Genesis 47:28 - 50:26   Notes  Lesson 12
Torah Portion  Vayechi

I. Read 47:28-31

 A. Jacob lived (yayechi). Again the words that precede the death of a patriarch or matriarch are that he/she lived. Why is that the case?

We think legacy. We thing meaning of the whole life. We think of how the children will carry on. Indeed we can think not only of the time Jacob lived in Egypt, or the time in Canaan, or even Haran but as well time eternal. He lives in our discussion today and beyond.

B. Look at pledge of "steadfast loyalty." What other translations do we have? It's chesed v'emet, or, as we view the phrase later, true kindness. We talk about the emphasis on kindness every time we encounter it in our study of the Bible (and it's often!). Why is the commitment Jacob seeks from Joseph called true kindness?

(Kindness in its highest form is a good deed for which no reciprocal favor or response is anticipated. This would be the case with tending to the needs of the dead. And it's reflective of the sort of characteristic of kindness at its best.)

C. Look at the idea of death as "lying down with one's fathers." We've talked about this before. It's obviously not about burial. He talks about a burial that will occur later. We'll not get into it here, but it's certainly suggestive of some condition after life, a notion of after-life. Recall the title of the portion - Jacob lives.

 II. Chapter 48

 A. Read 15-16. This is classic l'dor v'dor, from generation to generation. The God of my fathers was my God "from birth to this day," my shepherd, recalling the Angel who redeemed me from all harm. Bless the lads, and may my name and that of my fathers be recalled by them. 

What's going on here? 

(God can't do this for us. We must do it for Him, ourselves, and our descendants. God lives through us - from generation to generation. And it's our duty to bequeath to our children the faith that was given us and sustained us. 

Who's the Angel? And now Jacob sees the Angel as redeeming and keeping him from harm. Is this an angel when first on the road? The angel on the road back with whom he wrestled? Or a protecting angel during his life? Or a blur of them?

I think of my parents, Camille's father and mother, our children. I think of the young confirmands here, in the picture Charlene showed me a couple of weeks ago. This is l'dor v'dor - isn't it - our way of sustaining ourselves with God from generation to generation.)

B. (If time) Why does Jacob take the extra step of adopting these children?

(Because of their names, as we discussed a  couple of weeks ago, and the meaning they bring to people forever? Because they were apparently peace loving brothers? Because they represented children from Rachel and, out of his unresolved grief for her, a sense of additional children he'd hope to have had with her? Or a way of extending through the next generation, especially since these are children from the favored Joseph as well as his Egyptian born wife?)

III. On his death bed, Jacob calls the sons to tell them what will befall them (or the tribes?) in the future. Prophetic? Reflective of later tribal realities? Words designed to express concern, hope, chastisement regarding character that may prod, but actually not necessarily spell out destiny? Also, telling arc of story going backward and forward to redemption/kings/Messiah/eternal life?

Let's see, but let's do so in an interesting way. Let's compare what Jacob says here with what Moses says in the tribal blessings at the end of Deuteronomy. We won't look at all the sons and tribes, but let's do look at a few of the major characters with whom we've become acquainted in the drama we've studied. 

 A. Read 49:3-4. Reuben - unstable as water, you shall excel no longer (Jacob has a clear and bad memory of the violation with the concubine). 

Now read Deuteronomy 33:6. This seems consistent, no? No growth, disqualified for leadership. 

B. Now read 49:5-7. This pairs Simeon and Levi. What does it say about them? Virtually banished and scattered, not to be associated with Jacob.  Why is the judgment so harsh? How would you feel to have a parent say this to you on his/her death bed?

1. Look in chapter 33. What does Moses say to Simeon? (Nothing! He's gone!)

2. What does he say to Levi? (Deuteronomy 33:8-11). Wow - what a difference. What has happened here? Theories? Midrashim?

(Some of what was said of Levi came true. But the outcome is largely so different. How can it be explained? Levi, chastened, transforms, does remarkable teshuva out of being "scattered," turns to passion and zeal from wrath, service from anger, avodah as priestly service. Amazing transformation, model for all of us, as to how to redirect what we have and what we are within our character to serve rather than oppose God.) 

So, what do we take away from what Jacob is doing? What should we take away from any chastisement we get, from a parent or a friend or a loved one, especially when there's some truth behind it, even though it stings and may be extreme? What should we do?

C. Judah is extolled in both, predictably. 49:8-12 and Deuteronomy 33:7, though Jacob goes into far greater detail. Why do you think so?

(Judah played a saving role for Jacob and the family. It was near to Jacob. Don't we tend to elaborate and extend the praise the nearer we are to the good and powerful act?)

Judah grows, comes closer to God's expectations, compassion, healing, reconciliation. These are so key within the faith tradition it follows that the path to kings, David, the Messiah, eternal life would flow through the one with these characteristics. 

 D. Joseph - read Genesis 49:22-26. 

How many have the translation of "wild ass" in 40:22? Porat is fruitful. So, one read is "a fruitful son," though the words are so archaic together, some say bough, some say wild ass (based on pere and the pattern of animal allusions). Indeed Ramban says based on the Aramaic that it's graceful son. Isn't this great to have so many possibilities! One could go any or several of these verbal paths. 

Thoughts? Which is it for you?

(I have a sense with Joseph here of fruitfulness and security. Though he was attacked, he prevailed with the help of God.)

Joseph is blessed in the tradition of his fathers. This is a blessing beyond anything in the natural. It's a more profound notion of blessing. Look at 26: the blessing goes "to the utmost bounds of the eternal hills."  It points to that day in the prophetic vision of all mankind, all land being blessed by a coming to God; after life; in memory as well. 

Now read Deuteronomy 33:13-16. These ideas are echoed beautifully. A rich and bounteous blessing from God. With the best from the ancient mountains and the bounty of hills immemorial, with the favor of the Presence in the Bush. Wow. 

IV. Jacob and later Joseph die. (If there's time, discuss fully, or else just sum it.)

A. Let's focus on this fear of the brothers when Jacob dies that Joseph might turn back and enslave them, or worse. Read 50:15-21. What's this about?

(There must have been a bit unresolved in the reconciliation. Is any reconciliation ever fully complete? If not, what keeps it incomplete? Fear that there's a political or familial underpinning that, if taken away, could unravel it all? Other? What does Joseph say? What does it teach us? Isn't it a lesson that the great underpinning is not subject to human whim or will but rather that God expects and stands under and behind reconciliation. Indeed God intends it here, to save and actually to place the family in Egypt for a Divine end.  Perhaps there will be suffering, but later a far greater redemption, revelation, and covenant reality.)

B. Let's focus finally on Joseph's last days and death. Read 50:24-25. (If there's time...)

Joseph says: God will take notice and bring you out. Take my bones when you go. If there's time, ask: What do you make of this? 

(Have things deteriorated? Otherwise, wouldn't Joseph have been able to be taken and buried as Jacob was? Or was Joseph such a source of honor that the Egyptians would oppose his being taken out?  Or is it that Joseph's bones were meant to remain to be a responsibility or a duty to the saved remnant to feel obliged to carry as a part of going to the Land? At the least here, don't we have a premonition that there will be more "down" ahead before there is "up," even a big up?)

 V. Conclusion 

A. We are today completing our study of Genesis. Ramban, the great medieval sage, wrote the following upon concluding study of Beresheet. Let's read it and discuss briefly: (see the handout). 

B. In the Jewish faith, when we finish the reading of each of the 5 books, we recite a blessing in Hebrew. Here's what it is in English:

Be strong. Be strong. And may we be strengthened! Amen, Amen. 

Next week we're on to Exodus, better known in Hebrew as Sh'mot. And what a journey it will be. 

By the way - in Hebrew Sh'mot means "Names", not "Exodus". We will get into names next week! See you Sunday. 

Torah Portion  Vayechi          Genesis 47:28 - 50:26