The Weekly Torah portion in synagogues on Shabbat, Saturday, 11 Tevet, 5774; December 14, 2013
“Joseph said to them, ‘. . . [A]lthough you intended me harm, God intended it for good.’” (Genesis 50:19–20.)
Jacob lived in Egypt 17 years, and lived to be 147 years old. When Jacob’s death drew near, he called his son Joseph and asked him to put his hand under Jacob’s thigh and swear not to bury him in Egypt, but to bury him with his father and grandfather. Joseph agreed, but Jacob insisted that he swear to, and so he did, and Jacob bowed.
Jacob Blessing Joseph's Sons (painting by Jan Victors)
Later, when one told Joseph that his father was sick, Joseph took his sons Manasseh and Ephraim to see him. Jacob sat up and told Joseph that God appeared to him at Luz, blessed him, and told him that God would multiply his descendants and give them that land forever. Jacob adopted Joseph’s sons as his own and granted them inheritance with his own sons. Jacob recalled how when he came from Paddan, Rachel died on the way, and he buried her on the way to Ephrath, near Bethlehem. Jacob saw Joseph's sons and asked who they were, and Joseph told him that they were the sons whom God had given him in Egypt, so Jacob asked Joseph to bring them near so that he might bless them.
Jacob Blesses the Sons of Joseph (painting by Rembrandt)
Jacob’s sight had dimmed with age, so Joseph brought his sons near, and Jacob kissed them and embraced them. Jacob told Joseph that he had not thought to see his face, and now God had let him see his children, as well. Joseph took them from between his knees, bowed deeply, and brought them to Jacob, with Ephraim in his right hand toward Jacob's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Jacob's right hand. But Jacob laid his right hand on Ephraim, the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh, the firstborn, and prayed that God bless the lads, let Jacob’s name be named in them, and let them grow into a multitude. It displeased Joseph that Jacob laid his right hand on Ephraim, and he lifted Jacob’s right hand to move it to Manasseh the firstborn, but Jacob refused, saying that Manasseh would also become a great people, but his younger brother would be greater. Jacob blessed them, saying Israel would bless by invoking God to make one like Ephraim and as Manasseh. Jacob told Joseph that he was dying, but God would be with him and bring him back to the land of his fathers, and Jacob had given him a portion (shechem) above his brothers, which he took from the Amorites with his sword and bow.
Jacob gathered his sons and asked them to listen to what would befall them in time. Jacob called Reuben his firstborn, his might, and the first-fruits of his strength; unstable as water, he would not have the best because he defiled his father’s bed. Jacob called Simeon and Levi brothers in violence, prayed that his soul not come into their council — for in their anger they slew men and beasts — and cursed their descendants to be scattered throughout Israel. Jacob called Judah a lion's whelp and told him that he would dominate his enemies, his brothers would bow before him, and his descendants would rule as long as men came to Shiloh. Zebulun’s descendants would dwell at the shore near Sidon, and would work the ships. Jacob called Issachar a large-boned donkey couching between the sheep-folds, he bowed his shoulder to work, and his descendants would dwell in a pleasant land. Jacob called Dan a serpent in the road that bites the horse's heels, and he would judge his people. Raiders would raid Gad, but he would raid on their heels. Asher’s bread would be the richest, and he would yield royal dainties. Jacob called Naphtali a hind let loose, and he would give good words. Jacob called Joseph a fruitful vine by a fountain whose branches ran over the wall, archers shot at him, but his bow remained firm; Jacob blessed him with blessings of heaven above and the deep below, blessings of the breasts and womb, and mighty blessings on the head of the prince among his brethren. Jacob called Benjamin a ravenous wolf that devours its prey.
And Jacob charged his sons to bury him with his fathers in the cave of Machpelah that Abraham bought and where they buried Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and where he buried Leah. And then Jacob gathered his feet into his bed and died.
Joseph kissed his father's face and wept. Joseph commanded the physicians to embalm Jacob, and they did so over the next 40 days, and the Egyptians wept for Jacob 70 days. Thereafter, Joseph asked Pharaoh’s courtiers to tell Pharaoh that Jacob had made Joseph swear to bury him in the land of Canaan and ask that he might go up, bury his father, and return. Pharaoh consented, and Joseph went up with all Pharaoh’s court, Egypt’s elders, chariots, horsemen, and all Joseph’s relatives, leaving only the little ones and the flocks and herds behind in the land of Goshen. At the threshing-floor of Atad, beyond the Jordan River, they mourned for his father seven days, and the Canaanites remarked at how grievous the mourning was for the Egyptians, and thus the place was named Abel-mizraim. Jacob’s sons carried out his command and buried him in the cave of Machpelah, and the funeral party returned to Egypt.
With Jacob’s death, Joseph's brothers grew concerned that Joseph would repay them for the evil that they had done, and they sent Joseph a message that Jacob had commanded him to forgive them. When the brothers spoke to Joseph, he wept, and his brothers fell down before him and declared that they were his bondmen. Joseph told them not to fear, for he was not God, and even though they had intended him evil, God meant it for good, to save many people. Joseph spoke kindly to them, comforted them, and committed to sustain them and their little ones.
Joseph lived 110 years, saw Ephraim's children of the third generation, and grandchildren of Manasseh were born on Joseph's knees. Joseph told his brothers that he was dying, but God would surely remember them and bring them out of Egypt to the land that God had sworn to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph made the children of Israel swear to carry his bones to that land. So Joseph died, and they embalmed him, and put him in a coffin in Egypt.
Hear the parshah chanted
Commentary from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University (Conservative)
Commentary from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Conservative)
Commentary by the Conservative Yeshiva
Commentary by the Union for Reform Judaism (Reform)
Commentaries from Project Genesis (Orthodox)
Commentaries from Chabad.org (Orthodox)
Commentaries from Aish HaTorah (Orthodox)
Commentaries from the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (Reconstructionist)
Commentaries from My Jewish Learning (trans-denominational)