Questions and Concepts for Parsha Va'yechi
(Genesis 47:28-50:26)

1. This final parsha of Genesis is called "And he lived," pertaining to Jacob. Yet what we have is an account of events leading up to his death. The reason for this is that Jacob was considered an especially righteous man, and we are told the following:

Tzaddikim (the righteous), even in death are called "living," whereas the evil, even while living are called "dead."

2. It is interesting to note that Jacob's "spiritual adventure" begins with an oath in Genesis 25:33 and ends with an oath in 47:31.

3. It is taught that when Jacob gathered his sons around him and began to tell them of the "end of days," God prevented him from doing this. This caused Jacob to be concerned that there may be sin among one or more of his children - particularly the sin of idolatry (believing in more than the One God). To this his sons replied, "Shema Israel (i.e., "Jacob") Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad," (Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God the Lord is One), reassuring Jacob of their "monotheism." In reply, Jacob said to them, "Baruch Shem K'vod Malchuto, L'Olam Va'ed" (Blessed is His glorious Name whose Kingdom is forever). These two phrases are combined today to form the "Shema" prayer as recited by Jews around the world.

4. Rachel's burial outside the land in a "specific place" ordained of God, has hidden signficance. In deeper levels of Torah study, Rachel is compared to the Shekinah (the presense of God in the physical world). The Shekinah accompanies Israel, and when the latter is in exile, so is the former. Thus, as the Shekinah is "exiled," Rachel remains outside of the land of Israel. At the coming of Messiah, both the Shekinah and Rachel will be properly established in Israel.

5. In 48:19, Jacob when blessing Ephraim uses the term, "m'loh ha goyim," or "fullness of the gentiles." Paul uses this same term in Romans 11:25, when speaking of the final redemption of Israel. Paul is not speaking of "the gentiles" when he uses this term, rather he is referring to the return the exiled tribes.

6. When blessing Ephraim with the "right hand," Jacob  is giving the greatest strength to the son who will need it most, as Ephraim's descendants will be more numerous and widespread.

7. It has become a custom to bless Jewish boys with the words, "May you be like Ephraim and Menashe," based on the blessing Jacob gives Joseph's sons in 48:20. Why are boys blessed in this fashion and not with names of more "famous" patriarchs? One reason is because Ephraim and Menashe were the first set of Jewish brothers who did not fight. They broke the pattern of contention found between Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, as well as Joseph and his brothers. Nothing pleases God more than peace "among the brethren" as we are told in Psalm 133:1: How good and pleasant is it for brothers to sit peacefully together. Another reason for using Ephraim and Menashe is that despite growing up in the hostile, pagan world of Egypt, they maintained the values of the Torah.

Consider this:
At the deeper level of Hebraic study, Joseph is associated with that aspect/emanation of God called Yesod, meaning "foundation." There are several well established concepts associated with Yesod that are found in this parsha:

  • An "Oath" (47:31; 50:25)
  • The "place of circumcision" (47:29)
  • The God name El Shaddai (i.e., "provider" - 48:3,15; 49:25; 50:21)
  • Creation is terms of procreation/increase (48:4,16; 49:22)
  • The redeeming angel (48:16)
  • The "tzaddik" - the parsha name "And he lived," i.e., "Jacob thought dead is alive."