Parashat Va-y’chi

Friday, December 21, 2018 /13 Tevet, 5779
Parashat Va-y’chi Genesis 47:28-50:26

Dear Friends,

Well, here it is, Temple Beth El, this is YOUR Torah verse!

This is the Torah portion in which our tribal foundation, Zebulon, is described, and from which all of our imagery, from the candelabrum on our sanctuary wall to our ner tamid, to our recognition award, is derived. From Genesis, chapter 49: “Zebulon shall dwell at the shore of the sea, and he shall be a shore for ships; and his flank shall be upon Sidon.” (Gen 49:13)

This statement is from the blessing of Jacob, just before his death, offering a word about each of his sons, who were our tribal forebears. Of the twelve sons, Zebulon was given the territory along the northern coast of what is present-day Israel, from about Haifa north along the Lebanese coast to today’s Sidon. Hence, the identity with the coast, and the ship’s harbor, which we share in San Pedro.

But more! Rashi, our medieval commentator, explored the words, “a shore for ships,” which commonly denotes a harbor, and he added this thought, “And he shall be found constantly at a shore for ships in the region of the port, to which ships bring wares, for Zebulon engaged in trade, and provided sustenance for the tribe of Issachar, while the latter engaged in the study of Torah.”

Rashi teaches that each tribe had their expertise. Zebulon’s was seaborne trading, bringing goods to the port. And, Issachar, Zebulon’s neighbor, was a studious tribe, “crouching down between the sheepfolds,” where they could read. Thus, we provided the foodstuffs, and they provided the Torah. While we might balk at this description, and assert that we are studious, no less, Rashi does make a point, if you have certain skills and gifts, use them. But more, use them for the benefit of your fellow tribes. Hence, Zebulon, you have the best port in the world – be the best traders so that others might prosper and thrive.

This, then, is the deeper meaning of our identification with Zebulon. Surely, the port is a nice commonality. But more so – find our expertise, our special identity, and make it shine forth.

Beth El – this is our verse!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Doug Kohn