Vayechi – Shishi

The Death of Yaakov

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Yaakov compared Binyamin to a wolf that grabs in the morning; this is seen as an allusion to King Saul, from the Binyamin, who “grabbed” the throne in the early days of the nation, before the start of the Davidic dynasty.

Yaakov instructed his sons to bury him in the Machpela cave, alongside Avraham, Sarah, Yitzchak, Rivka and Leah. He then passed away.

Yoseif had Yaakov embalmed, as was the practice in Egypt. Yaakov was mourned by Egypt for 70 days, after which time Yoseif approached Pharaoh.

“My father’s last wish was to be buried in his family plot in Canaan” Yoseif told the monarch. “Might I be excused to carry this out?” Pharaoh replied in the affirmative.

Yoseif and his family headed north to bury his father, accompanied by an entourage of Egyptian officials. They observed an impressive funeral, after which Yoseif (and, presumably, his brothers) sat shiva. (The Jerusalem Talmud in Mo’ed Katan 3:5 actually cites verse 10 as the Biblical source for our practice of sitting shiva.) Because the Canaanites saw the retinue from Egypt mourning their, they called the place Avel Mitzrayim (“Egypt’s Mourning”). Yaakov was then interred in the Machpela cave and the group returned to Egypt.

After this, Yoseif’s brothers became worried. They were concerned that he may bear a grudge against them and perhaps he had only refrained from exacting revenge because of their father. They sent Yoseif a message that their father surely wanted him to forgive them. They even offered themselves as Yoseif’s slaves.

“Don’t worry,” Yoseif assured them. “I’m not trying to act in G-d’s place. Whatever your intentions might have been, it was His will to send me here in order to save everyone.”

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