Parashat Vayhi
January 13-14, 2017 – 16 Tevet 5777
Annual (Genesis 47:28-50:26): Etz Hayim p. 293-311; Hertz p. 180-191
Triennial (Genesis 47:28-48:22): Etz Hayim p. 293-298; Hertz p. 180-183
Haftarah (1 Kings 2:1-12): Etz Hayim p. 312-314; Hertz p. 191-192


Families as Complex Organisms
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty and Coordinator, Torah Sparks

Parashat Vayhi, “and Jacob lived,” closes the book of Bereishit and the lives of Jacob and his son Joseph.  Hayyei Sarah, seven weeks ago, was similar – another parashah with a title of life and a subject of death of two major figures – Sarah and Abraham.  Hayyei Sarah ended on a “happy” note; Isaac and Ishmael bury Abraham together, suggesting that they had reconciled their differences.

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” so begins Anna Karenina.  The sibling situation at the end of Vayhi is less idyllic; closer to Tolstoy.  On returning from Jacob’s funeral, the Torah tells us, When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said: “What if Joseph still hates us and pays us back for the wrong we did to him?” (50:15).  It’s a poignant moment – forty years after they had cast Joseph into the pit; seventeen years since they had been reunited in Egypt, the brothers are still worried and anxious.

What is it that “the brothers saw that their father was dead” that caused this angst?  Rashi brings the Midrash that Joseph no longer invited them to eat with him as he did when Yakov had been alive.  No big surprise here – how many families maintain the same degree of sibling cohesion after the parents are gone?

Another Midrash tells that on the way back from Jacob’s funeral in Hevron, Joseph “halach v’hetzitz betoch ha’bor” – he went to look into the pit into which he’d been cast four decades earlier.  The Midrash says he did it to thank God for the miraculous outcome of that incident.  But when the brothers saw Joseph looking into that pit, different thoughts ran through their minds: amru: lu yist’menu, maybe he’ll hate us. That’s not the childhood video they want to show at family gatherings. The heavy burden of deep-seated, unresolved guilt did not originate with Freud.

The saddest moment of this little episode is when the brothers say: ‘Before he died your father left this instruction: Forgive your brothers” (50:16-17).  Were they telling the truth?  Rashi says no, Jacob never gave such an instruction; shinu dvar mipnei ha’shalom – they told a lie for the sake of peace.  And most of the commentators agree.  It’s not such a strange human tendency – fudge the truth to improve relations or a situation.  We all do it.  “So good to see you again”… “such a delicious dinner.”

Yet there is data to suggest that, davka (indeed), it was true. Jacob knew very well of precedent in the family of sibling hostility deferred till father dies: after Rivka and he had plotted to get Isaac’s blessing, the Torah says (27:41) “And Esau hated Jacob…and said in his heart, As soon as mourning for my father is over, I’ll kill my brother Jacob.” 

And more recently Jacob himself – in his “blessings” to his children in the immediately preceding chapter – cursed Shimon and Levi for their murderous acts against the people of Shechem following the rape of Dina decades earlier.  Jacob was a person who shamar et hadavar (37:11), remembered things; kept accounts.  No seven or twelve year Statute of Limitations for him.

Family relations in the Torah three thousand years ago, between generations and within generations, could be complex, painful, bitter, sweet; often “all of the above.”  Just like they are today.


A Vort for Parashat Vayhi
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Joseph’s brothers are very worried that, after the death of Jacob their father, Joseph would punish them for what they did to him years ago.  They plead twice that he forgive them (Gen 50:17) – as “your brothers” and as “servants of the God of your father,” on which Rashi says: “your father is dead, but his God still lives.”  The Ateret Tsvi explains, citing the Talmudic statement that when a person is suffering, God suffers with him even if he is a sinner (Hagiga 15b), that the brothers are reminding Joseph that even if his father, to whom Joseph obviously would not have wanted to cause suffering, is gone; God, who identifies with our suffering no less, is still here.


Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

We have reached the end of Bereshit, the first book of the Torah. Now the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs come to a close with the stories of the end of the lives of Ya’akov (Jacob) and Joseph.

1) How long does Yaakov live in Egypt (47:28)? Why do you think that the Torah tells us how long he was in Egypt? This number appears elsewhere in the story of Yaakov/Joseph. Do you remember what was counted? (37:1-2 can help you.) Is there any connection between the two?

2) On his death bed, Yaakov gives Joseph a double share of the land (48:5-6). How will this work? (As you read through the Tanakh, note that there is no tribe of Joseph, there is the tribe of Ephraim and the tribe of Manasseh.) Why do you think that Yaakov does this? Why might Joseph be entitled to this? (The first-born son was entitled to a double share.)

3) When Yaakov dies, a large group of people comes along on the trip to Canaan to bury him (50:7-10). Who, other than his family, attend the funeral? How do they show their respect for Yaakov? Why do you think that these people had such great respect for Yaakov?

4)  Where do the sons bury Yaakov (50:13)? Why do you think that Yaakov asked to be buried there? (Use 49:29-32 to help you.)

5) After the brothers return from burying Yaakov they send a message to Joseph (50:15-17). What is the message? Why did they send it? Why was this not of concern until now?