This week's Parshat VAYECHI is the final portion in the Book of Genesis, and comprises Genesis 47:28–50:26. 

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 Here are some issues that have caught my eye:



1.What is the significance of swearing an oath by placing your hands beneath a person’s “privates”?

 Jacob says to Joseph (47:29):

כטוַיִּקְרְב֣וּ יְמֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֘ לָמוּת֒ וַיִּקְרָ֣א | לִבְנ֣וֹ לְיוֹסֵ֗ף וַיֹּ֤אמֶר לוֹ֙ אִם־נָ֨א מָצָ֤אתִי חֵן֙ בְּעֵינֶ֔יךָ שִֽׂים־נָ֥א יָֽדְךָ֖ תַּ֣חַת יְרֵכִ֑י וְעָשִׂ֤יתָ עִמָּדִי֙ חֶ֣סֶד וֶֽאֱמֶ֔ת אַל־נָ֥א תִקְבְּרֵ֖נִי בְּמִצְרָֽיִם



29.When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, "If I have now found favor in your eyes, now place your hand beneath יְרֵכִ֑י, and you shall deal with me with loving kindness and truth; do not bury me now in Egypt.

The question is what is the meaning and significance of יְרֵכִ֑י?  Some translate it euphemistically as my thigh or loins.

 Rabbi Eric Levy translates ירך as privates or the place of the circumcision...hardly politically correct in today's times.  I can not imagine asking my son to swear an oath (if at all) in this manner.  As to my daughters, it goes beyond creepy.  So what's going on?

 Firstly, it is in Jacob's eyes a very serious request that has to be affirmed in a very serious manner.   Jacob is not able to have Joseph swear on a stack of bibles or on one bible as done today in courts of law in the USA.  The brit milah is the seal of an agreement between Hashem and us.  In contract law, a seal traditionally served to impress upon the parties the significance of the agreement being made.  Jacob, like his grandfather Abraham before him was working with what he got, and Joseph was savvy enough to recognize and acknowledge this fact.

 

2. Are Joseph’s two sons Egyptians or do they have the potential to become Israelites?

 Jacob is on his last legs.  Joseph brings his two sons to Jacob to see their grandfather.  Jacob says (47:8):

  וַיַּ֥רְא יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יוֹסֵ֑ף וַיֹּ֖אמֶר מִי־אֵֽלֶּה

Then Israel saw Joseph's sons, and he said, "Who are these?"

 What Jacob is asking is whether or not these boys are Egyptian or will they be Jews (Israelites).  Joseph answers positively, and Jacob takes them for himself and gives them a blessing.

Because Jacob takes Joseph’s boys, Menachem and Ephraim as his own, he is granting them tribal status, in fact he is giving a double portion to Joseph.  A double portion goes to the first born, and Joseph is the first born child, the bechor, of Rachel.  Reuven on the other hand, the first born of Leah, lost his bechor status for inappropriate behavior.


 

3. How did the blessings given to Joseph’s sons turn out?

 Joseph objects to Jacob's placing of the hands and the subsequent bechor, first born, blessing given to the younger son Ephraim and not to Menashe (48:17-18). 

 But Jacob mollifies him:

“He said, "I know, my son, I know; he (Menashe) too will become a people, and he too will be great. But his younger brother (Ephraim) will be greater than he, and his children will fill the nations."

 Subsequently it would appear that it was Menashe and not Ephraim who did indeed receive the blessing: the Tribe of Menashe was the one that had a population explosion.  They grew 60% in one generation and were second only to Judah in population.  Menashe was aggressive and successful in battle in the future land of Israel under their leader Machir.  And it was Menashe that received a double portion of tribal land on both sides of the Jordan.  It was the Tribe of Ephraim that whined to Joshua that their portion was too small for their population.

 However, after the death of King Solomon it was the Tribe of Ephraim who rebelled and established their own kingdom, the Northern Kingdom of Israel (the ten Tribes).  And just maybe because of the Northern Kingdom’s defeat and resultant dispersion by the Assyrian Empire did Ephraim actually “fill the Nations”.

 

4. What are two important lesson in Parshat Vayechi that are applicable for Jews today?

A. Jacob commands his sons to bury him in the double cave purchased by Abraham from Ephron the Hittite (49:29-33). The description of the burial place is specific and exhaustive. There is no doubt as to its location, the lesson being that it belonged to us then; it belongs to us now and it will always belong to us. We are talking about Hevron, where between 500-850 Jewish Israeli citizens live, and who are surrounded by 200,000 Muslim Arabs. Despite the condemnation of International bodies, Arab peoples and Leftist whining, there is no question as to our right to right to live there, and so we are.

B. Upon his death, Jacob undergoes the Egyptian embalming process (50:2-3), something that is antithetical and abhorrent to Jewish death and burial practice today. The lesson is that when a Jew is living outside the Land of Israel, he willfully or by osmosis will absorb the customs of his non-Jewish friends, family and neighbors. An example of one such custom, although lovely, is to exchange gifts at Chanukah time. I'm not playing at holier than thou. The custom is overpowering and most of us have done it, perhaps using blue wrapping paper instead of red, but it is not something for us. Come to Israel and you can forget this foreign tradition.

 

Chazak, Chazak v'Nitchazek


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