Shabbat Shalom: The Power of Words

Dec 28, 2023 | Article

Shabbat Shalom: The Power of Words

Dec 28, 2023

By: Nelly Ben Tal
Senior Israel Community Emissary (Shlicha)

The Book of Genesis comes to an end with this week’s reading of Parashat Vayechi. The Parashat starts with the summary of Jacob’s life, and what follows are several individual stories. Each story invites us to explore different layers of the foundation of Judaism. I would like to focus on one: The power of words.

Jacob lived in Egypt for 17 years, and he was said to be 147 years old. Jacob (also called Israel) said to Joseph, “If I have found favor in your eyes, then swear to me that you will not bury me in Egypt, but with my fathers in Canaan.” Joseph agreed, and later when he received a message that his father was dying, he took his two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, to see Jacob.

Jacob sat up in bed, saying, “God, the All-Sufficing, appeared to me in the land of Canaan and blessed me. God said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and will multiply you, and I will let you become a community of nations and will give this land to your seed after you as an everlasting possession.” Then Jacob added, “Now, bring your sons to me so that I may bless them.”

Jacob then gathers his sons and blesses them, and then blesses Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Yosef, and Benjamin. The blessings deal with the qualities that characterize the tribes and their future, with allusions to the possessions they will have in the Land of Israel.

The theme of “the power of words” is echoed throughout the parshah — from promises made to blessings bestowed.

We are reminded that it is through our actions and our words that we transmit our own stories to our children, and our children’s children. So timely is this Torah reading. For me, Parashat Vayechi is a parallel to the way in which we speak and educate future generations about the struggle for independence that Israel is conducting right now – a struggle for protection and safety; a fight between good and evil; a prayer that we may always value love and life.

With blessings and wishes for a peaceful Shabbat, my own prayers this Sabbath are also for those still held captive in Gaza. May God hear our words, and return them safely home.

Please email Nelly Ben Tal at with questions or comments.