December 25-26, 2015 – 14 Tevet 5776
Annual (Genesis 47:28-50:26): Etz Hayim p. 293; Hertz p. 180
Triennial (Genesis 49:27-50:26): Etz Hayim p. 305; Hertz p. 187
Haftarah (1 Kings 2:1-12): Etz Hayim, p. 313; Hertz p. 191
Thinking for Posterity
By Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, CY Faculty and visiting Rabbi at Moriah Congregation, Deerfield, Illinois
Parshat Vayehi portrays the last days of our patriarch Jacob, otherwise known as Israel, the father of the twelve tribes. While on his deathbed surrounded by his children, Jacob opened his address to his children with these words: “Shimu el Yisrael Avichem- Hearken to Israel your father” (49:2).
The plain meaning of these words seems straightforward. Jacob wanted his children’s attention before delivering to them their blessings. One rabbinic midrash, however, read this verse “creatively” taking the word “el” which means “to”, instead as “E-l”, one of the names of God. This verse would then be rendered: “Hearken, the God of Israel is your Father.” This reading provided an opportunity to fashion the following representation of Jacob’s final meeting with his children:
Eleazar ben Ahavei said: From here [we learn that] Israel merited the privilege of reciting the ‘Shma’. When the Patriarch Jacob was departing from the world, he called his twelve sons and said to them: ‘Hearken, is the God of Israel in heaven your Father? Maybe in your hearts you doubt the Holy One, blessed be He?’ They replied [taken aback by their father’s doubts regarding their loyalty to God]: ’Hear, O Israel’ (Deuteronomy 6:4) [our father]’, just as there is no doubt in your heart regarding God, so, too, there is none in our hearts, rather ’The Lord is our God, the Lord is One’ (ibid). To this Jacob responded in a whisper: ‘Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.’ Rabbi Berehiah and Rabbi Helbo said in Rabbi Samuel’s name: As a result of this episode, Jews declare each day, morning and evening, ‘”Hear, O Israel” [Jacob], our ancestor who is buried in the cave of Machpelah: what you have commanded us we still practice, for ‘The Lord is our God, the Lord is one’.” (Bereishit Rabbah 88:3)
This imaginative “rereading” of the biblical story gives an inspirational interpretation of the origins of our ritual reading of the Shma, particularly the refrain “Blessed be the name…” which is not found in the Torah. Our recitation of the Shma is now seen as the faithful response of Jacob’s children to their father who feared that his children were not loyal to his faith mission. It makes our recitation of the Shma a confirmation of our loyalty to the faith of our great forbearers, making us a great link in the chain of the tradition stemming all the way back to our forefather Jacob.
A Vort for Parshat Vayehi
By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
Jacob called his sons: “Gather yourselves together (he’asfu) and I will tell you (v’agida) what will be in the in the end of days (49:1).” Reading agida as aguda (a small vowel change in the Hebrew), Harav Mordechai Hakohen (20th C, Israel) suggests that Jacob’s intent was to “bind” the brothers (= the Jewish people) together, so they could face the world and the future united. The Shelah ha-Kadosh (R’ Isaiah Horovitz 1565 – 1630, Prague/Safed) said Jacob realized that the messianic “end of days” can only come when there is no longer hatred (sinat chinam) and division within the Jewish community.
By Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
Coming to a close, the book of Bereshit (Genesis) wraps up with the end of Jacob’s life, what happened to the family in that first generation, and the death of Joseph in Egypt.
1) Jacob expresses one wish before he dies. What is his wish and who will have to carry it out (47:29-31)? Why do you think that this is of great importance to Jacob?
2) Joseph is notified that his father is ill. He takes his 2 sons, Manasseh and Ephraim with him to his father. Why do you think that he brings his sons now? (48:1)
3) Manasseh and Ephraim are blessed by Jacob, whose eyes are ‘heavy from old age’ and he is unable to see. Joseph arranges his sons as is appropriate; Manasseh the older to the right of Jacob, and Ephraim the younger to his left. How does Jacob put his hands when he blesses them? Why? Why do you think that Joseph did not like this? (48:8-20)
* For those up to an extra challenge: Compare this blessing event with that of Isaac and Jacob/Esau in chapter 27. What has Jacob come to understand during his lifetime?
4) Before his death Jacob calls on his sons and gives them a glimpse of their futures. Let us look at his words to Judah (49:8-12): What animal symbolizes Judah? (Today this has become the symbol of the Jerusalem municipality. Why?) The territory of the tribe of Judah stretches from the Judean desert in the east to the low hills around Beit Shemesh; what
agriculture develops in these areas? Use 49:12 to help you. (King David was from the tribe of Judah. What was his profession?)
5) On his deathbed, Joseph does not ask to be taken for burial in the land of Canaan as his father, Jacob, did. Rather, he asks that when God ‘takes account of you’ and brings the family out of Egypt to the land He promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then shall they take Joseph’s bones with them. Why do you think that Joseph does not request to be buried in Canaan immediately?