city, who fell madly in love, who didn’t know what love was, the one who was to be my father??
My father. I never got to meet him. My two uncles got to him first, the ones who worried so much about the family’s honor… were they brave or crazy? Only my saba (grandfather) was able to hold all these contradictions in his heart…
Saba. He got my mom to live in a small hut in a Canaanite village near Sh’chem, so that his overly zealous sons would not kill me too, determined to erase my father’s memory… That’s where I was born and where I spent my early years. Mom told me much about the special teachings G-d gave her great-grandfather, and I loved to listen. It was peaceful, so Iremember, and anyway, a child is never fully aware of the role she might be having in the grand drama of life, except one day…
I went to retrieve a little lamb hiding in a s’ne, a little thorn bush. As I reached over, all of a sudden I saw through the thicket my uncles in the valley below. They were yelling at each other, pulling something this way and that. Then I saw his colorful coat, blood dripping from it. Yes, I knew it was his, of course, everybody knew, mom told me all about it, and me, I just… already then, of course… but let me not get ahead of myself.
It slowly became obvious that my life was in danger too, and that my mom won’t be able to protect me, just like Jacob was not able to protect his beloved son… I too had no doubt of her love, but the burden was too big, with no father, no money, little sustenance, and a bad reputation, there was no future. Grandpa had me sent to Egypt, and a convoy of merchants took me to be the maid of Potifar’s wife…
That’s where we finally met, two Hebrew slaves in the palace, polishing someone else’s floor, trying to brighten our own dreams… I thought the world of him, right away; his eyes, his posture, his intelligent sayings… everything about him made sense, as if I’ve known him forever, as if I was finally home. Our lives were almost a reflection of each other… At first we were scared, but unable to stay away from each other, we would sit and talk till so late in the night, the palace still, the breeze in the bulrushes and the full moon over the Nile… he brought back to my life everything that was good in the world, wisdom, kindness, beauty, I was so happy! Slavery in that palace all of a sudden seemed like a blessing… and slowly we realized the miracle of us, how we were each others reflection…
But then, one day, I remember so clearly, it was late afternoon. He was sweeping the big yard, while I was walking behind Mrs. Potifar, holding the heavy fan for her on her way to her dinner, my arms straining. He looked up at me, and oh, that look! There was so much love in his eyes! It was as if he was saying, I’ll see you soon, my dear, I know your days are long but I’ll hold you gently till you fall asleep softly in my arms…
Unfortunately, I was not the only one who saw that look; not the only one who realized what that look says. For a moment I thought our secret was revealed but then, worse! She thought his loving look was directed at her!! Silly, lonely woman!! She wished! From that day on, she kept pestering him, on and on, calling him to her chambers for no real reason, breaking things purposely, “needing” stuff that “only he could do”… until… well, you know what happened…
More than two years he was in jail. And I couldn’t do anything to get him out. Instead I stole a small bucket which I filled with delicacies and hung from a long rope down to the dungeon. Sometimes, I would add little inspiring messages on papyrus, or sit outside singing for him…
Then, one day, chariots were sent, with well dressed messengers carrying fine linen, a change of clothing for him, what a commotion! Summoned back to the palace, he was asked to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, and was quickly declared second to the king. That’s when I was given to him as a wife, a perfect match, another well trained, well behaved servant from the palace, a dime a dozen. Little did they know about our love…
I bore him two sons, Efrayim and Menashe, and while they grew up here, we both taught them everything we know, so that one day, one day… we knew it was just a matter of time… yesterday they received their grandfather’s blessing. I stood in the corner, watching the old man and thinking about our journey, what it took us to get to this moment and what’s still ahead. For the first time in years, tears rolled down my cheeks and I just cried.

Shabbat Shalom!

This entry was posted in life and some, shabbat shalom, סיפורים קצרים, פרשת השבוע לחילוני האדוק and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Two shorts on life (Vayechi) and a page from the Journal of…

  1. Leo Hmelnitsky says:

    Beautiful midrash – thank you for sharing, Michal !

    And a very thoughtful comment about the “fun” in the future world vs. now. I would love to hear how you can develop it further… one day 🙂

    Shabbat Shalom, Leo

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