Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha

Va-y’chi

December 18, 2010/11 Tevet 5771
Modern Author: Yehudah Amichai, “The Times My Father Died

Gen 47: v.29  The time approached for Israel to die, so he called for his son—Joseph, and said to him: Please, if I have found favor, pledge your loyalty in trust to me—do not bury me in Egypt. When I lie with my fathers, take me up and bury me in their burial place…

MUNK… “the time…for Israel”  In the previous verse, he is called Jacob, whereas here, in death, Israel.  The contrary would seem to be more consistent—Torah generally calling the patriarch Jacob when he appears in a state of weakness and Israel in the opposite state. So R’ Yossi explains that as Jacob’s life drew to a close, all his days appeared encircled with an aura of glory—thus Israel.  The patriarch would appear before the Celestial Throne with nobility at the hour of his death.

RASHI“chesed v’emet—kindness & truth” that is kindness of truth, because one does not look for reciprocation.

B’REISHIT RABBAH…There is, in fact, reciprocation when caring for the dead, as the Gemara says, “He who eulogizes will be eulogized; he who buries will be buried.” [Mo’ed Katan 28a] But one does not look forward to such reciprocation.

ABARBANEL… Jacob foresaw prophetically that his bones would remain in Egypt until the Exodus, and was not content. Thus the pledge: As soon as I die, transport me to Canaan…

RABBEYNU TAM…Jacob was concerned that if he was buried in Egypt, in his merit, the Egyptians might be spared the harshness of the ten plagues to come.

MIDRASH HaGADOL…Jacob feared that if he allowed his remains to be buried in Egypt, the tribes of Israel would pay homage to it as a holy site—and Egypt, a holy land.

MUNK… Under no circumstances and on no account…Nah appears 3 times, the old man begging his son…Jacob wanted to set in the hearts and minds of his children, and his children’s children that their true inheritance was the promised land.  No means would be more effective than having his tomb there.  He knew it would establish ties of the heart indestructibly linking the country where the ancestors lay buried with the families of their descendants…They would never give up to their enemies the land where the three founding patriarchs eternally rest.  Jacob’s decision was all the more imperative for he knew that his children had begun to “let themselves be possessed by the land of Goshen.” [v.27]

Gen 50: v.2-3   Joseph ordered the physicians to embalm his father, and they physicians embalmed Israel.  It required 40 days…The Egyptians bewailed him 70 days, and when the wailing period was over, Joseph spoke to Pharaoh’s court: My father made me swear…

ARTSCROLL…Jacob had left instruction that no Egyptians should touch his corpse [cf RASHI 50:13]

So how could he hand over the body to pagan physicians?    The embalming process was done only by Jacob’s sons, with the court supervising, a show of royal honor to the patriarch. [R’ BACHYA]

v.6   Then Pharaoh said: Go up and bury your father as he has made you promise on oath.

RASHI…  But were it not for the oath, I would not let you bury him outside of Egypt.  For Pharaoh was afraid to say to Joseph: “Violate the oath you swore to your father,” so that Joseph should not say, “If so, I shall also violate the oath I swore to you.” [Sotah, 36b]

v.12-13   Thus his sons did for him as he had instructed; his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in…Machpelah

ABARBANEL…From Avel Mitzrayim on, they carried the casket alone [w/o the Egyptians] on their shoulders

RASHI… As he instructed, for the patriarch assigned them places, three on each of the four sides of the casket, their arrangement in carrying just as the encampment of Israel, carrying the holy ark.

Gen 49: v.33   When Jacob finished his instruction, he drew his feet into the bed, and breathing his last, was gathered to his people.

RASHI… In regards to Abraham[25:8] and Isaac[35:29] Torah uses a similar expression along with VaYaMot—and he died. But no mention of death with Jacob? So our Rabbis say, “Our father Jacob did not die.” R’ Yochanan questions, ‘So the mourners mourned and the grave-diggers buried for nothing?…Thus is Jacob equated with his descendants; just as they live on, so does he.

2 responses to “Va-y’chi

  1. janea4 December 19, 2010 at 9:40 am

    One thing that interested me is that although it is said that Jaocb did not die…it seems that it is meant that spiritually he is still with us like many people we love who are gone. They live on in our memories in our actions in our deeds and thier decendents. People only truly die when they are forgotten. My father is still ever present, we hear his voice, we speak of him frequently and proudly. The same is true of my mother(whom my sister’s children did not get a chance to know but know her through us) and their great grandparents.

  2. Raja December 18, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    Why did Jacob give instructions regarding his burial first to Joseph and then later on similar instructions to his sons that were gathered? Why are Jacob and Israel used interchangeably within Gen(47-50)?
    Is it that text may have been compiled over the years from Jehovah, Elohim/Elokim, Deut, and Priestly (JEDP) eras/periods and may contain two references One with Jacob and the other with Israel. Similarly is that over the years as the story was told there was uncertainty as to what really transpired so both versions were added One with Jacob speaking with Joseph and the other with Israel speaking with his sons.

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