Parashat Vay'hi--Genesis 47:28-50:26
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Questions for Young Children
• How does it feel when your parents or grandparents bless you? What do you think about?
• What makes Israel [Ya’akov] feel better in 48:1-2? Have you ever made anyone feel better just by visiting?

Questions for Older Children
• Do you think it’s a good idea for Ya’akov to point out to each son his faults as well as what his future will be when it may be the last time Ya’akov talks to his sons?
• Which son—aside from Yosef—do you think has the best blessing? Why?
• Which son do you think has the worst blessing? Why?
• How do Ya’akov’s children honor their dad after he dies?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• According to Yosef, what role does God have in the events that transpire? Do you think Yosef is sincere?
• Why do you think Chagall chose the imagery from this parasha for the Hadassah chapel windows?
• If you were to write a testament for your own children, would you highlight their positive and negative characteristics? Why? Why not?


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Birkat Ha-Y’ladim-Blessing Your Children

Ya’akov blessed only his male progeny. The blessing for boys that recalls Ephraim and Menashe, echos from this parasha.  Today we bless both our daughters and sons.

If you don't already bless your children after candlelighting, you might begin this custom.  Combining the words with touch (placing your hands on your children's heads) creates a powerful moment for both parents and children.  

For boys, parents gently place both hands on his head and recite:

 .יְשִׂמְךָ אֱלהִים כְּאֶפְרַיִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה

Y’simkha Elohim k’Ephraim ukhi-M’nasheh
May God bless you as God blessed Ephraim and Menashe.


For girls, parents gently place both hands on her head and recite:

 .יְשִׂמֶךְ אֱלהִים כְּשָרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל וְלֵאָה

Y’simekh Elohim k’Sara, Rivka, Rahel, v’Leah
May God bless you as God blessed Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah

Then continue with the blessing for all children.

.יְבָרֶכְךָ ה' וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ: יָאֵר ה' פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ: יִשָּׂא ה' פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלום

Y’va-rekh’kha Adonai v’yish-m’rekha, Ya-er Adonai panav eyle-kha v’y’hun’nekha, Yisa Adonai panav eyle-kha v’saym l’kha shalom.

May God bless you and keep you.

May God’s presence shine and be good to you.

May God’s face turn toward you and give you peace.


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For diners of a certain age (maybe pre-school through junior high) the name of this parasha may sound like the English word “yukky.” To be clear, there is no etymological link. Vay’hi means “he lived” and opens the parasha’s description of Ya’akov’s deathbed blessings to his descendants. After a quick review of his life, Ya’akov calls his sons and two grandsons to his bedside and tells them what he thinks of them and what he sees as their future. The book of B’reishit concludes with the death of Ya’akov and his instructions to be buried in Eretz Yisrael in the Cave of Machpelah with his ancestors. The brothers have one last fear that Yosef will seek revenge now that their father is dead. They compose a message that their father allegedly meant for Yosef saying, “So shall you say to Yosef: ‘Forgive I urge you, the offense and guilt of your brother who treated you so harshly. Therefore, please forgive the offense of the servants of the God of your father.’” This is the first mention of forgiveness in the Torah. Yosef’s cries and reassures them that it was all part of God’s plan for him to come to Egypt. With Yosef’s forgiveness,generosity, and reconciliation with his brothers the scene is set for the family of Ya’akov to become a people, B’nei Yisrael in the Book of Exodus, Sh’mot.

Find the food connection

י וְעֵינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּבְדוּ מִזֹּקֶן

Israel’s eyes were dim with age

--Genesis 48:10a

The Hebrew word for liver is kaved—the same root as the verb, kavdu, used to describe Ya’akov’s deteriorating vision. Liver may also qualify in your household as a “yukky” food. 


Take a good look at what Ya’akov says to his sons in this parasha. With the exception of Yosef, his sons don’t really receive a blessing. Yosef merits a double portion and Ya’akov accomplishes this by blessing Yosef’s two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Ya’akov’s vision may have dimmed, but his memory is excellent, and he recounts the faults of all his sons calling Shim’on and Levi, for example, “lawless,” recalling their foray into Shechem to avenge their sister’s rape. Perhaps a perfect memory is overrated.

Much of the imagery of this section is captured in the stained glass windows in the chapel of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. You can access the images online and find out more about Chagall’s creative process from the website:

Ya’akov was embalmed but not entombed like an Egyptian; Yosef was permitted to return to bury his father in Eretz Yisrael. He was accompanied not just by his family but by a retinue dispatched by Pharaoh to give kavod (honor) to Yosef’s father. Once again, a family comes together at a graveside. B’reishit ends with Yosef’s death, but this time there is no burial in Eretz Yisrael. Yosef’s bones will wait until Moshe (Moses) leads the Children of Israel out of Egypt and back home to Eretz Yisrael.

Ya'akov had few opportunities to gather his children together in joy and blessing. Every Shabbat I'm together with my family, I'm grateful to be together at a Shabbat dinner and not at a graveside. On of the moments I most enjoy is just after candlelighting when I bless my children and grandchildren with the priestly benediction—praying that they are blessed and watched over by God, find favor before God, and find peace and wholeness in their lives. 





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A Dash of Hebrew
More on the root kaf-bet-dalet (k-v-d). The concrete meaning of this three letter Hebrew root is “heavy.” It is also the root for liver and for the abstract concept of honor, kavod. How are all three meanings connected? For those of you interested in comparative Semitic languages, the Arabic word for liver--kabad-- has the same root as the Hebrew word. Not only is this root k-v-d used in this week's parasha to describe Ya'akov's failing eyesight, in Parashat Mikeitz (Genesis 43:1) it was the adjective that described how pervasive the famine was in Eretz Yisrael, v'ha-ra'av kavayd ba-aretz.

A Dash of Halakha
We get some insight into Egyptian death practices in this parasha as well as Israelite practices. Yosef told the doctors to embalm (lahanot) his father. This was a practical step for transporting his body from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael by caravan.

From Egyptian sources we know quite a bit about the process of mummification and the time that it took. Ya’akov insists that he be buried in the family grave at Machpelah and Pharoah honors that wish. Yosef, too, dies in this parasha and also insists that he be buried in the same place. The principle of honoring the dead is evident in all the Jewish laws of death and mourning. Just as Yosef and his brothers accompanied their father to his burial, we accompany the dead to the cemetery and assist in the burial even if it’s just one shovelful of dirt. Like Ya’akov’s sons, we mourn our parents with a heavy (kaved) heart and show them honor (kavod).

A Dash of Egyptology
If your children have any interest in mummies, the web is an easy resource to find answers to the how questions and there are plenty of images. If you think ahead, you can find books in all public libraries and school libraries about mummification to bring to the table.


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Vegetarian Liver

Pareve, gluten free and vegan

Serves 10 to 12

 rsz 12 vayehi vegetarian liver copy


  • 1 c. walnuts
  • 1 15-1/2 oz. can young peas
  • 1 c. chopped onions
  • 1 large garlic glove
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a food processor, chop onions and sauté in olive oil until golden.
  2. In the same food processor, combine walnuts, drained peas, garlic.
  3. Add sautéed onions, lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Refrigerate.

Best if made at least a day ahead.

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