This week’s Parsha, Vayechi (Genesis 47.28 – 50.26[i]) records the ending of the patriarchal narrative. The time for Jacob to die was drawing near. After asking Joseph to promise not to bury him in Egypt, Jacob adopted Joseph’s sons as his own, taking them into his immediate family. If this wasn’t enough to cause a stir in the family, Jacob blessed the younger son, Ephraim over the elder Manasseh. He then called the rest of the brothers together, and pronounced blessings – not so much on the brothers themselves but upon their family lines. Satisfied that his patriarchal duties were over, Jacob “breathed his last and was gathered to his peoples” (Genesis 49.33). Then with Pharaoh’s permission (Genesis 50.6) Joseph fulfilled his oath to his father and delivered his body to the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, to be buried alongside his parents and grandparents.
But the story is not over yet. Joseph’s brothers were still not totally sure that Joseph had truly forgiven them. However, instead of simply approaching Joseph and clearing the air, so to speak, they devised a plan or better yet a deceptive scheme in hope of securing their safety, as well as the safety of their families. They approached Joseph and said,
“Before his death, your father gave a command, saying, ‘Thus you must say to Joseph: Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin because they treated you wrongly.’ Therefore, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” (Genesis 50.16-17)
It would appear that even though Joseph had forgiven his brothers—he had even acknowledged that their actions were actually used by Hashem for their very salvation (Genesis 45.4-8)—the brothers seemingly had not accepted that forgiveness. According to Rashi, not only did Jacob not make this request, he did not even know of the situation.[ii] Joseph immediately alieved their fears
“Don’t be afraid. For am I in the place of God? Yes, you yourselves planned evil against me. God planned it for good, in order to bring about what it is this day—to preserve the lives of many people. So now, don’t be afraid. I myself will provide food for you and your little ones.” So he reassured them, speaking kindly to them. (Genesis 50.19-21)
The brothers had worked themselves in to a frenzy for no reason at all. Joseph had no intention of seeking retribution after the death of his father. His concern was for his family, his entire family, and in this he fully recognized the hand of the LORD orchestrating the situations of his life to bring about the salvation of his extended family – the future nation of Israel.
The Haftarah, 1 Kings 2.1-12, is probably linked to Vayechi as David, like Jacob, approached the end of his life and had parting words for Solomon. The first words are those of encouragement,
“I—I am going the way of all the earth. So be strong and be a man. Keep the charge of Adonai your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His decrees, according to what is written in the Torah of Moses, so that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn so that Adonai may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me, saying: ‘If your children watch their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” (1 Kings 2.2-4)
This charge sounds similar to Moshe’s charge to Joshua as Moshe’s death was imminent.
Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong! Be courageous! For you are to go with this people into the land Adonai has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you are to enable them to inherit it. Adonai—He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you. Do not fear or be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31.7-8)
Or like Rav Shaul’s closing words to the believers in Corinth,
Be on the alert! Stand firm in the faith! Be men of courage! Be strong! (1 Corinthians 16.13)
But then, David deviates from blessing Solomon to charging him with bringing about judgement, possibly even revenge on some of David’s enemies who had yet been put to rest. It is interesting at this point to see the difference between Jacob’s and David’s parting words. Jacob’s words, though at times hard, were for the benefit of the family’s lineage and continuance. David’s, and I may ruffle a few feathers here, was concerned about the LORD’s promises to him, “that Adonai may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me.” While both men were looking toward the future, Jacob was looking beyond himself. For all the struggles and problems in Jacob’s life, he breathed his last with a seemingly clear conscience and a hope for the future. It would appear that Jacob, like his grandfather Abraham, died “old and satisfied” (Genesis 25.8) – his family restored, their present provided for and their future secure as well.
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[ii] Tractate Yevamot 65b, quoted by Rashi on the verse.