“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayechi 5781

“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayechi 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“A Bracha for the COVID Vaccine: A Celebration of Life Over Death”

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“A Bracha for the COVID Vaccine: A Celebration of Life Over Death”

Watching the incredible images of our heroic healthcare professionals and in Israel those over 60 receiving the COVID-19 vaccine stirs strong emotions within us. 

After nearly a year of crises, deep loss, anxiety and fear, we can now begin to allow ourselves to believe that – thanks to the extraordinary, tireless efforts of researchers, scientists and leaders from around the world – this global nightmare will soon be over.

The mandate to value life is central to Judaism and is expressed in numerous laws and sources – including the very name of this week’s parsha. In spite of the parsha’s actual content, which relates to the deaths of both Yaakov and Yosef, the name of the parsha is “Vayechi,” meaning “and he lived!”

The focus of this week’s parsha is not on the fact that Yaakov and Yosef died, but rather on the eternal narrative that lives on after their deaths, communicated through the blessings of their children: the 12 tribes of Israel which comprise the Jewish people. 

The “Vayechi” approach of celebrating life even as we deal with the tragedy of death resonates today, as we move toward – b’ezrat Hashem – to world immunity. We must remember that preserving our own health is nothing less than a Biblical directive.

Furthermore  according to the Torah, we are also forbidden from standing idly by while the blood of another is being spilt.

There is, therefore, a halakhic obligation to get vaccinated; to protect ourselves as well as to contribute to creating the herd immunity necessary to save the world.

How can we sanctify this statement we’re making about the victory of life over death?

What bracha should we recite over the vaccination and inoculation? 

Based on the Talmud Brachot page 59b, the Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim, Chapter 230, Halacha 4, rules: 

“הנכנס להקיז דם”

Someone who enters into a medical facility in order to perform an ancient medical ritual called blood letting, should say: 

יהר”מ ה’ אלהי”

“May it be your will, God, 

שיהא עסק זה לי לרפואה  

that this procedure that I’m undergoing should be for healing,

“כי רופא חנם אתה

for You are a loving and faithful healer.”

And after the procedure: 

 “ברוך רופא חולים”

“Blessed is God who heals the sick”

This formula is found on your screen. 

I believe that when a vaccine of this historic nature comes along that indeed has the potential to save humanity, we too should recite a bracha, either when we hear that the vaccine has reached our community, state, or country, or when we are are inoculated: 

“ברוך אתה ה’ אלוקינו מלך העולם הטוב והמטיב”

“Blessed is the Lord King of the universe Who is good and Who does good”

This blessing is appropriate for the COVID vaccine because, as the Talmud explains, it is recited when something good happens to me – הטוב והמטיב – and when that good concurrently happens to another, which is certainly true with this vaccine.

Please God, as we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel – may it come speedily over the next few months – may we once again be able to hug and play with our children and grandchildren, welcome friends and family around our Shabbat and holiday tables, and celebrate many happy occasions with loved ones and friends. 

May we always remember to learn from the priorities that we were forced to set during Covid, and never forget what is truly important and what is trivial.

And may we be able to celebrate the message of this week’s parsha of Vayechi: the victory of life over death.

Shabbat Shalom.

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