Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #12: Vayechi (He lived) B’resheit (Genesis) 47:28-50:26
Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings) 2:1-12
B’rit Chadashah: Hebrews 11:21-22; 1 Kefa (1 Peter) 1:3-9; 2:11-17
This week I want to start with a closer examination of Chapter 48:5-7. In this part of the narrative, Jacob is speaking to Joseph about his two sons that were born in Egypt. He told Joseph that these two boys “shall be mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine no less that Reuben and Simeon. But progeny born to you after them shall be yours; they shall be recorded instead of their brothers in their inheritance. I [do this because] when I was returning from Paddan, Rachel died, to my sorrow, while I was journeying in the land of Canaan, when still some distance short of Ephrath; and I buried her there on the road to Ephrath-now Bethlehem.”
The above narrative begs for an explanation. Why would Jacob claim Ephraim and Manasseh as his own while relegating any further offspring of Joseph’s to be “his?” Why is the inheritance to be given to Joseph’s subsequent offspring? Jacob tells Joseph it is because Rachel died on the side of the road on the way to Ephrath but what does that have to do with anything? Let’s explore these verses for the answers.
One explanation is as follows. Jacob adopted the first two boys out of respect and love for Rachel, who was their grandmother. This act promoted these boys to the status of tribal founders and in essence makes Jacob’s favored wife although deceased, their mother in place of the Egyptian priest’s daughter. The end of verse 5 seems to indicate that Ephraim and Manasseh will become the senior tribes, replacing Reuben and Simeon, both of whom earn their father’s censure (34.30; 35.22; 49.3-7).in 1 Chronicles 5.1 verse 6 stipulates that additional progeny that Joseph has or will have shall be classified under Ephraim and Manasseh and not enjoy the status of Jacob’s other sons.
Some scriptures that list the 12 Tribes include Joseph and Levi, but others omit levi and divide Joseph into Ephraim and Manasseh in considerable detail. Reading just a bit further into verse 8, one may think that Israel(Jacob) is confused as he asks Joseph who the two boys are when he just finished discussing them and clearly blessing each in verses 12-20 and describing their future through prophecy. The question of Israel’s seeming confusion is easily explained if we look at verse 8 as a continuation of verse 2 and 3-7 understood to be an interpretation. If any doubt remains as to Israel’s mental state, the issue is clarified in verse 17-20.
Both tribes became important, but it was from Ephraim that Joshua who was the successor of Moshe, Samuel the prophet, and Jeroboam I, who was the founder of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) came (Num.13:8; 1 Sam. 1:1; 1 Kings 11.26). Ultimately, Ephraim became synonymous with the Northern Kingdom (Hos.5:3; Isa.7.1-17).
Now let’s move to a lesson that can be learned from the peculiar writing of this parashah in the Torah scroll. This parashah is unique in that there is no space between it and the preceding parashah. Typically, there is a space of at least 9 letters in length or a new line separating two parashot. A possible meaning of this anomaly is explained by Rashi.
Rashi describes this parashah as closed, meant to teach something about the mood of Jacob’s children when he died; that is their hearts were not open to the possibility of impending bondage and suffering of the children of Israel. Indeed, after Jacob’s death, the spiritual exile of the people began according to rabbinic interpretation. I submit that the spiritual exile of the children of Israel (all true believers) and man in general began with the deception of Chava (Eve) and the sin of Adam, described in Genesis 3:14-19.
Another reason for the structure of this parashah may be that Jacob wanted to tell his children the time of the “End” known as the Messianic age when Israel’s exiles would finally end, but his prophetic vision was closed, according to Rashi. However, the blessings Joseph gave his children blessings that were indeed prophetic and extend to the time of Messiah Yahshua’s return. Even the blessings of Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 48:17-20) foretell of their inclusion in the 144,00 called out one to be sealed during the Tribulation described as M’nasheh and from the tribe of Yosef in Revelation 7:6,8.
Another perspective on the unique structure of this parashah in the Torah scroll comes from the Sages who teach that the spaces in the Torah indicate that G-d paused in order to allow Moshe and future students to reflect on the preceding verses. Therefore, the “closure” of this parashah’s structure implies that after Jacob’s death, his progeny were not able to perceive or comprehend the significance of this narrative (R. Gedaliah Schorr).
Jacob beseeched Joseph to take his body out of Egypt to be buried with his fathers. As messianic believers we understand this request as Egypt represents the sinful lifestyle; an anti-Torah paradigm of living. Our Orthodox brethren add their own explanations for this request; a) He knew that the soil would one day be plagued with lice (Ex.8:12) which would have swarmed his body had he been buried there; b) those who are buried outside of the Land of Israel” will not come to life at the resurrection until they roll through the earth to Eretz Israel; c) He did not want the Egyptians to make his tomb a shrine of idol worship (Rashi ). I submit this may have been a danger with some true believers (Israel). Jacob may have wanted to emphasize that Eretz Israel was/is their only true heritage and homeland, no matter how comfortable they/we may become in a foreign land. Indeed, history testifies to the assimilation of Israel into other cultures and idolatrous practices with horrific consequences.
A recurring question in this parashah is why Rachel, who was Jacob’s favorite wife, buried on the side of the road instead of with the other matriarchs and patriarchs. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah were buried in the cave at Machpelah in Hebron, which Abraham had originally purchased from Ephron the Hittite for the burial of Sarah (Gen.23) because of the cave’s proximity to the place of their deaths.
The body of Jacob was carried up to Hebron from Egypt (where Jacob had died after going there to see Joseph) (Gen, 50), which was possible because the Bible specifically says that Jacob was embalmed according to Egyptian burial practices after his death, which preserved his body, and allowed it to be moved (as also happened with the body of Joseph at the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt hundreds of years later (Gen. 50:26; Ex. 13:19). Rachel died following childbirth near Bethlehem (Gen. 35:19). Although this would have been “only” (by our modern standards) about eighteen miles from Hebron, it would not have been possible at that time to carry her (unembalmed) body that distance for burial (especially since all of Jacob’s flocks and herds would have had to make the journey also). Therefore, she was buried at the location where she had died, within the short time frame normally associated with Jewish burials. Orthodox Judaism holds to a different reason explained in the Chumash “Even though she died but a short distance from Bethlehem, G-d commanded Jacob to bury her by the roadside so that she could help the Jewish people when Nebuzaradan, the chief general of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon would lead Israel into captivity after the destruction of the first Temple. When the Jews were passing along the road to Bethlehem, tormented, hungry, and exhausted, Rachel’s soul came to her grave, and wept, beseeching G-d’s mercy upon them (see Jer.31:14) G-d heard her plea. As the prophet relates, ‘A voice is heard on high, the sound of lamentation… Rachel weeping for her children… [G-d replied to her] Withhold your voice from , and your children will return to their brother (Rashi). Let’s look at Jeremiah and see if this opinion is validated.
Jeremiah 31:14. First, there is no scripture stating that G-d ordered her to be buried at the roadside. Adonai is speaking through Jeremiah about Israel, not Rachel. There is a reference to Rachel “weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children because they are no longer alive.” Then Adonai says, ‘Stop your weeping, and dry your eyes, for your work will be rewarded, says Adonai. They will return from the enemy’s land; so, there is hope for your future, says Adonai. Your children will return to their own territory.” The last word in this passage is territory not brother. This certainly makes a difference in context of the passage. Just as the Torah speaks of the all- inclusive progeny of Ephraim by using his name, I believe the name Rachel is used to represent her sons and their progeny: Joseph, and Benjamin. So, we have included in Jeremiah’s prophecy biological Jews and their fellow travelers, whether formal conversion took place. Ephraim is spoken of in verses 31:17-20, Israel in verse 21-24, Israel and Judah collectively in verses 25-36. Exegetically, we may conclude that the use of Rachel’s name in the context of Jeremiah’s prophecy alludes to Benjamin (included in Judah), and Joseph, of whose progeny includes Manasseh and Ephraim, that necessarily includes Gentiles who become fellow travelers and converts.
Haftarah: M’lakhim Alef (1 Kings) 2:1-12
This haftarah echoes Josephs admonition to his sons on his deathbed to “go in His ways, and keep His regulations, commands, rulings, and instructions in accordance with what is written in the Torah of Moshe; so that you will succeed in all you do and wherever you go. If you do, Adonai will fulfill what He promised me when He said, If your children pay attention to how they live, conducting themselves before me honestly with all their heart and being, you will never lack a man on the throne of Israel.” Today we can easily see what has happened to date because we as a society and nation have not taken this exhortation seriously. We must return to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob while it is still day.
B’rit Chadashah: 1 Kefa (1 Peter) 1:3-9
This narrative reminds us that G-d is faithful and that we must necessarily endure various griefs and trials as would occur throughout the history of G-d’s people. “Through trusting, you are being protected by G-d’s power for a deliverance to be revealed at the Last Time. We are reminded that even gold is tested for genuineness by fire. We are told that the purpose of our trials is to trust our genuineness, which is more valuable than perishable gold and that we will be judged worthy of praise, glory, and honor at Yahshua’s coming.
This narrative is full of present tense verbiage “without seeing him now, but trusting him, you continue to be full of joy that is glorious beyond words. And you are receiving what your trust is aiming at, namely, your deliverance.” We simply and plainly have not arrived yet; salvation is not a given, something already done. A simple profession of faith and belief is not going to cut it, so says G-d’s Torah.
We must take time to evaluate our theology, our beliefs about what a saving relationship with G-d really means. The destination of our souls depends upon it.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart