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The Blessing of Jacob


Torah Portion: Parashat Vayechi (“and he lived...”)

Shabbat: Jan. 7, 2023 / Tevet 14, 5783

Torah: Gen. 47:28-50:26

Prophets: 1 Ki. 2:1-2:12

New Covenant: Heb. 11:21-22; 1 Peter 1:3-9


The Shema

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength”. Deut. 6:4-5


Our Torah reading for this week, parashat Vayechi (i.e., Gen. 47:28-50:26), recounts how the great patriarch Jacob adopted Joseph's two sons (Ephraim and Manasseh) as his own children. When Jacob blessed the boys, however, he intentionally reversed the birth order by putting the younger before the older, signifying that the old struggle he had faced as a child was over, and he now understood things differently. The family had apparently learned that blessing from God is for the good of all, and that there is no real blessing apart from genuine humility that esteems the welfare of others.

Following this, Jacob summoned his sons together to hear his final words of blessing before he died. Of particular importance was Jacob's vision of the coming Messiah, the future King of Israel. It may have been supposed that Reuben, Jacob's firstborn son, would receive the honor of being heir to Messiah, but he was rejected because of his ill-conceived scheme to be regarded as the head of Israel after the death of Rachel, when Reuben "consorted" with Rachel's handmaid Bilhah. This must have been terribly painful to Jacob who was still in mourning over the death of his beloved wife. The betrayal of Bilhah would also have been a crushing blow. So, Reuben was not to be the heir of the promised one. Nor would Simeon, his second son, nor Levi, his third, for they had a history of violence and anger that appalled Jacob over the years - first exhibited when they murdered the Shechemites after their sister had been seduced and violated by a Canaanites prince there (Gen. 34).

When Jacob turned to regard his son Judah, however, he saw the promise of God. Judah, you will recall, had willingly offered up his life to save his brother Benjamin in accordance with his father's will. Because he was willing to die to fulfill his word to his father, Judah was to be praised and his brothers would bow before him. Judah is courageous a lion, willing to die for the sake of honor. Because of this, Judah was chosen be heir to the Messiah himself, the coming one who would exercise dominion over the nations: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, not the ruler's staff from beneath his feet, until "Shiloh comes" (i.e., he to whom it belongs, namely the Messiah), and "to him shall be the obedience of the nations" (Gen. 49:10). Note that the second part of this prophecy refers to Messiah's coming as "ben David," the great "Lion of the tribe of Judah," who would wash his garments in the blood of God's enemies and subject the nations to the kingship of God (Gen. 49:11-12; Isa. 63:3). After this great declaration of the coming of Messiah, prophecies and blessings were then given over Jacob's other son's, and then Jacob carefully instructed his sons to bury him only in the promised land, and not in the land of Egypt (Gen. 49:10-12; 49:29-32).

Upon Jacob's death, Joseph and his brothers, with various dignitaries of Egypt, formed a funeral procession and returned to Canaan to bury him in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. After the funeral, they returned to Egypt, but Joseph's brothers feared that he would now repay them for their former betrayal and threw themselves on his mercy. Joseph reassured them that they had no reason to fear him and reminded them that God had overruled their earlier intent by intending him to be a blessing to the whole world (Gen. 50:20).

The portion ends with the account of the death of Joseph, who made the chiefs of Israel promise to take his bones with them when the LORD would bring them back to the land of Canaan (foreseeing the great Exodus to come). Joseph's faith in the Jewish people's return to the Promised Land is summarized by his statement: "God will surely remember you" (Gen. 50:24). He died at age 110, was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt, full of faith that he would be raised from the dead in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Later he was buried in the area of Shechem, the first area of land purchased from the Hittites by Abraham (Gen. 23) that was given to Joseph as an inheritance (Gen. 48:22; Josh 34:22).

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