The beginning and end of this week’s Parsha relate the deaths of two great figures, Yaakov Avinu and his son Yosef. Yaakov asked Yosef to swear that he would bury him in not Egypt, but rather with his forefathers, in Me’arat HaMachpeilah. To that request, Yosef responded, “Anochi E’eseh ChiDvarecha,” “I will act according to your words” (47:30).
The simple explanation of Yosef’s response is he promised to bury his father in Eretz Yisrael, as Yaakov requested. However, Rabbenu Bechaya (as well as other later Darshanim) quotes a Midrash that claims that Yosef was making a commitment to follow in his father’s footsteps, a promise that he would eventually ask his own family to bury him in Israel as well. According to this notion, Yosef modeled his own request for burial in Eretz Yisrael, which he made of Bnei Yisrael immediately before his own death, after his father’s request (see 50:24).
When comparing the two requests for burial in Eretz Yisrael, an important difference stands out. Yaakov requested that he not be buried in Egypt at all, but rather with his forefathers in Eretz Yisrael. Yosef merely asked to be taken up to Eretz Yisrael when God “[would] remember” B’nai Yisrael and take them to Eretz Yisrael. In contrast to his father, he does not seem to resist temporary burial in Egypt, requesting only that he eventually be permanently interred in Eretz Yisrael. How can we understand this difference?
A simple answer may be that Yosef’s stature in Egyptian politics may not have allowed for him to be immediately moved out of Egypt. That would have been too great an affront to Egypt and her leadership, and would have been politically unrealistic. Instead, Yosef made of his family the more realistic request that they eventually move him to Eretz Yisrael.
I would like to offer two other approaches. The first is based on an interesting insight the Parshanim share about Yaakov’s intention in requesting burial in Eretz Yisrael. Parshat Vayigash ended on an ominous note, telling us that Yaakov’s family had fully settled in Egypt (“Vayei’achazu Bah,” “they became entrenched in it”) and begun to flourish there (47:27). In light of the Jewish people’s increasing comfort with being in Galut, Yaakov’s demand that he not be buried there but in Eretz Yisrael seems quite powerful. He was stating unequivocally that Eretz Yisrael is their only permanent home.
Presumably, B’nai Yisrael were even more entrenched in Egypt over fifty years later when Yosef died, and his message to B’nai Yisrael had to be tempered for his times. Perhaps he knew that God intended for the nation to remain in Egypt for the “long haul,” so moving his body to Eretz Yisrael would not have been appropriate. Or perhaps B’nai Yisrael of his time would not have been as receptive to the dramatic type of statement Yaakov had made, and were able to digest only the softer message of Yosef’s request.
While discussing this issue in a recent Chumash class at TABC, Ben Friedman suggested a more novel approach. He argued that if Yosef had been moved right away, B’nai Yisrael might have forgotten about him and his message over the years. But by staying with his people in Egypt, the unfinished business of eventually moving him to Eretz Yisrael would keep the message of Yosef’s request fresh in every generation’s mind. Knowing that they still needed to move Yosef would remind each generation in Egypt – and through this story, every one since – that their only permanent homeland was Eretz Yisrael.
Who Are Those Kids?
by Michael Billet
In Parshat Vayechi, Yaakov utters a very famous Pasuk when blessing his grandsons Efraim and Menasheh (48:16): “HaMal’ach HaGo’eil Oti MiKol Ra Yevareich Et HaNe’arim Vikarei Vahem Shemi, VeSheim Avotai Avraham VeYitzchak, Veyidgu LaRov Bekerev HaAretz,” “The angel who saves me from all evil should bless the youths and call them my name, and the names of my fathers, Avraham and Yitzchak, and they should increase into a multitude in the midst of the land.” Rashi on this Pasuk comments that the “Ne’arim” are Menasheh and Efraim. But this seems obvious; why does Rashi need to tell us this? What else would “Ne’arim” mean?
Several commentators deal with this question. The Sefer Zikaron simply states that Rashi’s statement presents us with a difficulty and leaves our question unanswered. The Mizrachi suggests that Rashi needs to tell us this because the Ne’arim could be any of Yosef’s children, some perhaps too young to visit Yaakov. The Gur Aryeh takes a different viewpoint: the previous Pasuk states, “Vayevareich Et Yosef,” ”And [Yaakov] blessed Yosef” – not Menashe and Efraim. Without Rashi’s comment, we might have thought that “Ne’arim” refers to Yosef.
Rashi may also be coming to present an alternative to the interpretation of Midrash Rabbah, which says that “Ne’arim” refers to Yehoshua and Gideon. We see from Bemidbar 13:8 and Shoftim 6:15 that Yehoshua is a descendant of Efraim and that Gideon is from Sheivet Menasheh, so Yaakov could have had these two great leaders in mind, one descendant each for Efraim and Menasheh. When Yaakov states, “HaMalach HaGo’eil Oti MiKol Ra,” “The angel who saves me from all evil,” he may be referring to Yehoshua 8:13-14 and Shoftim 6:12, where Yehoshua and Gideon, respectively, are confronted by angels of Hashem who saves them. According to the Midrash Rabbah, then, Yaakov’s request is that the same angel who protected him “Yevareich Et HaNe’arim,” “will bless (i.e. help and save) the youths (i.e. the descendants of Menasheh and Efraim).”
by Doniel Sherman
In this week’s Parsha, Yosef gives the order for Yaakov’s body to be mummified. The Pasuk says, “Vaytzav Yosef Et Avadav Et HaRof’im Lachanot Et Aviv,” “And Yosef ordered his servants and physicians to embalm his father” (50:2). However, Bereishit 3:19 says, “Ki Afar Atah VeEl Afar Tashuv,” “For you are dust, and to dust shall you return,” from which we infer that mummification is prohibited by Torah law! How, then, could Yosef prescribe it for his father?
The Or HaChaim suggests an answer to this question. He points out that a Tzadik’s body never fully decomposes, so Yaakov, as a Tzadik, would merit having his body preserved. The Mitzrim observed a seventy-day mourning period before entombing the dead body, which meant that the Egyptians would see the miracle of Yaakov’s body’s preservation. Because of this miracle, they would worship Yaakov and perhaps turn his body into an idol. Therefore, Yosef had the Egyptians embalm the body, so they would attribute the lack of deterioration to their own skills. Thus, Yosef was preventing Yaakov from joining the pantheon of Egyptian gods.
The Torah says that the physicians worked on the embalming process for forty days and that the Mitzrim wept for seventy days. Rashi teaches that Yaakov’s “embalming” involved only the usage of a mixture of nice-smelling spices on the body. Therefore, Rav Aryeh Kaplan further explains that Yaakov’s partial embalming took only forty days, while a regular embalming process would have taken seventy days. After the forty days of Yakov’s partial embalming, though, the Mitzrim continued to mourn for another thirty days to finish the regular mummification and mourning period. Perhaps the reason the Mitzrim felt compelled to finish the grieving process, as opposed to ending after forty days, was that they had not realized that Yaakov’s “mummification” was finished and that his lack of deterioration was a miracle from Hashem.
by Dani Yaros
In this week’s Parsha, Yaakov tells Yosef, “VeAtah Shenei Vanecha HaNoladim Lecha BeEretz Mitzrayim…Li Heim; Efrayim UMnasheh KiR’uvein VeShimon Yihyu Li,” “And now, your two sons who were born to you in Egypt…are mine; Ephraim and Menasheh will be like Reuven and Shimon to me” (48:5). With this statement, Yaakov indicates that just as Reuven and Shimon both constitute Shevatim (tribes) and receive separate portions of Eretz Yisrael, so too Ephraim and Menasheh will constitute separate Shevatim and receive portions of Eretz Yisrael.
The Meshech Chochmah, noting that the Torah never wastes words, wonders why Yaakov prefaces his words with “and now.” Why could he not just start off the Pasuk with “your two sons?” The Meshech Chochmah answers by citing a Tosafot in Bava Batra (122a s.v. VeIdach LeMan), which claims that when Yaakov says “now” in the Pasuk, he is referring to the world as is in our times. Only in our days, Yaakov implies, do Ephraim and Menasheh have their own portions of land. When it is no longer as it is “now” in our days, however – when Mashiach comes (Im Yirtzeh Hashem) – Ephraim and Menasheh will no longer have two separate portions of land; rather, they will share one combined portion.
We can extract a very important lesson from this explanation. Although both Ephraim and Menasheh were great Tzaddikim, and their children would undoubtedly follow in their footsteps, this alone was not enough. Mashiach and the era he will bring in will come only when Ephraim and Menasheh are sufficiently united and experience Achdut towards each other that they feel comfortable relinquishing their independence for total unity (see Sefer Shofetim where Ephraim and Menashe are often in conflict). We infer that without Achdut within Klal Yisrael, Mashiach will not come no matter how great the people of a particular generation are. We must always feel united with the Jews all around us. Whether those Jews are Chasidim wearing streimels or Reform Jews not wearing Kippot at all, the most important thing is that we remain united as a single unit – Klal Yisrael. May it be Hashem’s will that through this unity of Klal Yisrael, He will bring the Mashiach BiMheirah BeYameinu, Amein. --Adapted from a Dvar Torah in Torah Loda’as
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