12. VAYECHI 5781

FROM THE TORAH

 Genesis 47:28-50:26

In this, the final sedra of Genesis, the lives of Jacob and Joseph come to an end.  Jacob, the last Patriarch, lives out the rest of his life in Egypt, but he is advantaged by the standing of his son Joseph to assure his burial in the ancestral cemetery of Machpelah.  Before he dies, he adopts Joseph’s two sons as his own, and he issues distinct foretellings for each of his sons based upon their past and his foresight.  After he dies, the fears of Joseph’s brothers are addressed by Joseph in a spirit of generosity that reflects the overarching theme of the saga: What you intended for evil God intended for good, to preserve life.  He assures them that God will, in the future, bring them up to the promised Land, and elicits from them their promise to bring up his bones from Egypt at that time.

Israel Gathers His Family

JOSEPH SWEARS TO BURY JACOB WITH HIS FATHERS
47:28-31

Jacob lives (Vayechi) in the land of Egypt for 17 years.  He lives to the age of 147.  As the time of his demise approaches, he calls for his son Joseph: “If I have found favor in your eyes, place your hand under my thigh and promise me the truest kindness of burying me not in Egypt but of carrying me, when I have died, out of Egypt to the burial place of my fathers.”  He answers, “I shall act in accordance with your word,” and he says, “Swear to me,” and he swears to him, and Israel bows down at the head of the bed.

JOSEPH VISITS HIS ILL FATHER
48:1-7

In the course of time Joseph is told that his father is ill.  He takes with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, and is announced to Jacob.  Israel gathers his strength and sits up in bed.  He says to Joseph the following:

God Almighty appeared to me at Luz, in the land of Canaan, and blessed me: “I shall make you fruitful and numerous, an assembly of peoples; I grant you this Land for your offspring as an everlasting possession” (cf. Genesis 28:10ff.).

Now your two sons, born to you in the land of Egypt before I arrived, Ephraim and Manasseh, shall be considered mine, like Reuven and Shimon.  Your progeny that are born after them will be considered yours and ranked among their other brothers in their inheritance.

When I was returning from Paddan, Rachel died on me in the land of Canaan, a little before arriving in Ephrath.  I buried her there, on the road to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. (Cf. Genesis 35:16-20)

ISRAEL BLESSES JOSEPH AND HIS SONS
48:8-22

Israel’s vision was poor because of age; he was virtually blind.  But he “sees” Joseph’s sons.    “Who are these?” he asks.  Joseph tells his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given to me here.”  “Bring them to me that I may bless them.”  So he brings them close to him.  He kisses them and hugs them, and he says to Joseph: I did not expect to see you again, but now God has allowed me to see not only you but also your offspring!

Joseph then removes them from his knees and bows low with his face to the ground.  He brings them close to his father, Ephraim with his right hand on Israel’s left, and Manasseh with his left hand on Israel’s right.  But Israel extends his hands crosswise, placing his right hand towards the left, on the head of Ephraim, the younger, and his left hand towards the right, on the head of Manasseh, the firstborn.  He offers this blessing for Joseph:     

May the God before Whom walked
my fathers, Abraham and Isaac,
my Shepherd for as long as I have lived,
Who redeems me from all evil,
bless the boys;
may my name and the name of my fathers
be known through them;
and may they flourish as many
in the midst of the Land.

Joseph tries to move his father’s right hand from upon Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s, saying, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn, put your right hand upon his head!”  But his father refuses and says, “I know, my son, I know, he also will become a people and be great, but his younger brother will be greater than he, and his offspring shall equal the fullness of nations.”  On that day he offers them this blessing:

Israel shall bless,
putting Ephraim
before Manasseh:
“May God make you
like Ephraim
and like Manasseh.”

Israel says to Joseph:  I am dying.  May God be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers.  I have provided you with one portion more than your brothers, which I captured from the Amorites with my sword and my bow.

JACOB DECLARES HIS SONS’ FUTURE
49:1-28

1-2

Jacob summons his sons:
“Gather and listen, O sons of Jacob;
listen to Israel, your father;
I shall tell you of your future.”

Reuben
3-4

Reuben, my first firstborn, my first strength,
entitled initially to highest rank,
you acted impetuously, like seething water,
losing your rank because you mounted my bed!
(Cf. Genesis 35:16-22)

Shimon and Levi
5-7

Shimon and Levi are an armed gang;
let me have nothing to do with them!
For while their wrath leads to murder,
even their calmness leads to destruction.
Cursed is their ferocious anger!
I shall divide them in Jacob,
disperse them in Israel.
(Cf. Genesis 34:1-31)

Judah
8-12

Judah, to you your brothers will show allegiance,
and your hand will be against your enemies.
Judah is a lion cub, ascended from prey,
crouching like a lion.
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the enacter of law
from among his descendants,
until the coming of Shiloh,
for whom peoples will assemble.
He ties his donkey to the vine,
and his robe will be covered with wine;
his eyes will be darker than wine,
and his teeth whiter than milk.

Zebulun
13

Zebulun shall dwell
by the shore of the seas,
a port for ships,
reaching as far as Sidon.

Issachar
14-15

Issachar, a strong-boned ass,
stays at home,
preferring the benefit of security.
He is a worker,
prone to serfdom.

Dan
16-18

Dan shall vindicate his people,
unique among the tribes of Israel,
a snake that bites the horse
so that its rider is thrown backward.
I look to Your deliverance, O Eternal!

Gad
19

Gad shall be attacked
by his enemies,
but he shall rebound
and strike them down.

Asher
20

Asher will produce rich bread,
worthy of kings.

Naphtali
21

Naphtali is a hind let loose,
producing beautiful sprouts.

Joseph
22-26

Joseph is a fruitful branch by the spring,
growing out over the wall.
Bitterly the archers assailed him,
but he kept his bow steady and strong,
guided by the Strong One of Jacob,
Shepherd, Rock of Israel.
The God of your father,
Shaddai, supports you
with blessings from heaven above,
from the deep below,
from breasts and womb.
These blessings from your father
are without precedent
for the benefit of Joseph,
consecrated from among his brothers.

Benjamin
27

Benjamin is a ferocious wolf,
devouring his prey in the morning,
dividing spoil in the evening.

28

These are the twelve tribes of Israel,
each blessed by their father
in words appropriate to them.

JACOB’S BURIAL INSTRUCTIONS
49:29-33

Jacob instructs his sons:  I am about to be gathered to my people.  Bury me with my fathers in the cave which is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the field of Machpelah, which faces Mamre in the Land of Canaan.  The field and the cave were acquired from the Hittites.  Abraham bought it from Ephron the Hittite for a burial possession.  Abraham and his wife Sarah are buried there, as are Isaac and his wife Rebecca, and there I buried Leah.

At the conclusion of his instructions, Jacob draws his feet into the bed.  He breathes his last breath and is gathered to his people.

JACOB IS BURIED IN CANAAN
50:1-14

Joseph falls upon his father’s face and weeps for him and kisses him.  He orders his physicians to embalm his father.  The embalming of Israel takes forty days, as usual.  The Egyptians weep for Jacob seventy days.

Then Joseph asks the house of Pharaoh to petition Pharaoh on his behalf for permission to leave temporarily in order to fulfill his promise to bury his father in the grave that Jacob prepared in Canaan.  Pharoah grants Joseph his request:  Go up and bury your father as he swore you to do.  So Joseph goes up to bury his father, accompanied by an entourage of all of Pharaoh’s servants, elders of his house, elders of the land of Egypt, Joseph’s house, including his brothers, and his father’s house.  Only their children and their flocks and their herds did they leave in the land of Goshen.  They are accompanied on the trip by chariots and horsemen.  It is altogether a populous camp.

When they reach the Threshing Floor of Atad on the other side of the Jordan, they hold a great lamentation for his father for seven days.  The Canaanite inhabitants are so impressed with the magnitude of what they witness that they name the place Mourning of Egypt.  Jacob’s sons fulfill their father’s instructions and bury him in the cave of the field of Machpelah.  Joseph then returns to Egypt along with his brothers and all who have come up with him.

Reconciliation

JOSEPH’S BROTHERS BEG HIS FORGIVENESS
50:15-21

Seeing that their father is gone, the brothers fear that Joseph will resent them and repay them for all of the wrong that they have done him.  So they send word to Joseph, saying that their father ordered, before his death, that Joseph should forgive the wrongdoing of “the servants of the God of your father.”  When Joseph receives the message, he weeps.  His brothers visit him and fall on their faces before him.  They offer themselves as his slaves.  But Joseph seeks to reassure them: Fear not!  Do you think I am God?  While you intended to do me evil, God intended it for good, to save many lives as He has done this very day!  So put aside all fear; I shall sustain you and your children.  Thus he speaks to their heart!

JOSEPH LIVES OUT HIS YEARS IN EGYPT
50:22-26

Joseph continues to live in Egypt along with his father’s house.  He lives to the age of 110 and sees the third generation of Ephraim’s family as well as the children of Machir son of Manasseh, who were born on his knees.

As Joseph’s death draws near, he assures his brothers: God will indeed attend to you and bring you up from this land to the Land which He promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.  Joseph makes the children of Israel promise to bring up his bones from Egypt at that time.  Thus Joseph dies at the age of 110 years.  He is embalmed and placed in a casket in Egypt.

Chazak! Chazak! Venitchazek!

FROM THE PROPHETS

Haftarah for Shabbat Vayechi
I Kings 2:1-12

Death of David

As the day of David’s death approaches, he provides instruction to Solomon his son:  I am going the way of all the earth; you be strong, you be a man!  Keep faithfully the ways and the laws of the Eternal your God, as written in the Torah of Moses, in order that your decisions and actions reflect understanding.  If you so act, then the Eternal will fulfill His promise to me, that as long as my children act in sincerity and in truth, none shall be cut off from the throne of Israel.

Now you know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me and what he did to the two captains of Israel, Abner son of Ner (cf. II Samuel 3:22-39) and Amasa son of Jether (cf. II Samuel 20:7-10).  He killed them without warrant, splattering their blood upon his own tunic and shoes.  Act wisely and let not his gray head descend to the grave in peace.  But reward the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite for supporting me when I fled from Absalom your brother (cf. II Samuel 17:27-29; 19:32-39).

There is still the case of Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bachurim, who cursed me terribly when I went to Machanaim (cf. II Samuel 16:5-14).  Even though I promised him, when he met me at the Jordan, that I would not put him to death by the sword, you should not hold him guiltless.  Act wisely and bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.

So David sleeps with his fathers and is buried in the City of David.  He reigned over Israel for 40 years: 7 years from Hebron and 33 years from Jerusalem.  Solomon sits upon the throne of David his father, his kingship being very secure.

FROM THE MIDRASH

Genesis Rabbah 96:1
Decline

“Israel settles in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen.
They establish holdings in it, and they thrive,
becoming fruitful and numerous, exceedingly.
Jacob lives in the land of Egypt for 17 years.”
(Genesis 47:27-28)

Why does Sedra Vayechi, unlike any other in the Torah, not begin with a new paragraph?That is to say, except for this sedra, there is always some space in the Torah scroll
between the end of one sedra and the beginning of the next.
But not here!
There is no space between last week’s Sedra Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27)
and this week’s Sedra Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26).
It is entirely closed.

Here is one reason:

When our father Jacob died, as he does in this Sedra,
then began Egypt’s oppression over Israel.

Rashi, in his commentary on the Torah (s.v. Genesis 47:28),
explains that when Jacob our father died,
the eyes and the heart of Israel were
closed to the harm of the oppression
which the Egyptians were beginning to impose upon them.

There are other helpful hints about this in the following Midrash:

Genesis Rabbah 97:4
Prescience

Joseph tries to move his father’s right hand
from upon Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s,
saying, ‘No, my father, this one is the firstborn,
put your right hand upon his head!’
But his father refuses and says, ‘I know, my son, I know,
he also will become a people and be great,
but his younger brother will be greater than he,
and his offspring shall equal the fullness of nations.’”
(Genesis 48:17-19) 

When Jacob places his right hand on the head of Ephraim to bless him, Joseph tries to move it to Manasseh, the first-born (Genesis 48:17).  On this Rabbi Berechya commented: The hand that wrestled with God’s angel (cf. Genesis 32:25-26) you would try to deflect?!

Jacob refuses to move his hand and says, “I know, my son, I know…” (Genesis 48:19).  Why does Jacob say “I know” twice?  “I know” that which you do not know, such as the incidents of Reuben and Bilhah (cf. Genesis 35:16-22) and of Judah and Tamar (cf. Genesis 38:1-30), so how much the moreso do “I know” that which you do know, such as the status of Manasseh and Ephraim!

Jacob explains to Joseph that Manasseh also will become a great people
but that his younger brother Ephraim will become greater than he
and that his offspring will equal the fullness of nations (Genesis 48:19).
How could Ephraim’s offspring equal the fullness of nations?
This would be Joshua, from the tribe of Ephraim,
when he led Israel against the Amorites:
He bid the sun stand still at Gibeon and the moon in the Valley of Aijalon
so that Israel could avenge the Amorite foe before the daylight was gone,
an unprecedented miracle (cf. Joshua 10:12-15),
which no other nation would enjoy
and making Joshua “equal the fullness of nations.”

The Torah narrates the beginning of Egyptian oppression at the beginning of next week’s Sedra Shemot, the beginning of the Book of Exodus: “Now there arises a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph…” (Exodus 1:8 ff.).  So we might have considered the prologue of Egyptian oppression to begin with the death of Joseph.  What Rashi recognizes is the beginning of deterioration before its victims realize it.  There is no break between the beginning of our Sedra and what preceded it because, according to the Midrash, the Children of Israel did not perceive any change in their condition when their father Jacob departed their world.  Apparently they thought of themselves as continuing to live in their father Jacob’s world or at least under the continued protection of Joseph.  It is difficult for us to imagine, from this ancient story, what they could have done if they had recognized early warning signs of an oncoming oppression.  But the question is certainly relevant for modern European history, maybe also American history.

Ultimately the Book of Exodus will make it painfully clear how Joseph’s passing destabilized the political conditions of Jacob’s descendants.  But the Midrash tries to show that father Jacob’s death was the real beginning of the end.  With the removal of Jacob came the detachment of family bonds and the evisceration of ancestral values.  This is related as a generational clash between Joseph and his father.  When Joseph tries to move Jacob’s hand from Ephraim to Manasseh, Joseph is seeing things as they apparently are and as his generation sees them: a first-born is entitled to the primary blessing.  Jacob, on the other hand, sees things as they should be or could be, as they were, in fact, with Sarah and Hagar, with Isaac and Ishmael, with Jacob and Esau, with Rachel and Leah, not to mention with Joseph vs. his older brothers.  Joseph is the great foil here, as he misses all of this.  Notwithstanding his father’s limitless patience and affection, Joseph is prepared, benignly, to cast the family jewel aside, possibly because he missed the fatherly nurture of young adulthood (similar to today’s post-bar/bat mitzvah alienation from synagogue influence).  This is brought out elegantly by Rabbi Berechya: Remember where your father’s hand has been and what it has done!  It once wrestled with an angel of God, and you would shunt it aside?  Now, with Jacob gone, where can we find the hand that wrestled with God?  Where can we find the grandfather who draws down ancestral visions for his grandchildren?  Where can we find the prophet who sees history into the future?

Yalkut Shimoni II:169
Death of the Righteous: Endurance and Humility

“The days of David
drew near to die…”
(I Kings 2:1)

But do “the days” die?  Said Rabbi Samuel bar Nachmani: When the righteous die, their days are expired, but they (the righteous) live on.

This can be understood in the psalmist’s words:

“Let the faithful rejoice in glory;
let them sing for joy upon their couches,
joyful songs for God in their throats…”
(Psalms 149:5-6a)

The righteous shall rejoice in glory;
they shall sing for joy upon their graves…

Thus does the Psalmist confirm that even in their death, “upon their graves,” they sing “joyful songs in their throats” to the Holy One, blessed be He!

And in the words of the sage as well:

“One who is connected to all of the living
may feel secure for a time…
but the living know that they shall die…”
(Ecclesiastes 9:4-5a)

Who is linked with the living?
One who has security…
while the (other) living know that they shall die!

Those who have securityare the righteous, who may be confident, for even in their death they are called “the living!”

And consider the case of Benaiah, who served both David and Solomon:

“Benaiah son of Yehoyada son of a living man…
a brave soldier, abundant in great deeds…”
(II Samuel 23:20a)

Was only “Benaiah son of Yehoyada son of a living man” while all others were sons of the dead?  Of course not; rather, he was the son of a man who, even in his death, was called “living!”

“The days of David
drew near to die…”
(I Kings 2:1)

But why not
“The days of King David?”

In order to uphold:
“No man…has authority
over the day of death!”
(Ecclesiastes 8:8)

Jacob also, when he was about to die,
humbled himself before Joseph:
“If I have found favor in your eyes…
bury me not in Egypt!”
(Genesis 47:29)

Said Rabbi Joshua of Sichnin in the name of Rabbi Levi:
When Moses was about to die,
the trumpets that he made in the wilderness
were hidden by the Holy One, blessed be He,
so that another could not blow them
and cause the people to depart from Moses:
“He charged Joshua son of Nun and said,
‘Be strong and courageous,
for you shall bring the Children of Israel
to the Land which I have promised to them,
and I shall be with you…’
‘Assemble to me all the chiefs of your tribes…
that I may speak these words in their ears…
for I know that after my death
you will surely corrupt yourselves…’”
(Deuteronomy 31:23-29)

Similarly,
when David was about to die,
“He charged Solomon his son,
‘I go the way of all the earth,
so you be strong
and make yourself a man!’”
(I Kings 2:2)

Genesis Rabbah 65:9
Blessings!

“Joseph is told that his father is ill.
He takes with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim,
and is announced to Jacob.
Israel gathers his strength and sits up in bed…
and Jacob summons his sons:
‘Gather and listen, O sons of Jacob;
listen to Israel, your father;
I shall tell you of your future.’”
(Genesis 48:1-2; 49:1-2)

Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Simone taught:

Abraham asked for old age:  Master of the universe, when a man and his son come in to a place where they are not known, the people of the place know not whom to honor, the father or the son, because You have not crowned the father with old age.  The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: You have made a good request, and from you shall it begin!  From the beginning of the Torah to here, there is no mention of “old age,” but here, in response to Abraham’s request, He granted him old age: “Abraham was old, advanced in years, and the Eternal blessed Abraham in everything” (Genesis 24:1).  Old age was part of Abraham’s blessing!

Isaac asked for afflictions:  Master of the universe, when a person dies without suffering, judgment is aimed against him.  But if You would attach suffering to death, a man could use suffering as a means of atonement before death and thus avert the judgment that would otherwise await him. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: You have made a good request, and from you shall it begin!  From the beginning of the Torah to here, there is no mention of afflictions, but here, in response to Isaac’s request, He granted him affliction before death: “As Isaac grew old, his eyes were dimmed from seeing…”(Genesis 27:1), then “Isaac dies and is gathered to his people, old and satisfied with his days…” (Genesis 35:29).  His affliction is part of the satisfaction of his old age!

Jacob asked for a final illness:  Master of the universe, when a person dies without the prelude of a final illness, he has no time to gather his children around his death bed.  But if a few days of illness were to precede his death, he would have time to gather his children and resolve his testament for them.  The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: You have made a good request, and from you shall it begin: “The days of Israel drew near for him to die…and Jacob sent word to his sons: ‘Gather around and I shall tell you what will befall you in the end of days” (Genesis 47:29; 49:1).  “When Jacob had finished providing testaments for his sons, he gathered his feet upon the bed, he expired and was gathered to his people” (ibid. 49:33).  Thus Jacob died in his final illness, allowing for his final testament!

Rabbi Levi added to the teaching:

Abraham initiated old age, Isaac initiated affliction, and Jacob initiated final illness.  But King Hezekiah initiated illness that could be followed by health.  If You allow healing after illness, he argued, however many times, a man may repent of his sins.  The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: You have made a good request, and from you shall it begin: “A letter to Hezekiah, king of Judah: Although he is sick, he shall recover from his illness” (Isaiah 38:9).  “Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Eternal: Consider how I walk before You in truth and with a perfect heart, doing that which is good in Your eyes; and he wept with great feeling” (Isaiah 38:2-3).

Genesis Rabbah 98:3
Origin of the Shema

“Jacob called to his sons and said:
‘Gather yourselves together
and hear [shim’u], O sons of Jacob,
and listen [shim’u] to [el] Israel your father!’”
(Genesis 49:1-2)

Elazar ben Achuy taught:  This was the origin of the daily recitation of Shema.  At that hour, when Jacob’s death was imminent, he called to his twelve sons.  “Listen [shim’u], is the God [El] of Israel your Father?  Or do you have some objection to accepting the Holy One, blessed be He?”  They said to him: “Listen/hear [Shema], O Israel [Yisrael],” our father, just as you harbor no objection to accepting the Holy One, blessed be He, so have we no objection; rather, “the Eternal [Adonai] is our God [Eloheinu], the Eternal [Adonai] without objection [Echad]” (Deuteronomy 6:4)!  At that he opened his lips and recited in gratitude, “Blessed [Baruch] is His majestic glorious Name [Shem K’vod Malchuto] forever and ever [l’olam va-ed] (an embellished form of the more basic expression of gratitude, Baruch haShem, “Blessed is the Name” where “Name” [Shem] is a respectful euphemism for “the Eternal One” Itself).  Jacob was expressing his gratitude to the Eternal One Itself, or he is being depicted as reciting the later Rabbinic response to hearing the divine Name Adonai pronounced as it is in the Shema originated by his sons as founders of the tribes of Israel—or both!

Rabbi Berechia and Rabbi Chelbo added in the name of Rabbi Samuel:  Those are the same words that Israel recite every day, morning and evening, to wit, “Hear, O Israel our father from the Cave of Machpelah, the same that you endorsed (by your response) is still our practice: The Eternal is our God, the Eternal without objection!”

Note: One of the contributions of this Midrash is to explain the meaning of Echad, the last word of the Shema, usually translated “One.”  Here it seems to be used as the reassuring answer to Jacob’s query, “Or do you have some machloket (difficulty or objection)…?”  The tribes’ answer is: Echad (“No, we have no machloket”)!  Echad is used to mean “it is all one,” “one and the same,” “without distinction,” in Genesis 40:5, Job 9:22 and 31:15, so here it may be understood as “no matter what” and as a direct response to Jacob their father, “without objection!”

Genesis Rabbah 82:10
“Rachel weeps for her children”

“When I was returning from Paddan,
Rachel died on me in the land of Canaan,
a little before arriving in Ephrath.
I buried her there, on the road to Ephrath,
which is Bethlehem. (Cf. Genesis 35:16-20)”
(Genesis 48:7)

Why did our father Jacob bury Rachel on the road to Ephrath?  Jacob our father foresaw that the exiles from Jerusalem would pass by there, therefore he buried her there so that she could plead for mercy on their behalf.  That is what is written: “A voice is heard in Ramah—lamentation, bitter weeping—Rachel is weeping for her children.” (Jeremiah 31:14)

Genesis Rabbah 97:1
No Lack of Blessing

“Jacob blesses Joseph…”
(Genesis 48:15)

“The poor is disdained even by his neighbor,
while the friends of the rich are many.”
(Proverbs 14:20)

Said Rabbi Azariah: When Jacob our father blessed Joseph, he emerged with glowing mien.  The other sons, noting their father’s special joy, complained: So it is with all before the dominant; because Joseph is the ruler, Jacob stands with those who stand over him!

Jacob answered them: No, our practice is different.  “Fear the Eternal, O His holy ones, as there is no lack for those who fear Him.” (Psalms 34:10)  “There is no lack,” my blessing shall be sufficient for everyone!

Zohar I:235b
Unconditional Love

“Reuben, you are my firstborn, my first strength,
the highest of bearing,
the highest of power;
impetuous as water,
you shall not remain high
because you mounted your father’s bed and defiled it,
he mounted my couch!” (Cf. Genesis 35:16-22)
(Genesis 49:3-4)

Reuben was the firstborn of Jacob.  Rabbi Chiya taught: At first it all belonged to him—Kingship [“highest of power”], Birthright [“my firstborn”], and Priesthood [“highest of bearing”]—but then they were all taken away from him, and Kingship was given to Judah (King David was a descendant of Judah, cf. Ruth 4:12ff.), Birthright to Joseph (cf. I Chronicles 5:1), and Priesthood to Levi (cf. Deuteronomy 10:8-9; 33:8-11).  That is what is meant by “you shall not remain high [totar]”: You shall not remain [tivater] in those offices!  With what was left—“my first strength”—Jacob blessed him and referred to him before the Holy One, blessed be He.

This may be compared to the king’s attendant whose son happens to be visible to them in the marketplace, whereupon the attendant says to the king, “That is my son, my deeply beloved son!”  That is all he says, but the king understands that his attendant is asking him to show favor to his son.  So was Jacob, when he said, “You are my first strength,” merely mentioning him to the King but asking the King to show him favor.

Genesis Rabbah 96:5
Burial of the Righteous

“Israel…summons his son Joseph and says to him…
‘Act towards me in lovingkindness and truth:
Do not bury me in Egypt!’”
(Genesis 47:29)

Why did he qualify “lovingkindness” as associated with “truth?”  Is there a lovingkindness of falsehood?!  Yes, this is expressed in a crude, common proverb: “If the son of your friend dies, carry him; but if it is your friend who dies, let go!”  Participate in mourning for your friend’s son with the hope that your friend will repay you in some way.  Whereas, if you participate in mourning for your friend, his son, not having the relationship with you that his father had, will not reward you.  Notwithstanding the common attitude, Jacob encouraged Joseph to show him true lovingkindness: If you perform this deed for me after my death, when I will not be able to repay you, that will be chesed shel emet, the truest lovingkindness a person can perform.

Why did Israel tell Joseph, “Do not bury me in Egypt?” Because, he reasoned, “I went down to Egypt for you,” and, upon seeing Joseph and discovering that he was alive, he said to his son, “Let me die now!” (Genesis 46:30) So, if Israel were to die in Egypt, it would be as if Joseph had caused his death.  Moreover, for the same reasons, Joseph owed his father this favor.

Another possible reason is that Israel was afraid that the Egyptians would worship him as an idol as long as his burial place was in their midst.  For not only are idolators culpable, but the idols are, too, as God would tell Moses, “I will exact judgment against all of the gods of Egypt!” (Exodus 12:12) Thus, when “King Nebuchadnezzar bowed down and offered sacrifices” to Daniel (Daniel 2:46), Daniel did not accept them, because just as the idolators are punished, so is the idol.

Another interpretation:  Jacob did not want the Egyptians “to redeem through me.”  For they worship the lamb, and Jacob has been likened to a lamb, as the prophet said, “Israel is a scattered lamb” (Jeremiah 50:17).  How do the Egyptians come to worship the lamb?  “Their organs are of the flesh of asses” (Ezekiel 23:20), and the Torah provides, “The first issue of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb” (Exodus 34:20)!  Hence, “Do not bury me in Egypt!”

Why do our fathers prefer and encourage burial in the Land of Israel?  Rabbi Joshua ben Levi cited the verse, “I shall go about before the Eternal in the Land of the living!” (Psalms 116:9) Our Rabbis related the teaching of Rabbi Chelbo:  Why do our fathers prefer and encourage burial in the Land of Israel? Because the dead of the Land of Israel come to life first in the days of the messiah and enjoy those messianic years.  Moreover, Rabbi Chanina teaches that whoever dies outside of the Land and is buried there faces two deaths, as described in the prophecy against Pashchur and his associates: “You shall go into captivity and you shall come to Babylonia; there shall you die and there shall you be buried” (Jeremiah 20:6).

But what about the righteous who are buried outside of Israel?  Do they also lose the advantages of those who are buried in the Land of Israel?  Said Rabbi Simon: No, the Holy One blessed be He makes caves for them in the form of tunnels through which they roll until they reach the Land of Israel, at which point the Holy One, blessed be He, instills into them the breath of life, and they arise.  Whence do we know this?  “Behold, I shall open your graves and raise you up from your graves, O My people, and I shall bring you to the Land of Israel…I shall place My breath in you, and you shall live!” (Ezekiel 37:12,14)  Resh Lakish pointed to the verse that makes clear that when they arrive in the Land of Israel, the Holy One, blessed be He, gives them neshama, a living spirit: “He gives neshama to the people upon it and ruach (breath, living spirit) to those who move inside it!” (Isaiah 42:5)

An incident is related in which Rabbi Barkirya and Rabbi Elazar were walking on the outskirts of Tiberias, and they saw there the coffin of a deceased person which had been brought from outside of the Land to be buried in Israel.  Said Rabbi Barkirya to Rabbi Elazar: What good does it do that his soul departed outside of the Land and then came to be buried in the Land of Israel?! I would apply to him the prophecy, “You turned My heritage into an abomination” (Jeremiah 2:7) while you were alive, “then you came and defiled My Land” (ibid.) in your death!  Rabbi Elazar responded: Because he is being buried in the Land of Israel, the Holy One, blessed be He, provides expiation for him, which is written, “His Land will expiate His people” (Deuteronomy 32:43).

When Rabbi Yochanan was departing from the world, he said to those who would attend to his body: Bury me in garments colored scarlet, neither white nor black, so that if I rise up among the righteous, there will be no embarrassment, and if I rise up among the wicked, there will be no shame.  When Rabbi Yoshia was departing from the world, he called for his students and said to them: Bury me in white garments because my deeds cause me no embarrassment to meet my Creator.

When Rabbenu (Rabbi Judah Hanasi) was departing from the world, he left three instructions: Do not evict my widow, do not eulogize me in the cities of the Land of Israel, and allow only those who attended me in my life to attend me in my death.  In his life he lived in Sepphoris for 17 years, and he matched to himself the verse as follows, “’Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years’ (Genesis 47:28), and Judah lived in Sepphoris for 17 years!”

During the first 13 of those years he suffered from dental problems.  But also, during those 13 years, no pregnant woman in the Land of Israel died, and no woman miscarried in the Land of Israel.  At the end of those 13 years Rabbenu became angry at Rabbi Chiya Hagadol.  Eliahu, remembered for good, came in to Rabbenu in the guise of Rabbi Chiya and put his hand upon his tooth, whereupon he was healed.  On the next day Rabbi Chiya visited him and asked him about his tooth.  “From the moment that you placed your hand upon it yesterday,” Rabbenu answered, “it was healed!”  At that moment Rabbi Chiya exclaimed: Woe unto you, O pregnant women in the Land of Israel! Woe unto you, O unborn children in the Land of Israel!  And he troubled to add: It was not I who placed my hand upon your tooth!  Rabbenu realized that Eliahu, remembered for good, was the one.  From that time he began to treat Rabbi Chiya with respect.

Genesis Rabbah 72:5
Zohar I:241b-242a
The World to Come in This World

From Sedra Vayetze
Genesis 30:14-20

During the wheat harvest, Reuben finds love-mandrakes in the field and brings them to Leah, his mother.   Rachel asks Leah for some of them.  “Was it not enough for you to take my husband,” replies Leah, “that you would also take my son’s love-mandrakes?”  Rachel offers Jacob to Leah, to “sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s love-mandrakes.”  So, as Jacob is returning from the field in the evening, Leah goes out to meet him: “You are coming to me, because I have hired you with my son’s love-mandrakes.”  He sleeps with her that night, and God pays heed to Leah:

Leah conceives and bears a fifth son to Jacob.  She names him Issachar (“He provides a reward”), thinking, “God has granted my reward for my giving my maidservant to my husband.”

Leah conceives again and bears a sixth son to Jacob.  She names him Zebulun (“Honor”), thinking, “God has bestowed a wonderful gift upon me; now my husband will honor me for having borne six sons to him.”

Said Rabbi Yehudah:  Issachar and Zebulun entered into an agreement between them.  One would sit and engage in Torah, and the other would go out and engage in trade.  The trader would support the scholar, as is written: “Its supporters are happy!” (Proverbs 3:18)

Rabbi Levi observed: “How pleasing was the role of the love-mandrakes before the One who spoke and the world was created, for through the agency of the love-mandrakes two tribes arose in Israel: Issachar and Zebulun!  Issachar sits and occupies himself in the study of Torah.  Zebulun travels upon the seas and returns to provide Issachar food in his mouth.  Thereby is Torah made great in Israel, as was said, “The mandrakes yield a fragrance!” (Song of Songs 7:14)

Issachar was the fifth son, and Zebulun was the sixth.
Yet, when Jacob blessed them, he put Zebulun first:

“Zebulun shall dwell
by the shore of the seas…”
(Genesis 49:13)

“Issachar…stays at home…”
(Genesis 49:14)

In the same order did Moses bless them:

“Be happy, O Zebulun,
in your going out,
and Issachar,
in your tents!
They invite their fellow tribes
to the mountain,
where they offer
sacrifices of righteousness,
enjoying the seas’ abundance
and those that are hidden
in the sand.”
(Deuteronomy 33:18-19)

Rabbi Bun asked why both Jacob and Moses blessed Zebulun before Issachar, especially considering that Issachar engaged in Torah, and Torah always comes first!  This is how he answered the question:  Zebulun deserved to be mentioned first because he took food out of his own mouth, as it were, and put it into the mouth of Issachar.  From this we learn that whoever supports a Torah scholar receives blessings from above and from below.  And he earns the merit of two tables, unlike any other type of person:  He merits the wealth with which he is blessed in this world, and at the same time he earns a portion in the world to come.  That is the meaning of his father’s blessing:

“Zebulun shall dwell
by the shore of the seas,
a port for ships…”
(Genesis 49:13)

Since he already said,
“by the shore of the seas,”
what need is there to add,
“a port for ships?”

“Zebulun shall dwell
by the shore of the seas
refers to this world.
To say that his dwelling
shall also be
“a port for ships”
is the Torah’s esoteric way (sod)
of referring to the world to come.

Applying the otherwise redundant clause that Zebulun shall dwell as “a port for ships” to the world to come is based upon Psalms 104:25-26, “There is the sea, great and wide, there are its innumerable creatures, both small and large, there go ships, and Leviathan whom You made to play with,” which reflects such other-worldly abundance as exists in the world to come!

SHABBAT SHALOM!

Copyright © 2020 Eric H. Hoffman


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