Numbers in [square brackets] are the Mitzva-Count from Sefer HaChinuch.
Kohen – First Aliya – 13 p’sukim – 47:28-48:9
The sedra begins with Yaakov at age 147, having been in Mitzrayim for 17 years. (Remember that Yosef was 17 when the trouble started – any significance to the number 17?) The Torah tells us that Yaakov is near death and Yosef is called to his bedside. Yaakov asks Yosef that he (Yaakov) should not be buried in Egypt but rather in Me’arat HaMachpeila. Yosef agrees; Yaakov asks Yosef to swear to it.[SDT] Why would Yaakov insist that Yosef swear – didn’t he trust him? Among other reasons, the oath might prove necessary in obtaining permission from Par’o for the funeral. Even if Par’o would have been inclined to say “no”, he would respect an oath.
This, according to Midrash, because Yosef had sworn not to divulge a particular secret about Par’o. Par’o could not say to Yosef, “I don’t care what promises you made”, etc. There are commentaries who suggest another possible reason for making Yosef swear – Yosef might be very upset about his mother not being buried in the “proper” place, and he might not respond favorably to his father’s request.[SDT] Yaakov asks Yosef for Chesed v’Emet – True Kindness. It is generally considered that tending to the burial of the dead is the purest form of kindness, because, among other reasons, it is the one situation in which the recipient of your kindness cannot repay the favor himself. It is an act of kindness without recompense.
Commentators question this idea in Yosef’s case. We are taught that Yosef merited having his remains taken out of Egypt as a reward for his attention to Yaakov’s wishes. How can we refer to what he did for his father as Chesed shel Emet? One answer is that Yosef received reward in kind only by being taken out of Egypt and buried in the Land of Israel. His body spent a long time in Egypt. His act of True Kindness to his father was that Yaakov’s body did not spend even a moment being buried in Egypt. Fo this, Yosef was not paid back in kind; his action on behalf of Yaakov’s funeral arrangements was indeed Chesed & Emet.
Another understanding of the concept of CHESED SHEL EMET is that when one does a favor for a living person, one never knows if things will actually turn out all right. It might look like a good thing to do, but things can turn out “don’t do me any favors”. An act of kindness to the dead is an unquestioned act of Chesed.
Some time later, Yosef is informed (by Efrayim who regularly ministers to and learns Torah with Yaakov) that Yaakov is sick (“at death’s door”). Yosef brings his two sons with him to Yaakov (so that they can receive his blessing). Yaakov is strengthened by the news of Yosef’s impending visit (Thus is the power of Bikur Cholim).[SDT] As to who told Yosef that his father was sick, it is Rashi who brings the opinion that it was Efrayim, who tended to Yaakov’s needs in Goshen while Yosef was in Egypt proper. The Midrash says that it was A’s’nat, Yosef’s wife, who told him.
Speaking of A’s’nat… The Midrash says that she was Dina’s daughter, who was raised by Potifar in Egypt. The Midrash also says that when Potifar’s wife accused Yosef of improper advances, it was A-s’nat who privately told Potifar the truth, thus saving Yosef’s life.
Yaakov tells Yosef of HaShem’s promises to him and his descendants and of Rachel’s death and burial. He then assures Yosef that his two sons – Efrayim and Menashe – will be considered equal to Yaakov’s sons. (This in essence, is the double portion of inheritance that Yaakov is giving to “his heart’s first-born”, the elder of his beloved Rachel’s two sons.) Then Yaakov takes notice of the boys and asks Yosef to present them so that he can bless them.
Levi – Second Aliya – 7 p’sukim – 48:10-16
Yaakov’s eyesight fails him in his old age (as did Yitzchak’s) and Yosef brings his sons and moves them towards Yaakov, who kisses and hugs them. Yosef then takes his sons off of Yaakov’s lap, so that he can present them to Yaakov formally, for their bracha. After bowing before Yaakov, Yosef carefully and formally presents his sons to Yaakov with Menashe on the left and Efrayim on the right so that Yaakov’s hands will rest on the appropriate heads for the blessings. Yaakov switches his hands, resting his right on Efrayim’s head and his left on Menashe’s. Yaakov thus blesses Yosef by blessing his (Yosef’s) children with the famous words: HAMAL’ACH HA’GO’EL…
Yaakov’s reference to fish in his blessings for Efrayim Menashe (and all Jewish children in perpetuity) is explained on at least two levels. Fish are prolific; Yaakov was blessing his descendants that they should become a large nation. (Note that his blessing was for ‘in the midst of the Land’.) It is also known that the EYIN HARA has no hold over fish. And this too was part of his bracha. (BTW, the Yiddish name Fischel (fish) is often paired with Efrayim; obviously, this bracha is the source of that name-pair.)
Shlishi – Third Aliya – 6 p’sukim – 48:17-22
When Yosef realizes that Yaakov has switched hands (and has thus “favored” Efrayim over the firstborn Menashe) he gets (understandably) very upset and tries to “correct” the positions of Yaakov’s hands. Yaakov resists, explaining to Yosef that he is fully aware of what he is doing; and that Efrayim will indeed surpass his brother in greatness. On this same day, Yaakov blesses them by saying that the traditional blessing for sons shall be: “May G-d make you like Efrayim and Menashe”.
Think about this…
Imagine the panic that Yosef must have felt when he witnessed the potential of “history repeating itself”. How can Yaakov do what he was doing when he was painfully aware of the consequences of favoring one son and of the jealousy that it creates (can create).
That’s the point! It CAN create jealousy, but it need not. It depends upon the character of the people involved. A parent can “tiptoe” around just so long, making everything equal and even, in the hopes that jealousy will not rear its ugly head. But that kind of behavior just postpones the jealousy, not eliminates it. Parents have to help build the character of their children, so that they will develop good MIDOT, personality traits.
Perhaps Yaakov Avinu saw that his two grandsons possessed the qualities that “allowed” him to do what he did.
Two major personality traits that a person should strive for are: not being boastful when in a superior position and not being resentful when in an inferior position.
Efrayim was destined to become greater than his older brother Menashe. These two brothers were such that Efrayim did not lord himself over Menashe, nor was Menashe jealous of Efrayim’s prominence. What greater blessing can a father give his sons than “May G-d make you like Efrayim and Menashe!”
Yaakov then tells Yosef that he is about to die; that G-d will be with the family- nation; that He will restore them to the Land of their ancestors; and that he (Yaakov) has provided Yosef with an additional portion of the Land.
R’vi’i – Fourth Aliya – 18 p’sukim – 49:1-18
Yaakov gathers his sons around him with intentions of revealing to them “the end of days” (knowing the future will ease the pain of the difficult times ahead) – but it is not to be![SDT] Rashi says that Yaakov wanted to reveal the “KEITZ” (end of time), but was not allowed to do so by G-d. The original prophecy concerning the exile in Egypt was given to Avraham in the “Covenant between the Pieces”. There he was told that his descendants would be oppressed for 400 years. In fact, the people were enslaved for 210 years. (Actually, they were in Egypt for 210 years; actual enslavement was significantly less.) The additional 190 years is calculated from the birth of Yitzchak – once Avraham had his first descendant, the “clock of exile”, so to speak, began ticking. Egyptian exile would have been more tolerable, had our ancestors known about this 190 year “grace period”. This is the KEITZ (KUF=100 + TZADI = 90) that Yaakov wanted to reveal to his sons. But this he was not permitted to reveal it.
What Yaakov does say to his sons are the descriptions of their character and potential and his blessings for them. (The blessings, often mixed with fatherly criticism, combine to become the brachot of the Tribes.)
Yaakov’s words about Reuven speak of his unrealized potential to have been the leader and the indiscretion that lost him the position of leader.
Yaakov refers to the violence of Shimon and Levi. He curses their anger – not them.
(Important lesson for us all from this point. Don’t say to your son, “BAD BOY!” Say, “you did a bad thing.” It might not seem to be so important, but it is. Especially, because we don’t say these kind of things once, but rather countless times over many years.)
Yehuda receives the brightest words – he is promised the leadership and respect of his brothers.
Zevulun is given the blessing of prosperity and Yissachar will carry the burden of Torah scholarship. (The image of a donkey indicates perseverance, strong-willed – qualities that are suitable for a scholar). Together, these two tribes will form a partnership that will be mutually beneficial.
Dan will be the judge (and upholder of the honor, the one that will avenge Israel by fighting the P’lishtim) of the people. Rashi says that this is a prophecy about Shimshon, who was from the tribe of Dan.
Chamishi – Fifth Aliya – 8 p’sukim – 49:19-26
Gad will be blessed with good fortune (this is Malbim’s interpretation which is by far the most optimistic of the various understandings of the pasuk).
Asher’s blessing also seems to be that of prosperity (and/or eloquence).
Yosef’s blessing is extensive and shows Yaakov’s special love for him. It is the bracha of Avraham to Yitzchak and of Yitzchak to Yaakov that Yaakov gives to Yosef, son of Rachel.
The Baal HaTurim points out that the initials of GUR ARYEI YEHUDA – Gimel+Alef+Yud = 14, the numeric value of DAVID.
SHISHI – Sixth Aliya – 27 p’sukim – 49:27-50:20
Binyamin is blessed with success (sometimes qualified). Rashi mentions prophecies of Shaul and Mordechai & Esther. These are Yaakov’s words to his 12 sons and he blessed them.
Commentaries point out that Yaakov’s words don’t always seem to be blessings – but they do contain implied blessings and prophecies.
Yaakov tells his sons that he is about to die and wants to be buried in Me’arat HaMachpeila. (He does not make them swear as Yosef did, since they might not be in a position to fulfill an oath.) Yaakov dies.
The wording in the Torah is indirect – the words death or dying are not used – indicating the special quality of life even in death of Yaakov.
The Torah next tells of the preparation for burial. Yosef tells Par’o of his oath and receives permission for the funeral procession to Canaan. The funeral and mourning for Yaakov is elaborate and extensive.
When they return to Egypt, the brothers are filled with guilt feelings and offer themselves to Yosef as slaves. Once again, Yosef assures the brothers that all that has happened is G-d’s will and for the best.
Yosef cries because the brothers are falsely accusing him of planning to take revenge against them. Interesting (and very sad) that part of their original problem was based upon false accusations by Yosef against his brothers.
Sh’vi’i – Seventh Aliya – 6 p’sukim – 50:21-26
Yosef promises to support his brothers and families. Yosef lives to 110 (less than his brothers – punishment for hearing his father humiliated and not objecting). Yosef has helped raise even his great- grandchildren. He tells his brothers that G-d will eventually take them out of Egypt and restore them to the Land of Israel, and asks them to remember him and take his remains with them when they leave. Yosef dies (as do the brothers); thus B’reishit, the book of the Avot & Imahot (Fathers & Mothers), ends. [4-pasuk Maftir]
Haftara – 12 p’sukim – M’lachim Alef 2:1-12
A short Haftara for a short sedra. Just as the sedra tells us of the father on his deathbed giving instructions and blessings to his sons, and requesting an act of Chesed, so too do we find King David at death’s door, instructing his son Shlomo concerning matters of faith and state and Chesed. David, having served as king for 40 years, departs this world.