Genesis 47:28 – 50:26

(And He Lived)
Jacob, on his deathbed, gives a blessing to each of his sons.


“JACOB LIVED,” the portion begins, and the story reveals a deathbed scene where instead of saying that “Jacob died,” it says he was “gathered into his people” (Genesis 49:33) …into us. The blessing that I receive from Vayechi is the knowledge that Jacob still lives within me.

After wrestling with an angel on the banks of the Jabbok, Jacob received a new name. That moment represented a spiritual transformation. “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human and you have prevailed,” said the angel. (Genesis 32:29)

Yet, until the very end of the narrative of Genesis, Jacob is called by both names. Even at the moment of death he is referred to as “Jacob.” Jacob’s story tells us something quite profound about the nature of spiritual transformation. And it helps us relate more realistically to our own process of transformation.

LOOKING AT YOUR OWN JACOB, you might find certain qualities that seem to be wired into your personality. You might be a worrier or you might be impatient, argumentative, controlling or manipulative. When you begin to have experiences of expanded consciousness, you are given the name “Israel” and you take on a spiritual practice that proceeds from that new identity. But “Jacob” never really goes away. Through our practice we learn how to manage that worrier, that impatient one, that manipulator. We can learn to have compassion for the fearful source of that voice. After many years of committed practice I realize that the voices of Jacob-within-us may never be entirely silenced, but as the Israel-in-us grows, those Jacob voices lose their power to compel and we are no longer tricked or trapped by their arguments.

When I receive the blessing of the knowledge of where Jacob lives within me, then I can recognize his voice and gently refuse his advice, looking instead to Israel, for wisdom, passion and courage for my journey.


VAYECHI gives us an extraordinary scene of Jacob on his deathbed initiating each of his sons on their path, naming the particular medicine that they will carry. Depending on how that medicine is used, it can be either a blessing or a curse. To carry a particular medicine into the world always means navigating a spiritual challenge, for the power of your medicine can heal or destroy.

Each of Jacob’s sons are gifted with a totem — an image, quality or animal that can be their teacher in the spirit realms. We carry within us all the medicine of our ancestors:

  • the Unstable water of Reuben,
  • the Lion of Judah,
  • the Harbor of Zebulon,
  • the Strong-boned ass of Issachar,
  • the Snake of Dan,
  • the Warrior of Gad,
  • the Prosperity of Asher,
  • the Deer of Naftali,
  • the Wild Ass of Joseph
  • and the Hungry Wolf of Benjamin.

EACH IMAGE is a pathway through which power can move through us into the world. The spiritual challenge is to call on that power as we become healers, to use that power with awareness, and dedicate it to holiness — to the good of all.


This spiritual practice concerns the art of being in relationship both to the place of Jacob within you and to the place of Israel. Both must be named and acknowledged.


“Mah tovu ohalecha Yaacov” (How good are your tents Jacob!)
“Mishkinotechah Yisrael” (your Mishkan, dwelling-place, Israel)

FIND THOSE TWO PLACES WITHIN YOU as you chant. The difference between a tent and a Mishkan is that a tent is always temporary and limited. A Mishkan is where the Presence of God dwells eternally. It contains infinite space.

The voice of your true soul calls forth from the Mishkan of Israel, and to its presence you sing: “Mah Tovu!” (How Good!) The tent of Jacob, though limited, though temporary is also good. It has sustained you, sheltered you in the wilderness and kept you safe. To that place you sing: “Mah Tovu!” (How Good!)

Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.