3. SHABBAT READINGS & COMMENTARY

Friday, January 13, 2006 | 
VAYECHI: Genesis 47:28–50:26; 1 Kings 2:1-12
And you shall live

Our Parasha VaYechi (and he lived), starts with Jacob’s wish to be buried in Eretz Israel, the Land of his fathers. It ends with Joseph’s wish for his remains to be brought to Israel as well. Both want to be buried in Israel, the wish of many Jews in the Diaspora.

It is gratifying to see that the family drama ended with a blessing. Joseph waited to reveal himself until everything was fulfilled and all 11 of his brother were bowing before him. Before he revealed himself to them, Joseph overheard his brothers confessing their guilt for their treatment of Joseph and their acknowledgment that their present anguish was because of their sin. Then he revealed himself.

Now his father Jacob, who once fought with God’s angel, could come to Egypt and end his life in the Diaspora. During the last days of his life, Jacob called his children in to give them a blessing – first his son Joseph with his children Manasseh and Ephraim, born to an Egyptian mother, were blessed. That means Jacob’s favorite grandchildren became part of the 12 tribes of Israel. Joseph’s share of the inheritance was split between his sons. Jacob treated the two as if they were his own sons even though they had never been to Israel (48:5). By the way, this shows it is Biblical to prove that being Jewish is defined by the father’s side not by the mother’s side as it interpreted later by rabbis and is law in Israel today.

Jacob experienced three “first birth” dramas in his life. During his own birth, then in buying the birthright from Esau, and finally when he got married, because Leah was given him first instead of Rachel. Finally, he passed on the blessing first to “carrier of the blessing” the youngest one, Ephraim, and then Manasseh.

The younger brother, Ephraim, was to be greater than Manasseh, and his offspring would be many (48:19). “I know, my son, I know… However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations."

Interestingly, the same word for the Hebrew word melo hagoyim for a multitude of nations is found in Romans 11:25 as a word for “fullness of the Gentiles”. Symbolically, believers from other nations are (as) Ephraim. That’s why the blessing traditionally prayed over children on Shabbat is: “May God make you like Ephraim and Menasse!”

Before Jacob died at the age of 147, he blessed his sons. Each tribe received a promise for the future, promises directly and indirectly connected with the each one’s behavior toward Joseph and Jacob. Judah (Yehuda in Hebrew, Yehudim are Jews), the fourth son, received the promise: “Your father's sons shall bow down to you… The scepter (of Kings) shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh (Messiah) comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Gen 49:10; also Isaiah 11:1, Micah 5:2; Judges 20:18)

The Messiah Yeshua, the Lion of Judah, will come from the tribe of Judah and the house of David (Matthew 1). The story of Joseph ends with the words: “Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:19-20). What a promise!

- Michael Schneider -

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