My primary concern, as is evidenced by my publishing record to date, is about how people move through experience, continue to grow, and figure out their place, position, options and possibilities in relationship to God, Torah, ideas, themselves, each other, modernity and culture.
At the same time, I am unaccustomed to actually putting my thoughts to paper in a more serial fashio, with the intend that my 'idea' will be perceived noth through my ability ot articulate it in one fell swoop but rather my ability to express pieces of it over time. So, this is new for me.
But I suspect it is important - at least for me - to document my forrays into parsha, holidays, and other sundries that catch my eye, and I will begin now, after this brief caveat: as is well-known, one cannot set out to alternadox. As such, I am deeply committed to not distorting my thoughts and wriitngs with the intention of it being alternadox. I'm just gonna do my thing, and what will be will be.
So, Vayechi. I am particularly interested in the blessings that Ya'akov gives to his sons - specifically, the fact that some sons get a long, descriptive blessing, and other sons get, like 5 words. To wit (translations from Sefaria.org, which is a kick-ass website that is only gretting better and better. And it is even more kick-ass since they got access to the entire freaking Steinsaltz Talmud in translation):
Yehudah is a lion’s whelp; On prey, my son, have you grown. He crouches, lies down like a lion, like the king of beasts—who dare rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet; so that tribute shall come to him and the homage of peoples be his. He tethers his ass to a vine, His ass’s foal to a choice vine; He washes his garment in wine, His robe in blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine; His teeth are whiter than milk.
Asher’s bread shall be rich, And he shall yield royal dainties.
Royal dainties!!? Yehudah is a lion, king of beasts, who dare rouse him. He's got a sceptor and a ruler's staff. He washes his robe in blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine. And Asher makes cookies. What are we supposed to do with that?
And yet, as Rav M.M. Kasher brings in Torah Sheleimah (which is an incredible resource that alerts us to just how varied, deep, and sometimes totally bizarre midrashim can be) Genesis Chapter 49 note 394 from the Tanhuma, "Perhaps you want to infer that one of the brothers was greater than the other [like, maybe you think the one who is compared to a lion is more important than the baker - ed.] we see that it says "He blessed them" - that they were all equal."
It is tempting not to see them as equal, the lion and the baker. I would think that most people would prefer being a lion to being a baker, but it's just not true. In my decidedly anachronistic view, isn't it quite possible that Asher was going to get some out-sized blessing, like "Asher is the elephant who stomped around a lot and made a lot of noise and was really big," and was in fact quite relieved to get the exact blessing that fit his insides: He was a provider of food and nourishment. He was more than comfortable behind the scenes, cooking.
The concept is enhanced by another Midrash - this one form Bereishit Rabbah Chapter 97: "Since Ya'akov split the land up for them, and gave Yehudah land that yields barley and gave Naftali a land that yields wheat, still yet they were all included in the blessings, such that they would eat from each other's yield, which is what the Torah means when it says, "Each according to his blessing he blessed them." And in another version of the Midrash, Rebbe Elazar adds, "We learn that they suckled/were nourished from one another."
Lions have to eat, no? And bakers need lions, right? Maybe to protect them, and eat their stuff, and maybe even give them purpose sometimes.
Inasmuch (inasmuch as the word inasmuch is a word worth using forthwith) as this section of the Torah is applicable to you and I and today, I hear this very personally. I may have spent too much of my life thus far trying to be a lion (and failing) while there are some royal dainties that need baking. It is ta'avah, a lust, to want to be big, a leader. Leadership is not accomplished by people trying to be leaders. It is accomplished by people doing their thing, with integrity. I think what's-his-name said something like "did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?" Do we need lead roles? Maybe we just need to try to find our thing and do it up and let the larger picture emerge as holding both of us. And thankfully Ya'akov had that larger vision. Ostensibly, each son-tribe had a place in that vision, and if they each did their thing, as well as provided access to each other to be nourished by that thing, then they could move forward together. Or, they could resent each other, clamor for leadership roles, ignore their own talents and gifts, etc.