Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Parashat Vayechi is both the conclusion of the individual
conflict of Yosef and his brothers, and the conclusion of the
wider story of the transformation of the story of individuals
(avot) to one of the people (shevatim). The berakhot of Yaakov
clearly reflect this latter theme in regard to many of the
shevatim (Yehuda, Asher, Zevulun, Yosef, etc.). We, therefore,
have split today's shiur into two. The first half examines
Yosef and his role vis-a-vis the brothers (once again) in light
of the different berakhot Yosef receives in the parasha. In
order not to ignore the special character of Vayechi, however,
the second half discusses a particularly difficult section of
the berakhot and explains it in relation to subsequent Jewish
history. This serves as an example of what must be done for
each of the berakhot. - Ezra Bick
The following shiur is a summarized adaptation of one by Rav
Ariel Iram (Chipser).
The narrative of the previous parshiot takes place within
the framework of a contest between Yosef and his brothers. At
the end of this story, Yosef is clearly the effective leader, if
by no other reason than his political position in Egypt. By
analyzing the berakhot in the parasha, we can gain a fuller
understanding of the final resolution of this contest.
Yaakov blesses Yosef: "His bow dwelled in strength and his
arms were made strong ... by the God of your father Who shall
help you and by Sha-kai Who shall bless you, the blessings of
heaven above and the blessings of the depths below, the
blessings of breasts and womb."
This berakha echoes exactly half of the blessing of
Yitzchak to Yaakov. On the one hand, "God shall give you from
the dew of the heaven and from the riches of the land, and much
grain and wine;" and, on the other, "Peoples shall serve you and
nations shall bow down to you, be a lord over your brothers and
your mother's sons shall bow down to you." In other words,
Yitzchak blessed Yaakov with prosperity and fruitfulness, and
with power and dominion. If we compare Yaakov's blessing to
Yosef with that given to Yehuda ("your father's sons shall bow
down to you"), it seems clear that Yaakov has split his own
berakha into two - prosperity and fruitfulness to Yosef, power
and kingship to Yehuda. What's more, the blessing of Yosef
includes not only fruitfulness of the land, but also his own
progeny - "the blessings of breast and womb." (This is even
more strongly emphasized in Moshe's berakhot before his death,
which in the case of Yosef closely follow the verse from
Yaakov's berakha which was quoted above.)
This is seen even more clearly in the earlier, private
berakha given to Yosef (and his children) by Yaakov. Yosef is
composed of two tribes, Efraim and Menashe. Menashe's name
signifies weakness and forgetfulness, whereas Efraim's
symbolizes, like Yosef's own name ("May God add to me another
son"), fruitfulness and plenitude - "For God has caused me to be
fruitful in the land of my affliction." Yaakov (48:3) calls
Yosef and says to him: "Kel Sha-kai appeared to me in Luz in the
land of Canaan and blessed me. And He said to me, I am going to
cause you to be fruitful and multiply you and make of you a
multitude of peoples ..." This is a quote of God's speech to
Yaakov in Beit-El (35:11-12), with one excision, "... and kings
shall come forth from your loins." Yaakov cites the berakha
(leaving out the royalty, which belongs to Yehuda) in order to
introduce his adoption of Efraim and Menashe as tribes. The
fruitfulness and multiplication promised by God has been delayed
by the death of Rachel. Efraim and Menashe fulfill the
fruitfulness of God's blessing to Yaakov. Yosef has inherited
Rachel's mission to bear the fruit of Yaakov and that is why
Efraim and Menashe are included as tribes. When Yaakov blesses
Efraim and Menashe - "My name and the name of my fathers,
Avraham and Yitzchak, shall be called over them" - he adds "and
they shall spawn into a multitude in the midst of the earth."
(This also explains the switching of Yaakov's hands.
Since the essence of the berakha is plenitude, Efraim, whose
name reflects this principle, takes precedence over Menashe.
The right hand gives the berakha with largesse, the left with
measure. Yaakov explains the preference by saying, "I know, my
son, I know, he too shall be a people and he too shall grow, but
his younger brother shall grow greater and HIS SEED SHALL BECOME
A MULTITUDE OF NATIONS.")
The life of Yosef exemplifies the principle of plenitude
and prosperity. Wherever Yosef is (after he reaches Egypt), we
find a multiplication of prosperity, whether the house of
Potifar (39:4-6), the jail (39:23), or finally the house and
kingdom of Par'o. Yosef is "the provider for all the land"
(42:6). Finally, and most importantly, he is the provider for
his father's house. Yosef's recognition and acceptance that
this is his role, as he says to his brothers, "for God has sent
me before you as sustenance," is an integral part of the
reconciliation with his family. After Yaakov's death, Yosef
reiterates this role, "I shall provide for you and your
children" (50:21). When the brothers offer to be his slaves, he
rejects it. Yosef has accepted the role of the berakha of
Yaakov - sustenance, plenitude, support of life. The role of
kingship, power and dominion is given to Yehuda, and Yosef
It is worth noting that in all cases when Yosef causes a
burst of prosperity in a house, he acts under the dominion of
someone else. The "king" is not Yosef, but rather Potifar, the
warden of the jail, or Par'o. This apparently is the proper
division. Yosef is able to fulfill his destiny, to bring about
plenitude and prosperity, when he acts beside a "Yehuda" who
fulfills the role of king. The partnership of the two, each in
his own role, is what sets the stage for the complete
fulfillment of the berakha of Yaakov.
Some other questions to ponder.
1. Yosef's distinction from the other brothers was
designated "bekhora" by Rav Leibtag in last year's shiur. This
is primarily exemplified by the double-shevet character of Yosef
- he literally gets two portions, like a bekhor, in everything.
This year's shiur explained this nature of Yosef somewhat
differently. Another distinction of Yosef was in the special
portion of Shekhem given to him by Yaakov (48:22) "beyond [what
is given to] your brothers." What is the significance of this?
Why Shekhem? What does this have to do either with "bekhora" or
2. A midrashic connection of Yosef to Shekhem worth thinking
about is the following. A midrash states that Osnat, the wife
of Yosef and the mother of Efraim and Menashe, was the daughter
of Dina and Shekhem ben Chamor, born of the rape. This sounds
very meaningful - but I am not sure what it means. Any
3. Combining this week's shiur with last week's implies that
Yosef accepted his role as provider for the brothers, but did
not forget that they had not intended that. Rav Bin-Nun's
explanation for Yosef's behavior in Miketz and Vayigash was also
based on a distinction between what Yosef was trying to do, and
what the actual meaning of the parshiot is (he accepts the basic
point that it is about reconciliation and teshuva). It appears
that the gap between intention and outcome is an important theme
here. Why does the Torah see that as a crucial element in the
story of the genesis of the Jewish people?
4. What about Yaakov? What is his reaction to the story of
Yosef and his brothers? (Some mefarshim believe that Yaakov
never knew the real story.) Does Vayechi help us answer this
Part 2 of this week's parasha presentation:
The Meaning of Yaakov's Message to Dan
by Rav Yitzchak Blau
No biblical deathbed scene creates more drama than
Yaakov's final message to his children. While the drama of the
scene is clear, the precise meaning of Yaakov's words proves
more enigmatic. The Abarbanel lists four possible approaches to
understanding Yaakov's message:
1) He reproves his children for their errors.
2) He blesses them for the future.
3) He states prophecy regarding their future.
4) He delineates their portion in the holy land.
Different parts of the messages to certain children
clearly fit into the above categories. Reuven, Shimon and Levi
receive tokhacha, Yehuda hears a prediction regarding the
duration of his monarchy, Yosef receives a blessing and Asher
apparently discovers the nature of his portion in Israel. Dan,
on the other hand, receives a more puzzling message difficult to
comprehend or categorize.
Let us investigate the pesukim and list the difficulties.
The pesukim (Bereishit 49: 16-18) read as follows:
"Dan will judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel."
"Dan will be like a snake on the road, a serpent on the way,
who bites the foot of the horse and the rider falls backwards."
"For your salvation I hope. Hashem."
Pasuk 16 - In what sense will Dan judge his people? Why will
this judging be "as one of the tribes of Israel?" Pasuk 17 -
What does the comparison to a snake biting a horse's foot and
toppling the rider say about Dan? Pasuk 18 - Why does Yaakov
interject a prayer at the closing of the message?
When a mefaresh approaches this problem, he must determine
which other biblical texts exist regarding Dan that might help
elucidate our text. As a collective, the tribe of Dan receives
notable mention on three occasions.
1) They are "me'assef le-kol ha-machanot" or the last tribe
in the travel procession.
2) They take part in "pesel Micha" (Shoftim 18).
3) Their portion in Israel lies on one of the borders.
The verses could also refer to an individual member of the
tribe. Dan's noteworthy individuals include Oholiav, who helped
Betzalel construct the mishkan; Shlomit bat Divri, mother of the
megadef, and Shimshon. Among the three individuals mentioned,
Tanakh clearly portrays Shimshon as the most significant of the
three by far.
With this background in mind, let us return to Yaakov's
message. The snake imagery seems to revolve around a battle.
This certainly fits in with Shimshon who fought the Pelishtim.
It also works nicely with Dan as the last tribe in the order of
traveling. When any nation attacked from the rear, Dan
represented the first line of defense. Most mefarshim employ
one of these two models to explain the entire section. Radak,
Rashi and Ramban view the passage as referring to Shimshon.
Rashbam and Malbim see it in terms of Dan's role as the last
tribe to travel.
We can now turn to the individual pesukim. In what sense
does Dan judge the people? Radak simply refers to Shimshon's
role as a shofet. Rashi and Rambam agree that the verse speaks
of Shimshon but translate "yadin" in a different way. They
argue that "yadin" means "will take vengeance" (as in Devarim
32:36 and Tehillim 110:6) and not "will judge." According to
this interpretation, the pasuk refers to Shimshon taking
vengeance on the Pelishtim on behalf of the people. Perhaps
they disagree with Radak because the biblical account of
Shimshon does not include any judging in the judicial sense.
Rashbam, who sees the passage as referring to Dan as a
collective, agrees with Rashi's and Ramban's translation of
How does Dan judge "ke-echad shivtei yisrael?" Most
mefarshim explain that Dan either judges or takes vengeance on
behalf of the entire people as one. In other words, the
emphasis on the individual qualities of a tribe in the berakhot
of Yaakov are not due to divisiveness but in order to bring to
the unified whole the qualities of the individual part. Rashi
mentions the possibility that "ke-echad" means as the singular
tribe of Israel, a reference to Yehuda. A potential source for
such a parallel would be Moshe's comparing Dan to a "gur aryeh"
(Devarim 33:22), the same phrase Yaakov employs to describe
Yehuda (49:9). Here, the emphasis is on equating the role of
the vanguard, a snake, with the more glorious role of Yehuda.
In any case, interpretation of this problem at the end of the
first pasuk remains similar whether one views it in terms of
collective Dan or Shimshon.
Why does Yaakov compare Dan to a snake biting the horse
and, thereby, overturning the rider? Malbim explains that the
quickest part of an army and the part that would attack the camp
first would be the horsemen. Dan, as the "me'assef le-kol ha-
machanot," would have to defend against the cavalry. Malbim
agrees with Rashbam that the passage refers to Dan's role as an
entire tribe and not to an individual member of Dan.
If we turn to the view that Yaakov speaks about Shimshon,
the imagery of the something below overturning a larger
structure has great resonance. Rashi sees the image as
referring to Shimshon toppling the pillars and collapsing the
Pelishtim temple. If so, the snake parallel recedes into the
background and the key to the image consists of a large
structure toppled from below.
On the other hand, many mefarshim think that Shimshon
somehow resembles a snake. Radak explains that Shimshon worked
alone as does the snake. Ramban similarly states that Shimshon
engaged in guerrilla warfare in the manner of a snake. The
midrash in Bereishit Rabba (cited by Rabbenu Bachya) lists many
other parallels between Shimshon and a snake.
We now come to the last pasuk. Why does Yaakov interject
a tefila? As both approaches center around a battle, Yaakov may
be praying on behalf of Dan. Alternatively, Yaakov may be
citing a tefila to be recited by Dan. Rashi views this verse as
the prayer of Shimshon. Ibn Ezra mentions the possibility that
there is an understood word "va-yomer" prior to "li-yeshuatkha."
Such a view agrees with Rashi that Yaakov cites the future words
If we understand the whole passage as referring to
Shimshon, another option emerges for the last pasuk. Yaakov
emphasizes the limitations of Shimshon's salvation when
contrasted with the yeshua of Hashem. Having foreseen what
happens when a Shimshon provides aid, Yaakov turns to Hashem to
ask for His help. Thus, Ramban and Netziv explain that
Shimshon's salvation was temporary. Yaakov pleads with God to
provide a more permanent solution. Da'at Zekenim offers the
possibility that Shimshon expresses arrogance in his power and
fails to offer credit to God. Therefore, Yaakov emphasizes the
turn toward God for succor. This creates an ambivalent picture.
Although Yaakov is blessing Dan, and, as we saw in the
interpretation of "one of the tribes of Israel," is emphasizing
the importance of Dan's contribution to the "klal," he is
simultaneously warning against glorifying the role of the
individual hero, who all too often assumes semi-divine stature.
Rashbam vehemently rejects the Shimshon approach, arguing
that Yaakov would not focus on a single individual. However, as
we have seen, the snake imagery may have more resonance if
Yaakov speaks about Shimshon. As usual, the reader must
carefully avoid assuming that the pashtanim have a monopoly on
the peshat. The midrashic Shimshon view offers some advantages.
In any case, we have seen how a broader employment of Tanakh can
help illuminate a difficult passage.
|To receive the parsha shiur every week, write to:
|With the message:
||Subscribe yhe-parsha <your
This shiur is provided courtesy of the Virtual
Beit Midrash, the premier source of online courses on Torah
and Judaism - 14 different courses on all levels, for all backgrounds.
part of your week on a regular basis - enroll in the
(c) Yeshivat Har Etzion1997 All rights reserved to Yeshivat
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Alon Shvut, Israel, 90433