By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Shabbat Parshat Vayechi
13 Tevet 5765 - December 24, 2004
Yosef’s life draws to its end at age one
hundred ten. The dreamer, the natural leader, the man who transforms every
setback into progress and triumph, has risen from shepherd to viceroy of the
most powerful nation in the world. Moreover, he has attributed all his abilities
and accomplishments to Hashem.
And Yosef saw (VA’YARH) Ephraim’s children of third generations (BENEI
SHILEISHIM); also, the children of Machir son of Menasheh were raised (YULEDU)
on Yosef’s knees. (Bereishit 50:23).
What is the significance of this?
On one level of course, the Torah wishes to point out that Yosef lived a long
life. On Menasheh’s side, Yosef survives to behold his own great-grandchildren.
As for Ephraim, since SHILEISHIM (from SHALOSH, three) refers to the third
generation, Yosef lives to see his own great-great-great-grandchildren! (See Ibn
Ezra and Haamek Davar, R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893.)
The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni II 956) says further that Yosef was granted many
years because of his generosity:
“The crown of splendor is advanced age; it will be found in the path of
righteousness (Mishlei 16:31). … Since Yosef excelled in showing kindness to his
brothers in Egypt, he merited the crown of old age, as it says, And Yosef saw
Ephraim’s children of third generations, etc.”
A measure of longevity is having grandchildren:
The crown of elders is grandchildren (Mishlei 17:6).
The Talmud (Yevamot 62b) says that one’s grandchildren are like his children;
the Zohar (I 233) says they are even more beloved than children. Recognizing the
connection across the generations is uniquely human:
“Man is the only creature on earth that has come to have knowledge of his
grandparents and his grandchildren” (Leo Baeck, 1873-1956, Judaism and Ethics,
Yosef is blessed with a very long life crowned by many descendants.
But this requires further analysis. For while 110 is a ripe old age by modern
standards, it is by no means the greatest age reached in the Tanach. In fact, it
is the shortest life-span recorded in the Torah! Moreover, while it is
impressive that Yosef’s life overlaps five generations, that certainly does not
set any records for the book of Bereishit! Adam, for example, lived to see seven
generations after him.
Clearly, more is at issue here than the simple “begetting” children and
grandchildren. Yosef saw (VA’YARH) his son Ephraim’s BENEI SHILEISHIM; this
connotes direct involvement and approval, as in
And G-d saw(VA’YARH) the light, that it was good (Bereishit 1:4).
Concerning Menasheh’s children Rashi, based on the Targum, translates YULEDU as
they were raised , not simply “they were born.” Additionally Sforno (R. Ovadia
ben Yaakov Sforno, c. 1470-c.1550), in his comments to 10:21, suggests that
YULAD means to father a child of similar moral and spiritual stature.
What emerges from this verse therefore is that Yosef has a relationship with his
grandchildren (and great-great-great-grandchildren) and is intimately involved
in imparting to them the values of the house of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.
This kind of bond between generations has little precedent before this point,
except for Terach who took his grandson Lot with him towards Canaan (11:31),
although Terach did not complete the journey. Yaakov, however, took an interest
in his grandsons Ephraim and Menasheh and blessed them (chapter 48; in fact,
Ephraim’s manifold descendants fulfills Yaakov’s blessing in verse 48:19 that he
would be greater than Menasheh). Yosef emulates Yaakov’s example.
What are the effects of Yosef’s investment in his offspring?
First, Yosef guarantees the future of Torah values in his family, as it says:
And the triple cord is not easily severed (Kohelet 4:12).
Rashi’s comment on this verse is:
“One who is a scholar and his son and his grandson, the Torah will never depart
from his descendants, as it says, It shall not move from your mouth, nor your
seed’s mouth, nor the mouth of your seed’s seed (Yeshayahu 59:21).”
Yosef also transmits to his successors a love for Eretz Yisrael. When we look
into the later lineage of Menasheh and Ephraim (Divrei HaYamim I 7:14-27), we
find that Yosef had direct contact with some of those who would leave Egypt (see
Haamek Davar). Yosef’s descendants had land holdings in the area of Shechem,
which they maintained even after the descent to Egypt (based on the commentary
of “a student of Saadia” and that of R. Yehuda haChasid, in the name of his
father; see the introduction to Daat Mikra Bereishit vol. I 94-95). Some of the
children of Ephraim in Egypt “calculated the end and erred” (Sanhedrin 92b,
based on Divrei HaYamim I 7:21). However, when they went to Canaan to take their
flocks they were killed.
The children of Machir son of Menasheh includes Gilead who would later be
a man of war and he had the Gilead and the Bashan (Yehoshua 17:1).
While Yosef was still ruling, his great-grandchildren conquered Gilead and
Bashan and settled them (Daat Mikra). Rabbenu Bachya (ben Asher ben Hlava, 13th
Century) points out that the verse refers to Gilead in the plural (even though
Bamidbar 26:29 mentions him as the sole son of Machir) because of his connection
to the five daughters of Tzelofechad, son of Chefer, son of Gilead; these were
the righteous wise women who pled for a portion in the land of Israel (Bamidbar
When Yosef dies his body is placed in a coffin in Egypt (Bereishit 50:26),
waiting to be taken with the Children of Israel at the Exodus (Shemot 13:19).
Ultimately, he is buried in the plot in Shechem which had been purchased by
Yaakov (Bereishit 33:19; Yehoshua 24:32). Therefore, Yosef is the one person
whose presence spans the entire “Hexateuch” (the Torah and the book of Yehoshua)
which, had Israel never sinned, would have comprised the entire Scripture (Nedarim
22b). The saintly child of the land of Israel who ends his life in Egypt is
returned to his beloved land, because of the deep bond he forges with his
children and grandchildren.
In this week's parsha, Yaakov Avinu is referred to by two different names:
Yaakov and Yisrael. The commentaries have much to say about these two
names. Almost all agree that the name Yaakov relates to the time spent in
Galut and the Galut mentality.
Yisrael, on the
other hand, refers to Yaakov's struggle to free himself and return to the
land of his fathers. While he was in the house of Lavan, Yaakov
accumulated wealth, and then had a dream, a vision in which an angel of
God said: "Get up, leave this land and return to the land of your birth."
Yaakov accepted the challenge and wrestled to free himself from the
enslaving forces of material gain. It was then that an angel named him
Yisrael, indicating his victory over the quest for the mundane.
We, in Israel, have a major problem with our enemies,
but please God, we shall overcome. Our brethren in the Diaspora face a
different problem, a very serious problem of intermarriage and
assimilation. Too many Jews in the Diaspora are headed for the desolate
zone of historic non-existence.
How do we confront this serious problem? Do we react or
do we respond?
There is an enormous difference between these two behaviors. A reaction is
very superficial; it involves surrender to fate. A response is dynamic; it
faces up to the challenge of destiny.
Bound together by centuries of anguished history, we
must respond as Yaakov Avinu did; we must wrestle with our problems and
ultimately achieve the glories of our destiny.
Rabbi Charles Weinberg
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North
American Rabbis and laymen who successfully made Aliyah, aimed at
highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting Aliyah. They send
emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on speaking-tours
throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness ,
Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254