Parashat Va’yechi  Genesis 47:28 to 50:26

Week of December 29, 2023

This is the concluding portion for the first book of Torah. Va’yechi means “he lived,” and these chapters speak of Jacob’s drawing to an end, with his children and grandchildren around him. He blesses his twelve sons, and makes some scathing remarks about Simeon and Levi, while extolling Judah and Joseph (and Joseph’s sons).

The biblical author remains concerned about origins. In there dactor’s time, around 800 BCE, it was well known that the Joseph tribe was really two tribes: Ephraim and Manasseh. This made for 12 tribes, since Levi was to have no land but live off the produce and proceeds of the Jerusalem sanctuary. The origins of these two tribes here is underlined. Both of Joseph’s sons receive a blessing from papa Jacob.

Ephraim will always be the greater and stronger tribe of the two. Ephraim is used as a synonym for Israel, the northern kingdom. The reason for this is the unusual way in which Joseph blessed his sons.

Although Manasseh was the older, Jacob crossed his arms and placed his right hand (the dominant hand) on Ephraim’s head, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head. To this day Jewish fathers bless their sons with this phrase, “God make you as Ephraim and Manasseh.”

In our world we add a phrase for the blessing of daughters as well.

Jacob dies and is buried in Canaan. Joseph evokes a binding promise from his family that when he dies, the family shall bring him back to Canaan for burial. Genesis ends with these words: “and they embalmed Joseph and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.”

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