Yaakov Blesses His Sons and Is Gathered to His Kin
Upon reading and contemplating the closing chapters in the lives of Yaakov, Yosef and all the sons of Yaakov I am left with mixed feelings.
Yaakov is dying. There is a sense of remaining distance between Yosef and his brothers, even after several years in Goshen under the care of HaShem and Yosef. This culminates upon the family’s return from Canaan after the burial of their father in the family gravesite, the Cave of Machpelah facing Mamre.
”When Yosef’s brothers saw their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Yosef still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong we did him!’” (Genesis 50:15)
This attitude of distrust between them caused tears and great remorse for Yosef requiring him to once again reassure them that he held no contempt or distrust in them:
”But Yosef said to them, ‘Have no fear! Am I a substitute for G-d? Besides, although you intended me harm, G-d intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result — the survival of many people. And so, fear not. I will sustain you and your children.’ Thus he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:19-21)
Yaakov’s dying words of blessing and prophecy concerning his offspring (Bereshit 49:1-28)
In the verses preceding these Yaakov has already elevated the two sons of Yosef — Ephraim and Manasseh — by adopting them as his own two sons, thereby removing from Reuben the status of first born with all its portion that would have normally been the inheritance of his Tribe.
A lot has been spoken and written by our Sages of Blessed Memory concerning Yaakov’s blessings over Ephraim and Manasseh, the territories of their inheritance and the leaders, kings and prophets that would arise out of them, as well as the impact on the other Tribes of Israel. [See: Bava Basra 121b — Midrash Yefeh Toar — Targum Yonasan — Berachos 20a; et al]. Yaakov now near physical death, calls all his sons around him and proceeded to give not only a blessing for each individual but also impart a prophetic pronouncement of the character and future role each Tribe bearing their names would play in the unfolding drama of HaShem’s plan, not only for Israel, but also for all creation.
Reuben: As the first from the loins of Yaakov he should have inherited all the rights and privileges such a place of honor reserves. However, because of the inner flaw of his person [See: Genesis 35:22] Reuben had dissipated this honor, not just for himself but also for his entire Tribe. That being said, even with the loss of the priesthood to his brother Levi and that of kingship to Judah, he and his descendants would remain respected as members of Israel.
Simeon and Levi: These two brothers, throughout their lives were always joined at the hip. Therefore, Yaakov offers their blessing jointly. Always a source of division and rage, a trait more in common with their Uncle Esav than their father Yaakov, these two Tribes would continue as a source of contention, even if their actions might sometime be justified in their own eyes as righteous indignation — as was the case in their murderous defense of their sister Dina against the men of Shechem. The descendants of these two brothers would also contend with Moshe in the wilderness. Korach, of the tribe of Levi led a rebellion against Moshe’s leadership and Zimri of the Tribe of Simeon would follow suit a little later.
Korach, son of Ishar, son of Kohath, son of Levi separated himself with Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliah and On son of Peleth, the offspring of Reuben…they gathered against Moshe and against Aharon…” (Numbers 16:1)
”The name of the slain Israelite man who was slain with the Midianite woman was Zimri son of Salu, leader of the father’s house of Simeonites.” (Numbers 25:14)
The blessing on these two brothers (Levi and Simeon) was more like a curse. Levi the Tribe would inherit no portion of land and would always be as dependent as a servant of the people for its subsistence serving day and night before HaShem in the Temple, but only for as long as it was standing in Yerushalayim. Simeon the Tribe would be scattered about Israel drifting from place to place, but would prove to be great fighters as was their begetter.
”…I will separate them within Yaakov, and I will disperse them in Israel.” (Genesis 49:7)
”…Simeonites, valiant men, fighting troops — 7000.” (I Chronicles 12:26)
Judah: I’m sure at this point Judah is feeling a little trepidatious. His first three brothers didn’t fare well in their blessings. His own life hadn’t been much to write home about. He had disgraced his daughter-in-law Tamar and participated in the selling of his brother Yosef into slavery, in fact it was his idea. But his father called him to his side and gritting his teeth Judah readied himself for whatever may come.
What a pleasant surprise awaited him. Judah, possibly because of the great repentance and humility of character he had grown into over the course of his life after selling Yosef as a slave and years later his total commitment to the protection and safety of his youngest brother Benjamin had earned he and his future Tribe a place of distinction. His people, the Tribe of Judah would become the most dominate in landmass and population and would become the cornerstone for all legitimate and future kings of Israel starting with King David straight up to the greatest of all human kings, the Mashiach — may his reign begin in our days.
Issachar: This son and his Tribe’s blessing has been a bit harder to interpret. Some believe it to refer specifically to this Tribe’s penchant for agricultural expertise; while others, such as Rashi, think it points to Issachar’s offspring being spiritual leaders who take on the responsibility of teaching Torah and are cultivators, not of crops, but of HaShem’s spiritual treasures. [Chumash] This idea may find support in the fact that historically 200 head of the Sanhedrin came from the Tribe of Issachar.
”…of the Issacharites, men who knew how to interpret the signs of the times, to determine how Israel should act; their chiefs were 200 and all their kinsmen followed them.” (I Chronicles 12:33)
Dan: The blessing and prophecy to Dan, according to many of our Sages of Blessed Memory have more to do with one of his descendants than with Dan himself or the Tribe that would bear his name. That person is Samson whose whole story can be found beginning before his promised birth in Judges Chapter 13 through to his heroic death in Chapter 16.
Gad: Although the Tribe of Gad settled east of the Jordan River they would not fully engage that area until they had assisted their brother Tribes in obtaining their promised inheritance of Eretz Yisrael. As foretold by Yaakov, once that happened Gad went and settled in peaceably east of the Jordan.
Asher: Yaakov’s word to his son Asher is short and sweet and very delicious to his ears. As promised the area Asher’s Tribe settled was very fertile providing grain, olive oil and much in the way of produce, not only in Asher but throughout the Land.
Naphtali: Again, Yaakov offers a very short blessing for the Tribe of Naphtali. But its import will carry great significance for the future of the nation. Like a hind let loose is very swift so too an offspring of Naphtali would prove swift and beautiful when HaShem raised up Deborah the prophetess to aid in the swift destruction of Sisera and his mighty army of 900 iron chariots. On that day Deborah and the army she led with Barak son of Abinoam sang a beautiful song. [SEE: Judges Chapter 4 and 5]
Yosef: Yaakov had nothing but praise for his son Yosef who had by the will of HaShem overcome such hardship and cruel intent at the hand of others. While royalty was appointed to Judah the honor of being the crown among his brothers — “the righteous one” — belonged to Yosef alone. [SEE: Yoma 35b]
”The blessing of your father surpass the blessing of my ancestors, to the utmost bounds of the eternal hills. May they rest on the head of Yosef, on the brow of the elect of his brothers.” (Genesis 49:26)
Benjamin: Finally we come to the youngest son of Yaakov. The child of his older years from the woman he loved most in all the world. As blessed and foretold Benjamin’s Tribe and descendants would become fearless and ferocious warriors in the defense of the Promised Land. Israel’s very first king would arise from this Tribe — Shaul (Saul). Although Saul’s reign was short and beset by tribulations, mostly the result of his own zealous and arrogant fits of rage and envy, his earlier years as a warrior were legend with the defeat of Israel’s enemies of the time like the Philistines, Moabites and Edomites. His great ability as a warrior led the peoples of every Tribe to demand him to be crowned Israel’s first king and undisputed leader.
With the blessings made and the prophecies for the Twelve Tribes disseminated Yaakov now old and blind with age gives one last instruction in the ears of all his sons:
”…bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite. In the Cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which faces Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Avraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site…” (Genesis 49:29-30)
Having said all he needed to say “he drew his feet on the bed; he died and was gathered to his people.” (Genesis 49:33)
Yosef and his brothers do all their father had instructed. They returned from Canaan to Egypt where they remained in Goshen until the brothers and Yosef too had breathed their last. Before his death Yosef procured a promise from his people Israel who were growing in great numbers in the land of Goshen that on the day of HaShem’s choosing — and they would know when that day arrives — they would transport his bones with them to be buried alongside his kin in the same Cave of his ancestors.
While over two hundred years will pass, for us, that day will finally come in next week’s parsha. Shalom!