PARASHAT VAYECHI Rabbi Fishel Todd
THE TEXT OF PARASHAT VAYECHI…
Who said to whom, and in what circumstances?
(a) I will do as you say.
(b) Who are these?
(c) May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menasseh.
(d) Judah is a lion cub.
(e) G-d, I long for your salvation!
(f) I will go up… and bury my father.
(g) Am I in the place of G-d?
(h) G-d will certainly remember you and bring you… to the Land that He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
…AND THE TEXT OF HAFTARAT PARASAT VAYECHI
(i) Be strong, and become a man!
(j) You shall act according to your wisdom.
Rabbi Fishel Todd ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT OF PARASHAT VAYECHI…
(a) Joseph to his father Jacob (48:30), agreeing to ensure that his burial would not be in Egypt, but in the Patriarchal tomb in the Holy Land.
(b) These are the words Jacob exclaimed in Joseph’s presence when he set eyes on Ephraim and Menasseh (49:8) in his old age.
(c) Jacob, in blessing his grandsons, Ephraim and Menasseh (48:20) – initiating the text henceforth used for giving blessings.
(d) Jacob, in blessing his son Judah (49:9) with powers of leadership before his death.
(e) Jacob, in blessing his son, Dan (49:18). [Commentators read in this a reference to the last recorded words of Samson, one of his descendants, as he brought down the temple of Dagon on the Philistines, crushing himself in the process.] (Judges 16:28)
(f) Joseph to Pharaoh (50:5), in persuading him to let him leave Egypt temporarily to bury his father Jacob in the family tomb in the Holy Land.
(g) Joseph to his brothers following their father’s death (50:19), after they begged his forgiveness for grievously wronging him.
(h) Joseph to his brothers on his death bed – reminding them that the Israelites’ permanent home was the Holy Land and that their presence in Egypt was to be only a temporary phenomenon. (50:24)
…AND TO QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT OF HAFTARAT PARASHAT VAYECHI Rabbi Fishel Todd
(i) King David, in his final words to his son and successor, Solomon (Kings I 2:2).
(j) King David to Solomon (Kings I 2:6), in the same circumstances as above. ‘You shall act according to your wisdom’ refers to his impetuous commander, Joab, who needlessly put to death two people who, by the time they were murdered, were David’s close allies: Avner (Samuel II 3:27) and Amasa (ibid. 20:10). David had not succeeded in catching up with him in his own lifetime – he left that to his son, Solomon. (See Kings I 2:34)
RASHI ON PARASHAT VAYECHI
From where, according to Rashi’s commentary, may the following be deduced?
(a) ‘Bow down to the fox when he has his hour.’ (There are times when a great person should show respect to an inferior person)
(b) The Shechina (Divine Presence) is always above the head of a sick person.
(c) Express severe criticism by condemning the wrong specific act: do not assassinate the general character of the wrongdoer.
(d) Both those that learn Torah and those who support Torah have great merit: indeed one activity complements the other. (e) One may tell untruths to promote family harmony.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON RASHI ON PARASHAT VAYECHI
(a) The text states that Jacob bowed down to his son Joseph after he agreed on oath (47:31) to promote his burial in the Holy Land. Although Joseph was only the ‘fox’ – the Patriarch’s son, he was unique in having the political key to obtain permission to leave Egypt for that purpose. (Talmud: Megillah 16b)
(b) From the same verse as above – ‘Jacob bowed down at the head of the bed’ (47:31). According to this explanation, he did not bow down to his son Joseph per se, but to the Divine Presence in the vicinity. On that, the Talmud pins the tradition that the Shechina (Divine Presence) is always above the head of a sick person. (Shabbat 12b)
(c) When Jacob sharply rebuked his sons Simeon and Levy for their impetuousness in killing the people of Shechem over the rape of Dinah, he cursed only their anger (49:7), without assassinating their personalities as people.
(d) Rashi explains Jacob’s cryptic blessings to Zebulun and Issachar as stating that the former’s forte would be in business and trade, whilst the latter’s would be in studying Torah and spiritual leadership (49:13-14). Their working in partnership together (c.f. Deut. 33:18) means that as Issachar has a share of Zebulun’s acquired wealth, Zebulun has a corresponding share in Issachar’s Torah study. That precedent sets the tone of the relationships between Torah institutions and their financial benefactors.
(e) After Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers feared that Joseph might use his political powers to avenge their treatment of him earlier in life. They approached Joseph telling him, by the command of their father (50:16), to forgive them. There is nothing on record in the text to state that Jacob gave any such order, but they invented it to prevent any future family trouble. (Gen. Rabbah 100:8)
OTHER COMMENTARIES ON PARASHAT VAYECHI – Rabbi Fishel Todd
1. Why, according to Hirsch, did Jacob insist on being buried in the Holy Land?
2. How, according to Abarbanel, may Jacob’s wish to transported for burial in Holy Land be reconciled with the stated tradition against such a practice? That tradition is recorded in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 111). It quotes Jeremiah 2:7: ‘You came and contaminated My Land and you made My inheritance as an abomination’. On that theme, R. Eleazar adds: ‘In your lives you did not go up – shall you come and contaminate My land in death?’
3. What is the significance, according to Rabbeinu Bachya, of all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet being used in Judah’s blessing except the letter ‘zayin’?
4. When, according to the Malbim, did the first phase of the Israelite servitude in Egypt begin?
5. Why, according to the Talmud (Sotah 13b), was Joseph’s place of burial in the Holy Land the city of Shechem? (Joshua 24:32)
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON OTHER COMMENTARIES ON PARASHAT VAYECHI.
1. Hirsch derives from the closing words of the previous Parasha (47:27) that the Israelites were feeling more and more settled in Egypt. They began to look to the Nile rather than to the Jordan. By insisting on being buried in the Holy Land, Jacob sought to demonstrate to his sons that Egypt was not the permanent home for the Israelites.
2. Abarbanel explains that only the corpses of the wicked contaminate the Holy Land. Insisting on being buried in Israel after constantly rejecting it and detesting it, and the Mitzvot, is the act of hypocrisy that ‘contaminates My Land’. However, Abarbanel stresses that people living worthy and upright lives deserve to have the merit of being buried in the Holy Land…
3. Rabbeinu Bachya points out that in blessing Judah, Jacob used all the letters except ‘zayin’. That is a hint that the future Israelite monarchy will not be based on ‘klei zayin’ – weapons, but on truth and justice. ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit,’ says G-d, the Lord of Hosts. (Zacharia 4:6)
4. According to the Malbim, the servitude in Egypt started at the time the adults left Egypt to bury Jacob, leaving the children behind (50:8). He deduces that the children had to remain as Pharaoh had specifically ordered that to be so. He did this to show the Israelites were not free agents. That is why Joseph had to assure his brothers (50:24) that G-d would remember them and (eventually) bring them out of Egypt to the Promised Land.
5. The Talmud states that Joseph was eventually buried in Shechem because his brother tribes wished to make amends for their ill-treatment of him in that very place, for it was in the Shechem area that they sold him.
ITEM FOR DISCUSSION Rabbi Fishel Todd
Following Rashi to 48:1, why did Jacob wish to reveal events of the future to his sons at the final stage of his life? And why, following Rashi’s commentary, should that prophecy have left Jacob’s mind at the moment he wished to do so?