Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Vayechi — also spelled Vaychi and Vayhi — Genesis 47:28 – 50:26, the final reading in the book of Genesis. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.”
In one of her studies of Vayechi, “Jacob’s Testament,” Nechama Leibowitz* discusses Joseph’s reluctance to swear to Jacob’s burial wish:
The Midrash aptly explains the difference between Joseph’s behavior and that of Abraham’s servant [when asked to swear, regarding finding a wife for Isaac]:
Said Rabbi Isaac: The servant acted servilely and the freeman as a free agent. The servant acted servilely, as it is said: “And the servant put his hand…” Whilst the freeman acted as a free agent: “And he said, I will do as thou hast said.” (Bereshit Rabbah* 96)
A servant has to do the behest of others….A free agent however is only bound by his conscience, and chooses his own actions in accordance with his own freely arrived-at decisions.
Malbim** makes a similar distinction…It was better for him to do it out of his own free will, rather than be bound by oath. In the latter instance, he could not take the credit for fulfilling his obligations freely.
This explanation may help us understand Biblical and Rabbinic disapproval of vows. Man should rather conduct himself as a free agent rather than be bound by external bonds…
Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will surely remember [pakod yifkod] you and bring you up out of this land to the land that He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” — Stone* translation
Joseph then said to his kin, “I am dying, but God will surely take care of you [pakod yifkod] and bring you up out of this land to the land that [God] promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” — JPS/Stein* translation
Yosef said to his brothers:
I am dying,
but God will take account, yes, account of you, [pakod yifkod]
he will bring you up from this land
to the land about which he swore
to Avraham, to Yitzhak, and to Yaakov. — Fox* translation
And Joseph said to his brothers “I am about to die, and God will surely single you out [pakod yifkod] and take you up from this land to the land He promised to Isaac and to Jacob.” [Abraham inexplicably missing here]
— Alter* translation Continue reading Vayechi: Language and Translation
Places of Jacob and Israel– how good are both!
In last week’s Torah portion, the final portion of Genesis, Jacob/Israel adopts two of his grandsons, blesses his sons, gives them directions for his burial and dies. The Patriarch is called both “Jacob” and “Israel” throughout his life, even to his death, never becoming wholly “Israel.” “Israel” — the name given Jacob at Gen 32:29, because he had “wrestled with the Divine and with man and [had] overcome” — is usually understood as referencing his spiritual self. Continue reading Flour and Torah: Mah Tovu