Friday, December 17, 2010

Parsha Notes Vayichee

As we conclude Sefer Berayshis, you're reminded and invited to contribute something to bedek habayis if you've found ParshaNotes edifying. 

Click to see this week's edition.
As first remarked by R' David Kinchi (you know, the Radak)  Joseph spends the first 17 years of his life "in Jacob's lap"; likewise the last 17 years of Jacob's life are "in Joseph's lap."

Neat Rashi
On 48:16 the verse says "the lads" and Rashi helpfully points out that Ephraim and Menashe are intended. Why point out the obvious? Perhaps because the language Jacob employs leaves this less then obvious. He says "The angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads." Ephraim and Menashe each had a descendant(1) who was rescued by an angel and was referred to as a "lad."(2) A reader who is aware of this, may presume that Jacob was speaking prophetically. Indeed the Midrash Raba (BR 97:3) says explicitly that "he shall bless the lads is a reference to these descendants. According to Avigdor Bonchek, Rachi's comment is meant to argue in favor of the plain explanation contra the Midrash.

(1) Yehoshua bin Nun and Gideon ben Joash.
(2) Regarding them being rescued by angels see Joshua 5:13, Judges 6:12; regarding them being called "lads" see Exodus 33:11 and Judges 6:15.

The great Genesis theme of reversal of the primogeniture is depicted twice this week: After Ephtaim and Menashe are expressly made equal to (or better than) Reuven and Shimon, Ephraim is also put ahead of his older brother.

Ritual adoption was part of ANE life, and the ceremony is described in various discovered documents. It included placing the child on the older man's knees, and such a rite is depicted in 48:12

The ideal Egyptian life span was 110 years (For us its 120.) Joseph is said to have lived 110 years.

The practice in Egypt was to moun royalty for 72 days. In 50:3 this has been rounded down to a more Jewish 70.

Against the crux
Many critics say the mention of Rachel during Jacob's last instructions to Joseph are evidence of a crux, or sloppy editing. Critics who believe Genesis is a literary whole argue that words about Rachel at this juncture fit Jacob's character. Rashi says Rachel is mentioned because Jacob is asking for his own body to be returned to a the family tomb, a kindness he was unable to perform for Joseph's mother. Alter says Jacob appears to have never reconciled himself to the early loss of his most beloved wife; now, as he is about to adopt two grandsons by her firstborn to compensate for the sons she never had, it seems reasonable that she would be on his mind.

Immediately after speaking the words "Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are" Jacob sees them and says "Who are they." Against those critics who say this is yet another crux, Alter suggests that "Who are they" is an opening formula in the adoption ritual. Alternatively this may be meant to parallel as earlier blessing scene. Issac also blessed the younger instead of the elder, in part, due to blindness. 

For 48:15 the MT gives "ויברך את־יוסף ויאמר האלהים אשר התהלכו אבתי לפניו אברהם ויצחק האלהים הרעה אתי מעודי עד־היום הזה׃" The context does not support a blessing for Joseph alone, and other ancient texts (Syriac, Vulgate and LXX) give and "he blessed them" instead.

In Gen 48:16 Jacob appears to be praying to an angel. Such speculation, thought, is unfounded. The grammar suggests the angel is God himself (48:15 is an incomplete sentence, and the subject of that sentence is God) but the context suggests that Jacob is speaking of angels that God sent him previously (see 31:11) He seems to be asking God to continue to send angels to favorably intervene in the lives of his descendants

Style Alert
The life of Jacob (with the Patriarchal Tales behind it) ends with a long poem. The same is true for both Moshe and David. They also take leave of their mortal coil only after announcing a long poem. (Alter)


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