Haftarah: Melachim Alef 2:1-12 (all)
[על-התורה] הפטרה: מלכים א ב א-יב (ע”פ כל המנהגים)
- The End of Yaakov’s Life
- Yaakov’s Blessing of Efraim and Menashe
- Yaakov’s Blessings to his Sons
- Yaakov’s Death and Burial
- Return to Egypt
- The Death of Yosef
- Haftarah Summary — ויקרבו ימי דוד למות
Bookended by the deaths of Yaakov and then of Yosef, Parashat Vayechi deals with final wishes, in this case, worldmaking ones. Themes that emerge include the consequences of one’s character and actions, the meaning of forgiveness, and the centrality of Eretz Yisrael, in particular the legal landholding purchased there.
The End of Yaakov’s Life
We are told that Yaakov lived for 17 years after he settled in Egypt near Yosef, so that he was 140 years old. Knowing that the time of his death is drawing near, Yaakov makes Yosef promise him something: he does not want to be buried in Egypt, asking instead that he be buried with his ancestors in Eretz Yisrael. Yaakov asks Yosef to make this solemn oath (וְעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת) by placing his hand under Yaakov’s thigh (שִׂים נָא יָדְךָ תַּחַת יְרֵכִי), as we saw Avraham doing with his servant Eliezer in Parashat Chayei Sarah. Yosef promises to do so by oath (וַיִּשָּׁבַע לוֹ).
Yaakov’s Blessing of Efraim and Menashe
Some time later (וַיְהִי אַחֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה), Yosef is summoned to his father’s bedside because Yaakov has fallen ill. He comes with Efraim and Menashe. Yaakov repeats the promises he has received from Hashem, and then declares:
וְעַתָּה שְׁנֵי בָנֶיךָ הַנּוֹלָדִים לְךָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם עַד בֹּאִי אֵלֶיךָ מִצְרַיְמָה לִי הֵם אֶפְרַיִם וּמְנַשֶּׁה כִּרְאוּבֵן וְשִׁמְעוֹן יִהְיוּ לִי: וּמוֹלַדְתְּךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹלַדְתָּ אַחֲרֵיהֶם לְךָ יִהְיוּ עַל שֵׁם אֲחֵיהֶם יִקָּרְאוּ בְּנַחֲלָתָם: וַאֲנִי בְּבֹאִי מִפַּדָּן מֵתָה עָלַי רָחֵל בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּעוֹד :כִּבְרַת אֶרֶץ לָבֹא אֶפְרָתָה וָאֶקְבְּרֶהָ שָּׁם בְּדֶרֶךְ אֶפְרָת הִוא בֵּית לָחֶם
“Now, your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, shall be mine; Efraim and Manashe shall be mine no less than Reuven and Shimon. But progeny born to you after them shall be yours; they shall be recorded under the name of their brothers in their inheritance. I [do this because], when I was returning from Paddan, Rachel died, to my sorrow, while I was journeying in the land of Canaan, when still some distance short of Efrat; and I buried her there on the road to Efrat”—now Beit Lechem.Bereshit 48:5-7
He then blesses Efraim and Menashe. His eyesight having grown poor, he does not recognize them at first, so they draw close to him. Kissing them, Yaakov exclaims that he never thought he’s see Yosef again, let alone Yosef’s sons, his gradnchildren.
Bowing, Yosef positions the two sons so that Efraim is to Yaakov’s left and Menashe to his right. However, Yaakov places his right hand on Efraim’s head and his left on Menashe’s so that his arms are crossed. Yosef thinks he has made a mistake in the placement of his hands (the right hand usually indicating the firstborn) and reminds Yaakov that Menashe is the firstborn. But Yaakov explains, “I know, my son, I know. He [Menashe] too shall become a people, and he too shall be great. Yet his younger brother [Efraim] shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall be plentiful enough for nations” (יָדַעְתִּי בְנִי יָדַעְתִּי גַּם הוּא יִהְיֶה לְּעָם וְגַם הוּא יִגְדָּל וְאוּלָם אָחִיו הַקָּטֹן יִגְדַּל מִמֶּנּוּ וְזַרְעוֹ יִהְיֶה מְלֹא הַגּוֹיִם). Yaakov then blesses them:
וַיְבָרֲכֵם בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמוֹר בְּךָ יְבָרֵךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר יְשִׂמְךָ אֱלֹהִים כְּאֶפְרַיִם :וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת אֶפְרַיִם לִפְנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה
So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: G-d make you like Efraim and Manashe.” Thus he put Efraim before Manashe.1Bereshit 48:20
Yaakov then tells Yosef that although he is going to die in Egypt, “God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your ancestors” (). He also assigns Yosef Shechem,2 beyond the allotment granted to his brothers in Eretz Yisrael.
Yaakov’s Blessings to his Sons
Yaakov next summons his other sons. He gives each a personal blessing (not necessarily positive, but rather a foreseen outcome), likening them to various animals. Reuven, the firstborn, is fated to lose his advantage3 because he brought disgrace to his father.4 Shimon and Levi are judged as a pair; due to the wanton violence they committed after Dinah’s assault, they are to be divided and scattered in Israel.
Yehuda is singled out for praise in a speech that would serve as the site of much interpretive energy throughout the ages; it reads (in part):
גּוּר אַרְיֵה יְהוּדָה מִטֶּרֶף בְּנִי עָלִיתָ כָּרַע רָבַץ כְּאַרְיֵה וּכְלָבִיא מִי יְקִימֶנּוּ: לֹא יָסוּר :שֵׁבֶט מִיהוּדָה וּמְחֹקֵק מִבֵּין רַגְלָיו עַד כִּי יָבֹא שילה [שִׁילוֹ] וְלוֹ יִקְּהַת עַמִּים
Judah is a lion’s whelp;Bereshit 49:9-10
On prey, my son, have you grown.
He crouches, lies down like a lion,
Like a lioness—who dare rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet;
Until he comes to Shiloh.
And the homage of peoples be his.
Zevulun is to dwell by the shore; Issachar to be tied to be a pastoralist. Dan will govern his people as the leader of his tribe. Gad will become a raider. Asher’s bread will be rich. Naftali will yield lovely fawns. Yosef is a wild, broncking donkey (בֵּן פֹּרָת יוֹסֵף בֵּן פֹּרָת עֲלֵי עָיִן בָּנוֹת צָעֲדָה עֲלֵי שׁוּר) who will have the special favor of G-d. Finally, Binyamin is a ravenous wolf (בִּנְיָמִין זְאֵב יִטְרָף).
Yaakov’s Death and Burial
Yaakov makes a parting request to his twelve sons:
אֲנִי נֶאֱסָף אֶל עַמִּי קִבְרוּ אֹתִי אֶל אֲבֹתָי אֶל הַמְּעָרָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׂדֵה עֶפְרוֹן הַחִתִּי: בַּמְּעָרָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׂדֵה הַמַּכְפֵּלָה אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי מַמְרֵא בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן אֲשֶׁר קָנָה אַבְרָהָם אֶת הַשָּׂדֶה מֵאֵת עֶפְרֹן הַחִתִּי לַאֲחֻזַּת קָבֶר; שָׁמָּה קָבְרוּ אֶת אַבְרָהָם וְאֵת שָׂרָה אִשְׁתּוֹ שָׁמָּה קָבְרוּ אֶת יִצְחָק וְאֵת רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ וְשָׁמָּה קָבַרְתִּי אֶת :לֵאָה: מִקְנֵה הַשָּׂדֶה וְהַמְּעָרָה אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ מֵאֵת בְּנֵי חֵת
“I am about to be gathered to my kin. Bury me with my fathers in the cave which is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave which is in the field of Machpelah, facing Mamre, in the land of Canaan, the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site—there Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried; there Yitzchak and his wife Rivka were buried; and there I buried Leah—the field and the cave in it, bought from the Hittites.”Bereshit 49:29-32
When he finishes speaking, Yaakov draws his final breath and dies. Yosef flings himself on his father and weeps over him.
Yosef orders Paraoh’s court physicians to embalm Yaakov, a process which takes 40 days. The Egyptians mourn Yaakov for a full 70 days, after which Yosef asks Paraoh’s permission to go up to Eretz Yisrael to bury Yaakov, per his final wishes. Paraoh honors the commitment of Yosef’s oath to his father and Yosef travels with a royal retinue, as well as his brothers.
When they reach the goren (threshing floor) of Atad (גֹּרֶן הָאָטָד) beyond the Yarden river, Yosef observes a further seven-day mourning period for his father. Seeing this, the Canaanites call the place Avel Mitzrayim, “the mourning of the Egyptians.” Afterwards, they proceed to bury Yaakov exactly as he had instructed.
Return to Egypt
After completing Yaakov’s burial, the brothers and their retinue return to Egypt. The brothers then become concerned that Yosef still harbors a grudge against them. They concoct a message in which Yaakov wished for Yosef to forgive them and offer themselves up as Yosef’s servants. Yosef reassures them, speaking to them kindly (וַיְנַחֵם אוֹתָם וַיְדַבֵּר עַל לִבָּם), but with regards to Hashem’s intentions rather than his own:
אַל תִּירָאוּ כִּי הֲתַחַת אֱלֹקים אָנִי: וְאַתֶּם חֲשַׁבְתֶּם עָלַי רָעָה אֱלֹקים חֲשָׁבָהּ לְטֹבָה לְמַעַן עֲשֹׂה כַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה לְהַחֲיֹת עַם רָב: וְעַתָּה אַל תִּירָאוּ אָנֹכִי אֲכַלְכֵּל אֶתְכֶם וְאֶת טַפְּכֶם:
“Have no fear! Am I a substitute for God? Besides, although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result—the survival of many people. And so, fear not. I will sustain you and your dependents.”Bereshit 50:19-21
The Death of Yosef
Yosef lives to be 110 years old and is able to experience being a great-grandfather: he lives to see not only the children of Efraim and Menashe but also the children of Menashe’s son Machir (מָכִיר).
Knowing that he is drawing close to death, and remembering his own father’s dying words, Yosef tells his brothers that they will merit to leave Egypt for the land promised to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. When this happens, they are to take his bones with them to bury in Eretz Yisrael. When Yosef passes away, he is embalmed and placed in a coffin.
Haftarah Summary — ויקרבו ימי דוד למות
[Melachim Alef 2:1]
Just as our parsha deals with the last moments and dying wishes of Yaakov and Yosef, so too the haftarah deals with final preparations—of Melech David. Much like Yaakov, David’s parting speech seeks recompense for prior actions, especially those of Yoav, his nephew and commanding general, for his violent acts, including the retributive killing of David’s rebellious son Avshalom, against David’s orders. David also denies the claims of his son Adoniyahu to the throne, preferring instead his younger son, Shlomo, also a reversal of birth-order preference. (Adoniyahu, however, is not the firstborn like Menashe.)
- Hence, the blessing of the children on Shabbat invokes Efraim and Menashe.
- It is not entirely clear that Shechem is a proper noun here, but this is how Rashi reads it and Ibn Ezra too mentions this understanding.
- See Ibn Ezra on Bereshit 49:4.
- Through his illicit relationship with Bilhah; see Bereshit 35:22.