Shabbat Table Topics – Parashat Vayechi

Blessing or Prophecy?

On his deathbed, Yaakov tells his children that he is about to tell them "אֵת אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָא אֶתְכֶם בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים".  Was Yaakov simply sharing with his offspring his hopes and aspirations for their future, or were his words prophetic in nature?  Does the term "אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים" refer to events which are to transpire in his sons' own lives, that which will affect their descendants upon their return to the Land of Israel, or what will happen in Messianic times? Did he speak to his children as individuals or as leaders of future tribes?

  • How do these different possibilities affect your reading of each individual blessing and of the unit as a whole?  For two examples, see Yehuda's Blessing – Eternal Kingship and Yaakov's Blessing of Yosef.
  • If you were to write a Last Will and Testament, what would it include?  How would it compare to Yaakov's message?

Another Case of Favoritism?

Before blessing each of his children, Yaakov meets individually with Yosef, promising him that both his sons will assume tribal status and that he will get a double portion of the land.1  What is motivating Yaakov's action?

  • Is Yaakov once again simply showing favoritism to his beloved son?  Has he not learned the lesson that this might have negative repercussions?
  • R. Z. Weitman,2 in contrast, suggests that Yaakov was motivated not by love, but by concern for an assimilated son. He contends that Yosef and his family had acculturated in Egypt and the double portion was an attempt to keep him in the fold and reconnect him to the Land of Israel.  What evidence might there be in the text that Yosef had assimilated?  How could Yaakov's words be addressing that issue?  Finally, is it problematic to suggest that Yosef was not always "יוסף הצדיק"?

See Yaakov's Retrospective and Yosef's Double Portion for more.

Reordering Torah: The Case of Menashe and Ephraim

While many commentators assume that Yaakov blessed Menashe and Ephraim on his deathbed, as the placement of the story would suggest, some modern scholars3 assume that the incident is achronological.

  • What would motivate someone to suggest that the blessing did not take place when described?  How does changing the time frame of the incident impact our understanding of the story?
  • In what circumstances is it justified to suggest that passages in the Torah are written out of order, and when is doing so taking too much liberty with the text?
  • Does the Torah ever provide any textual clues which could serve as evidence for positing achronology? 

See When Did Yaakov Bless Ephraim and Menashe for more.

Was Yehuda Really Promised Eternal Kinship?

Yehuda is blessed by Yaakov that "לֹא יָסוּר שֵׁבֶט מִיהוּדָה וּמְחֹקֵק מִבֵּין רַגְלָיו עַד כִּי יָבֹא שִׁילֹה וְלוֹ יִקְּהַת עַמִּים".  At first glance, these words appear to suggest that Yaakov promised that Yehuda was to rule forever, with the staff of leadership never departing from his descendants. How, though, can such a reading be reconciled with the fact that there are vasts period of Jewish history in which there was no leader from the tribe of Yehuda?

  • Must the words "שֵׁבֶט" and and "מְחֹקֵק" refer to kingship?  What else might the terms mean and how might that affect the meaning of the blessing?
  • Who or what is שִׁילֹה" and what is to happen when "כִּי יָבֹא שִׁילֹה"?  Is Yaakov marking an endpoint for his blessing, and if so when is it?
  • How might the various understandings of the blessing be responding to Christian claims regarding the arrival of Mashiach? See, for example, the explicitly polemical comments of the RashbaAbout R. Shelomo b. Aderet and R. BachyaBereshit 49:9About R. Bachya b. Asher.

For elaboration, see Yehuda's Blessing – Eternal Kingship.


For more, see: Parashat Vayechi Topics.