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What We Can’t See


Torah Talk on Vayechi 5780

As a child who grew up with severe progressive myopia, I often wondered just what true vision was. While my terrible eyesight was fortunately correctible with contacts and glasses, I was always acutely aware of the fact that human vision can be extremely limited. We can only see as far ahead as our eyes can focus, and even with 20/20 vision those eyes aren’t able to see clearly more than a little way ahead. That simple fact is highly relevant in our Torah portion of Vayechi.

This week in Temple we read the final parshah (portion) of the Book of Genesis, Vayechi, which includes the passing of two great figures from the scene. The first, our patriarch Jacob, concludes a long and complex life by conveying a series of interesting “blessings” on his children, a mix of prediction, praise and criticism. The second, his son Joseph, dies at the end of our portion, having moved his life and our people to a new and adventurous phase that will prove to be pivotal for Jewish history.

Both of the passings of these great founders of our people are rich in beauty and irony. Beauty in the ways that faith has triumphed over the vicissitudes of life and the challenges inherent in complex family arrangements; irony for the fact that neither patriarch could truly envision the future God had in store for his descendants.

The positive lesson from the lives of both Jacob and Joseph was that, ultimately, faith in God was triumphant. In spite of the wavering course any life can take, there is ultimately both chein and chesed, both grace and kindness in this world. To succeed in spite of many challenges, as Jacob and Joseph did, we must trust in God’s ultimate justice and providence.

But it is also true that there is a hard limit to human knowledge and foresight, and even the best of us, even true prophets can never really see the future clearly.

In the final analysis, our lives are in God’s hands. Like Jacob and Joseph, we seek to advance our own plans for success for our families and our beliefs. Like Jacob and Joseph, we hope, with God’s help, to weather the storms of life. And like Jacob and Joseph, we know that it is God’s plan, not ours, that will be implemented. We can only see a little ways ahead, and not always so clearly. After that it is up to God.

May we continue to work to create holiness in this world. And may we have faith in God’s ultimate justice and mercy.