Vayechi – “And He Lived”

This morning’s parasha is Vayechi, meaning “And he lived”, (he referring to Joseph), and brings us to the end of Genesis. In our previous parasha, Jacob arrived in Egypt, and was joyfully reunited with Joseph, who for all those years he had thought dead.

17 years have since passed, and Jacob is 147 years old. He knows he will soon die, so he summons Joseph, and makes him promise not to bury him in Egypt, but to bring his body back to Canaan, and bury him in the cave of Machpelah, where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebekah are buried. To be buried in the land of one’s ancestry in the ancient world was of paramount importance. Joseph swears this oath.

Chapter 48 opens with Jacob rapidly declining. Summoning Joseph,

who brings his sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him, Jacob declares that Manasseh and Ephraim are to be reckoned as his sons, and reiterates God’s promise that the land of Canaan will be given to his descendants as an everlasting possession. He also promises that God will be with Joseph, and that our people will return to Eretz Canaan. Jacob rejoices that he has been allowed to see Joseph alive again and even to see his grandchildren!

But when the time comes to bless them, Jacob places his right hand on Ephraim, even though Manasseh is the older. Joseph assumes his elderly father is confused, but Jacob assures him he knows what he’s doing – prophesying that the younger will have greater stature than the older. And, in fact, Ephraim did come to have greater prominence in Israel than Manasseh. By the way, this 4,000 year-old blessing is still being prayed over our sons:

יְשִׂמְךָ אֱלֹהִים כְּאֶפְרַיִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה

May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!

In chapter 49 Jacob summons all his sons. Gathered around their dying father, Jacob prophesies, declaring their futures. Zebulun will produce seafarers; Dan (appropriately) will produce judges; Asher olive growers, and Benjamin warriors. Naphtali is likened to a swift doe, and Joseph to a rich, fruitful vine. 

But the question on everyone’s mind was: Who among the twelve will be the ruler? Jacob summons Reuven, the first-born, and begins praising him, “preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power,” and you can imagine Reuven thinking, “This is it – I’m the one!” But Jacob continues, “uncontrolled as water, you will not have preeminence”. Reuben’s sin of having lain with his father’s concubine cost him dearly. Shimon and Levi, next in line, also forfeited that premier blessing, having murdered all the men of Shechem in revenge for the rape of their sister by one man.

And that brings us to Yehudah – Judah, who receives the blessing. Jacob announces that Judah will have preeminence and rule over all the other tribes, comparing him to a lion whom no one dares provoke. But this prophecy extends much further; he declares, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until the one comes to whom it belongs (Shiloh), and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”  

This is a remarkable prophecy, and a crucial part of that ever-more-specific ancestry, through which Messiah must come. But it’s also clear from this word that once Messiah came, Judah was to yield sovereignty to Him. When we read about the conflict between Yeshua and the Judeans (Jewish religious leaders), simply put, we are witnessing the refusal of Judah to relinquish that scepter to the One to whom it belonged. The subsequent history of our people, our being scattered to the ends of the Earth, our lack of peace, is explained in light of that refusal. 

Jacob concludes his blessings, and insists that his sons bury him in Canaan, in the cave of Machpelah, where the patriarchs and matriarchs are buried. Then Jacob dies. 

Chapter 50 begins with Joseph weeping over his father, and then making good his promise. Joseph returns to Canaan, along with his brothers and a huge entourage of Egyptian dignitaries. The Canaanites see this enormous caravan of Egyptians stop and mourn by the Jordan River for seven days, and name the place Abel Mizraim (“Meadow of Egypt”). After sitting shiva, they resume the journey to Machpelah, where they bury Jacob.

The brothers are suddenly frightened. With their father gone, what’s to stop Joseph from taking revenge? So, they concoct a lie that Jacob, before dying, said he wanted Joseph to forgive them for what they did to him. These guys haven’t changed much. But Joseph certainly has! His undeserved sufferings produced in him patience and a heavenly perspective. Joseph assures his brothers he’s forgiven them, and promises to provide for their families. 

Sefer B’reisheet, Genesis, ends with the death of Joseph at 110 years of age, but not before he reiterates the promise that God will bring them out of Egypt at the appointed time, return them to Canaan, and he directs them to carry up his bones with them.

I leave you with a single idea this morning. Joseph is, unmistakably, a type of Messiah. Consider this interaction of Joseph with his brothers. They had hated him, betrayed him, and are accounted responsible for selling him for the price of a slave. As far as they knew, he was dead and gone. They never expected to see him again, let alone behold him as lord over Egypt! He, meanwhile, had every right, and full authority, to exact judgment on them; but instead declared his love and forgiveness of them, even promising to continue providing for their families.

Messiah Yeshua, though righteous and innocent, was hated by His own people, betrayed for the price of a common slave, and when He died, our people thought that was the last we would ever see of Him. Boy, were we wrong! He rose from the grave, ascended to Heaven, and has been exalted to the right hand of HaShem! The tribes of Israel will see Him again, coming in cosmic power, with unimaginable glory and divine authority, and they will mourn. But, like Joseph, He speaks mercy and forgiveness, granting eternal life to all who believe in Him. And, as it is written, in that day, all Israel will be saved. Wouldn’t you say that’s the kind of Good News worth shouting?