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Daf HaShavuah: Vayechi

Jacob is ill, and Joseph takes his two sons and visits his ailing father. Jacob tells Joseph that he wants to claim Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own, because of Rachel’s early demise. Joseph brings them to his father’s bedside, and Jacob embraces the boys, telling Joseph, “I never expected to see you again, and here God has let me see your children as well”.

He then crosses his arms, blessing the eldest with his left hand and the younger with the right. When Joseph tries to correct him, Jacob insists, saying that the younger brother shall be greater than he. Jacob blesses the boys saying: “By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh”. Jewish parents use this same blessing for their sons to this day.

Jacob then summons his sons, and offers them each a blessing in one of the Bible’s finest poems. In his blessings, he does not omit areas of disappointment, such as Reuben sleeping with his concubine, or Simeon and Levi’s violence against the residents of Shechem. Jacob assigns sovereignty to Judah, “the sceptre shall not depart from Judah”, and interrupts his message to his sons to exclaim: “I wait for your deliverance, the Eternal One”.

Jacob concludes by asking to be buried with Abraham and Isaac in the Cave of Machpelah. When he dies, Joseph gets permission from Pharaoh to bury his father in Canaan, which he does with the entire court, and there he observes Shiva, the traditional seven days of mourning. Afterward, the brothers fear that Joseph will seek retribution, but he tells them: “Am I a substitute for God?” and assures them that they need not fear him.

Joseph lives to be 110 years old. Prior to this death, he extracted a promise from the Israelites that they are to carry his bones from Egypt and bury him in Eretz Yisrael, when God brings them up from Egypt to the land promised to them.

Unlike the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), Joseph is buried in a coffin, following Egyptian custom.

Questions for discussion

1- Why do you think that the prevalence of younger brothers over the oldest (as was the accepted custom) is such a recurrent theme in the Torah?

2- Can a blessing include a rebuke at the same time?

3- The Talmud says that Joseph, one of the younger brothers, was the first of the brothers to die on account of his arrogance and taking power for himself. What do you think of this?

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