General Overview: This week’s Torah reading, Vayechi, discusses Jacob’s final years. Shortly before his passing, Jacob blesses Joseph’s children as well as his own. A massive funeral procession escorts Jacob’s body to Canaan. The reading, and the Book of Genesis, concludes with Joseph’s death.
First Aliyah: Jacob lived his last seventeen years in Egypt. When Jacob sensed that his days were numbered he summoned Joseph and asked him to promise that he would bury him in Israel. Joseph acceded to the request. When Jacob then fell ill, Joseph visited him, accompanied by his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Jacob conferred upon Ephraim and Manasseh the status of tribal progenitors, a status hitherto enjoyed only by Jacob’s sons. Joseph asked his father to bless Ephraim and Manasseh.
Second Aliyah: Joseph presents his two sons, placing Manasseh, the firstborn, to Jacob’s right, and Ephraim to Jacob’s left. Jacob, who was nearly blind at this point, crossed his hands, placing his right – more prestigious – hand on Ephraim’s head. He blessed them: “May the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths, and may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land.”
Third Aliyah: Joseph was disturbed that Jacob placed his right hand on Ephraim, and he attempted to adjust his father’s hands. “I know, my son, I know,” Jacob responded, explaining that the “younger brother will be greater, and his children[‘s fame] will fill the nations.” Jacob blessed the two boys further, saying that all of Israel will bless each other by saying: “May G‑d make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.”
Fourth Aliyah: Jacob summoned all his sons, and delivered to each a poetic, and sometimes cryptic, parting personal message. Reuben was chastised for his impetuousness and for “ascending upon his father’s bed.” Shimon and Levi were rebuked for their anger, which expressed itself in the killing of the Shechemites and the attempted execution of Joseph. Judah was blessed with monarchy, success in waging battle, and an abundance of wine and milk in his portion. Zebulon was blessed with success in his sea-trade endeavors. Jacob likened Issachar to a thick-boned donkey who finds both rest and ample work. Dan was blessed with the tenacity of a serpent and the ability to judge.
Fifth Aliyah: Gad was blessed with bravery in battle. Asher’s blessing: an abundance of olive oil. Naphtali was blessed with the speed of a deer. Joseph was recognized for his charm, suffering, and righteousness, and was showered with a variety of blessings.
Sixth Aliyah: Benjamin was likened to a devouring wolf. Jacob then repeated his request to be buried in Israel, in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, and he passed away at the age of 147. After an extended national mourning period, Joseph received Pharaoh’s permission to carry Jacob’s body up to Israel. A huge funeral procession consisting of all the elders of Egypt as well as Jacob’s family went and buried Jacob. After returning to Egypt, Joseph’s brothers feared that now, after Jacob had passed away, Joseph would exact revenge from them for selling him into slavery. Joseph reassured them that he harbored no ill feelings towards them.
Seventh Aliyah: Joseph lived until the age of 110. Before passing away he told his brothers that G‑d would eventually take them out of Egypt and return them to the Promised Land. Joseph asked his brothers to promise that when that time arrived they would carry his remains with them, and inter him in Israel.
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