Parashat Vayechi tells the end of Jacob’s life; and how, through blessing, he prepares each of his sons to meet the challenges that lie ahead. The Tribe of Israel is in Egypt, where they escape the famine in Canaan. Jacob summons Joseph and reminds him of God’s blessing and promise of descendants and of the Land of Israel as an everlasting possession. Then he blesses Joseph’s sons—Ephraim with his right hand and Manasseh with his left (so we bless our sons today—“may you be like Ephraim and Manasseh”).
When Jacob’s sons arrive, he gives each of them a blessing. Jacob knows exactly who each of his sons are, strengths and weaknesses, so he tells it like it is—describing the good along with the bad, and leaving a legacy of courage and fortitude. Finally, Jacob insists he be buried in his homeland, in the Cave of Machpelah. And, at the end of the reading, Joseph makes the same demand on his deathbed.
The parsha teaches us the importance of passing on the legacy of the Jewish people generation to generation. It’s the “enduring” part of Hillel’s work on campus. Through the relationships we build, we can give every student a stake in the legacy of the Jewish people. Jacob made clear that he knew where he belonged—and he made sure that his children knew where they belonged as well. At Hillel, we can make sure that Jewish students always know they belong, too.
Amy Posner is the executive director at Hillel at the College of Staten Island.