Vayechi (And He (Jacob) Lived) – Genesis 47:28 – 50:26
This week we read the final chapters of Genesis. Jacob is approaching the end of his life. We are told that he lived until the age of 147 and that he spent the last 17 years of his life in Egypt. Just before his death, he blesses his grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe, and then blesses each of his sons. He also extracts a solemn promise from Joseph to ensure his burial in Hebron, in the Cave of Machpela.
After Jacob’s death, the brothers fear that Joseph will seek revenge from them for selling him into slavery. They approach Joseph with a curious statement: “And they sent word urgently to Joseph, saying: your father did command before he died saying: so shall you say to Joseph. Please forgive the crime of your brothers and their sin, for they have done you wrong…” And Joseph responds that he cannot replace G-d. And he points out to them, that G-d manipulated their evil intentions for a positive outcome. Clearly, Joseph would never have risen to power in Egypt had the brothers not sold him into slavery.
I have always found this interchange curious. In the first place, there is no indication that Jacob ever made the statement the brothers ascribe to him. In fact, there is no indication that Jacob even knew about the sale. Putting the pieces together, we know that Jacob was given Joseph’s multi-colored coat, full of blood. The brothers allowed Jacob to form his own conclusions and, as if following a script, Jacob assumes that Joseph has been killed by wild animals. Jacob had no reason to believe his sons were implicated.
Later, however, when the brothers report to Jacob that Joseph is alive, they do not indicate to Jacob in any way, that they know how he reached Egypt. When Jacob and Joseph meet, the issue is also not discussed. The silence on the subject is deafening.
Is it possible that Jacob did not know? Is it possible that he did not guess?
From this last interchange, it is clear that for as long as Jacob was alive, the brothers felt protected. Perhaps, the brothers and Joseph were united in their desire to prevent Jacob any further pain. Not only would Joseph’s revenge on the brothers cause pain to their father, but the mere knowledge that his sons sold one of their own brothers, would have caused Jacob immense pain. Furthermore, Jacob, in blessing his sons, comments on their negative behavior in several instances, particularly with regard to Simeon and Levi. Clearly, he would have commented on the sale of Joseph had he known about it.
On the other hand, Jacob never asks Joseph how he got to Egypt. He never asks him why he didn’t send for him all these years. He never says a word.
Jacob was not stupid. He must have known that all was not right among his children. But he did not want to know. What he did know was that “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Gen. 49:28). He knew that, unlike the generations before him, there would be no disinherited child, that all 12 of his children would become heirs to the Covenant of Abraham, would become the Children of Israel. Whatever it is that had happened would have to find resolution, a peaceful solution, for they all had to become one nation.
Jacob requests that his children bury him in the Land of Israel and all his children join together for this burial procession. They unite to return their father’s body to his precious land and they unite in their pledge to return Joseph’s bones to his precious land. The Midrash states that each of the brothers actually managed to be buried in the Land of Israel.
The close of Genesis opens the door to Exodus, to the creation of the People of Israel. It is the key to Jewish history ever since. Despite tensions, even criminal behavior among us, we must always find the way to stay united as a nation, as a family, and to remain connected with every fiber of our body and soul to the Land of Israel.