Yaakov's Blessing to Yosef
Yeshivat Har Etzion
This parasha series is dedicated
Le-zekher Nishmat HaRabanit Chana bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.
This shiur is dedicated in memory of Szore bath Shimen Leib Weinberger,
whose yahrzeit is the 18th of Tevet. May her soul be among the Righteous in Gan Eden. from those who remember her.
Dedicated by Aaron and Tzipora Ross and family
in memory of our grandparents
Shmuel Nachamu ben Shlomo Moshe HaKohen, Chaya bat Yitzchak Dovid, and Shimon ben Moshe,
whose yahrzeits are this week.
Dedicated in memory of Rabbi Abraham Eliezri z"l, grandfather of Har Etzion alumnus Hillel Langenauer
by his students at YUHS for Girls who will forever remember his superlative chumash shiurim.
May the family be comforted among the mourners of
Yaakov's Blessing to Yosef
By Rav Yehuda Rock
In this shiur we shall examine various aspects of Yaakov's words to Yosef in their second encounter in the parasha. We shall also broaden our discussion of one particular expression with which the commentators have grappled, and for which we shall propose a new interpretation to shed light on a more general picture.
Yosef meet three times in this week's parasha. In their first encounter (47:29-31), Yaakov
calls to Yosef and asks him to bury him in Canaan,
rather than in
Yosef initiates the third meeting with Yaakov, upon hearing of his father's illness. First, Yaakov addresses Yosef, in verses 3-7; thereafter, when Yaakov sees Ephraim and Menasheh, who have accompanied Yosef, he blesses them, and then concludes with parting words to Yosef. We shall pay special attention to Yaakov's first speech to Yosef at this meeting, in verses 3-7:
Yaakov said to Yosef: The Almighty God appeared to me
in Luz, in the
Yaakov's monologue here comprises three parts:
a. Mention of the blessing of "the Almighty God" (El Sha-dai) to Yaakov (3-4)
b. Status bestowed on Ephraim and Menasheh like that of Yaakov's sons for the purposes of inheritance (5-6)
c. Mention of the death and burial of Rachel (7)
Let us examine the significance of each part, and the connections between all of them.
God's Blessings and the Firstborn Portion of the Inheritance
The significance of giving Ephraim and Menasheh equal status to Yaakov's sons is clear: Yaakov is giving Yosef the portion of the firstborn, i.e., a double portion of his inheritance. This is stated explicitly, in Divrei Ha-yamim (I 5:1-2): "Reuven for he was the firstborn, but when he violated his father's bed his birthright was given to the sons of Yosef, son of Yisrael and the birthright to Yosef."
The Torah connects parts a. and b. in Yaakov's speech with the word "ve-ata and now." In other words, the doubling of Yosef's portion (b.) is somehow based upon God's blessing to Yaakov (a.).
Rashi's explains homiletically that the connection lies in the fact that in God's blessing to Yaakov he is told, "I shall make of you a community of peoples"; from the seeming redundancy ("kehal amim") Yaakov deduced that after this blessing was given to him, another two tribes were destined to be added: one was Binyamin, and Yaakov now sees to the addition of the twelfth tribe by turning Yosef into two tribes. A similar explanation is offered by Ibn Ezra in the name of R. Saadya Gaon, but they draw their conclusion not from the expression "kehal amim," but rather the multiplicity that is inherent in the expression, "Behold, I shall make you fruitful," where the minimal fulfillment here is two descendants.
Rashbam explains the connection between God's blessing to Yaakov and the double-portion awarded to Yosef with the following simple, clear words: "In other words, since the Holy One, blessed be He, gave me the land of Canaan, I am entitled to make you the firstborn for the purposes of taking a portion equal to that of two tribes; thus, your two sons will receive the same as Reuven and Shimon." In other words, God's blessing to Yaakov is the basis of his authority to divide the land as he sees fit.
Yaakov makes mention here of the blessing given to him by God at Beit El, when
he returned from Padan
"achuza" means a fixed acquisition
in one's possession; it is used especially in contexts referring to an
acquisition that is bequeathed (see Vayikra
25). The expression "achuzat olam" here is taken from God's promise to
Avraham, at the time of his circumcision (17:1-8). This promise, too, was given
in the name of "the Almighty God," and contains similar elements and
language to those appearing in God's promise to Yaakov, although it is more
elaborate. When Yitzchak conveys this blessing to Yaakov, as he dispatches him
Ibn Ezra, too (ad loc) offers a similar explanation to that of Rashbam, and seems to note Yaakov's emphasis on the "eternal possession": "What seems correct in my eyes is that he said, God told me that the land of Canaan would belong to my descendants as an eternal possession; I now give you a double portion in the inheritance of the land, and Ephraim and Menasheh will receive their portion in the land just as Reuven and Shimon will ."
In this context it should be noted that the halakha as set down in the Torah and binding for future generations is that a person bequeathing his estate cannot transfer the birthright (the double portion due to the firstborn) from one son to another. This is stated explicitly in Parashat Ki Tetzei (Devarim 21:15-16): "If a man has two wives one more beloved and the other less so and the beloved wife and the less beloved wife bear him sons, and the firstborn belongs to the less beloved then on the day when he bequeaths to his sons, he cannot assign the son of the beloved wife the firstborn in place of the son of the less beloved wife, who is [actually] the firstborn." This law is apparently not fundamental to the definition of the concept of the birthright, but rather a specific law that the Torah sets down for future generations. This law was not adhered to in Yaakov's time; rather, it became halakha when the Torah was given.
possible that the Torah introduces this law as a lesson learned from Yaakov,
whose tendency to show preference towards Yosef had
started already in Yosef's youth, and eventually led
to the entire family moving to
The Death and Burial of Rachel
Let us now turn our attention to the third element in Yaakov's words to Yosef: the mention of the death and burial of Rachel. Why does Yaakov mention this here?
Rav Saadya Gaon (quoted by Ibn Ezra) who, as noted, explains that Yaakov understood that the accounting of Ephraim and Menasheh as independent tribes was necessarily entailed by God's blessing to him, now accordingly explains that the mention of Rachel's death likewise fits in with Yaakov's claim: since after he received the blessing only Binyamin had been born, and Rachel had died and could no longer bear children, the additional son had to come from an accounting of grandsons as sons. But aside from the problem that this entire idea seems far removed from the literal intention of the text, this interpretation also fails to explain why Yaakov also mentions Rachel's burial here. It would also seem logical that, according to this interpretation, Yaakov should mention Rachel's death along with God's blessing to him, before jumping to the conclusion that Ephraim and Menasheh should be considered as independent tribes in their own right.
commentators (Rashi, Ibn
Ezra and Ramban) maintain that Yaakov is apologizing
here to Yosef and explaining why he did not bury
Rachel, Yosef's mother, in the burial place of his
fathers, in the
It appears, then, that the significance of Yaakov's mention of Rachel's death and burial here must be explained in an altogether different way. As background to our hypothesis, let us recall our shiur on Parashat Vayetzei (see also my article in Daf Kesher, Shemot 5758, vol. 635, "Li-demuta Shel Rachel").
There we noted Rachel undergoing a process of transgression and punishment: her sin in stealing the terafim, tools for divination, as well as other actions, and repentance that began with abandonment of her sin as part of the preparations for the ascent to Beit El, and concluded with her death, when she called her son Ben-Oni.
In Parashat Vayishlach, after Rachel's death and her burial, we are told (35:20): "Yaakov placed a monument over her grave it is the monument of Rachel's grave to this day." Why did he place a monument there? And why does the Torah take the trouble to emphasize the fact that the monument continues to stand there?
Rachel's death took place on the way, following their departure from Beit El. In Beit El, immediately after God's blessing to Yaakov, we are told (35:14): "Yaakov placed a monument at the place where He had spoken to him, a monument of stone." There seems to be a connection between the two monuments.
Rachel's sins gave rise to the thought among Yosef's
brothers, and perhaps in Yaakov's own mind that perhaps Rachel and her sons
had no place in Israel. Just as in previous generations there had been brothers
who were rejected and excluded from the covenant with God and inheritance of
the land, so it was possible that Rachel and her children should similarly be
rejected. It seems that Yosef's brothers regarded
Rachel's sins as a justification if not the actual motivation for their
sale of Yosef. (We infer this from the fact that when
Yosef seeks to recreate for the brothers the same
situation in relation to Binyamin that they had previously faced in relation to
Yosef, he chooses to create a suspicion that Binyamin
stole his royal goblet used for divining.) It seems that Yaakov viewed the
situation as follows: Rachel had not been punished so long as they were living
outside of the
Yaakov repeats this message in our parasha, in his words to Yosef. As a continuation of his earlier words, in which Yaakov emphasizes his rights with regard to the land and the extra right of Yosef in the land, he mentions Rachel's death and her burial, as if to say that Divine Providence itself had shown that Rachel's place and the place of Yosef, Rachel's son was in the land.
It seems that the emphasis on "As for me" at the beginning of the verse should be viewed in the same light: I, Yaakov, owner of the "eternal possession" in the land, bearer of the authority to bequeath the land and the birthright in the land, chose to bury Rachel at the place where she died, as a statement that the place of her death was significant and not coincidental: what it meant was that you, Yosef, are entitled to inherit in the land.
Rachel who, by virtue of her repentance for her sins, merited an inheritance
in the land became a symbol for her children, who were destined to repent and
thereby to be returned to their land: "So says God: there is reward for
your endeavor, says God
and there is hope for your
future, says God, and the children shall return to their borders. I have surely
heard Ephraim bemoaning himself
bring me back and I shall return, for You are the Lord my God. For after I returned, I was turned
away, I repented; after I was instructed, I struck upon my thigh
Translated by Kaeren Fish