Earlier this week, I saw the movie version Stephen Sondheim’s musical collection of fractured fairy tales, “Into the Woods.” I hadn’t seen the stage version, but I’d read enough about it to know that, once everything seems as if we’re arriving at “happily ever after,” we’re suddenly not. Eventually, the characters arrive at an ending of sorts that is not perfect, but that they can work with.
Which brings me to this week’s Torah portion, Vayekhi.
Our children are typically taught Bible stories in an overly simplistic way. There’s nothing very wrong with that, as long as they relearn them with an adult viewpoint later. Unfortunately, many don’t, so they age in place, continuing to believe that Esther was chosen for her innocent beauty in an innocent beauty contest, that we celebrate Chanukah for 8 days because a portion of pure oil miraculously burned that long, and that Joseph and his family lived together harmoniously once they were reunited.
In this week’s portion, in which we complete the book of Genesis, reality is more complex. Jacob and family have now been in Egypt for 17 years. Why? Weren’t they just to find refuge there from the remaining years of famine and then return to Canaan, as Abraham had? Or is this like Joseph’s years of silence in which he sent no word to his family but waited for divinely ordained events to play out? Jacob realizes he is about to die and ties up loose ends. First, he makes Joseph swear that he will be buried in the Cave of Machpelah, not in Egypt. Next, he blesses Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, deliberately putting younger (Ephraim) before elder, and formally adopts them, thereby making Rachel matriarch of three tribes instead of two. Finally, he meets with all his sons for the last time, giving each a specific “blessing”. If we didn’t know before what Jacob thought of his sons, we sure do now. He also tells them to bury him in the Cave of Machpelah.
After Jacob dies and is duly embalmed for the trip to Canaan, mourned, and buried, the consciences of the 10 oldest brothers prick them. Once more they feel guilty, once more they fear Joseph, and once more they try to protect themselves by lying. Instead of either trusting Joseph or at least directly asking his forgiveness, they claim that Jacob, on his deathbed, asked that Joseph forgive them. Joseph is in tears at the unhealable breech between him and his haunted brethren, who go so far as to offer themselves as his slaves. Yet again, he tells them that, even though they did wish him harm, it was all part of a divine plan that saved many from starvation. At 110 years of age, Joseph dies, assuring the now-numerous Israelites that the Lord will bring them out of Egypt to Canaan, at which time they are to take his bones with them. Thus, as we end the book of Genesis, if you don’t know the rest of the story, it appears that the Israelites are going to live happily ever after in Egypt until, someday, they receive a divine command to leave. But reality will be rather different, as we’ll see when we start reading the book of Exodus next week.
Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a beautiful, independent, self-assured princess happened upon a frog as she sat, contemplating ecological issues on the shores of an unpolluted pond in a verdant meadow near her castle. The frog hopped into the princess’ lap and said:” Elegant Lady, I was once a handsome prince, until an evil witch cast a spell upon me. One kiss from you, however, and I will turn back into the dapper, young prince that I am and then, my sweet, we can marry and set up housekeeping in your castle with my mother, where you can prepare my meals, clean my clothes, bear my children, and forever feel grateful and happy doing so.”
That night, as the princess dined sumptuously on lightly sautéed frog legs
seasoned in a white wine and onion cream sauce, she chuckled and thought to herself:
“I don’t ****ing think so.”
Paternity question at deathbed
A man lies on his deathbed, surrounded by his family: a weeping wife and four children. Three of the children are tall, good-looking and athletic; but the fourth and youngest is an ugly runt.
“Darling wife,” the husband whispers, “assure me that the youngest child really is mine. I want to know the truth before I die, I will forgive you if…”
The wife gently interrupts him. “Yes, my dearest, absolutely, no question, I swear on my mother’s grave that you are his father.”
The man then dies, happy.
The wife mutters under her breath: “Thank God he didn’t ask about the other three.
64 People and their Famous Last Words (selections)
- Italian artist Raphael’s last word was simply: “Happy.”
- Composer Jean-Philippe Rameau objected to a song sung at his bedside. He said, “What the devil do you mean to sing to me, priest? You are out of tune.”
- Nostradamus predicted, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.” He was right.
- Marie Antoinette stepped on her executioner’s foot on her way to the guillotine. Her last words: “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur.”
- Drummer Buddy Rich died after surgery in 1987. As he was being prepped for surgery, a nurse asked him, “Is there anything you can’t take?” Rich replied, “Yeah, country music.”
- Murderer James W. Rodgers was put in front of a firing squad in Utah and asked if he had a last request. He replied, “Bring me a bullet-proof vest.”
- Donald O’Connor was a singer, dancer, and actor. He also hosted the Academy Awards in 1954. O’Connor died at age 78 with his family gathered around him. He joked, “I’d like to thank the Academy for my lifetime achievement award that I will eventually get.” He still hasn’t gotten one.
- Surgeon Joseph Henry Green was checking his own pulse as he lay dying. His last word: “Stopped.”