Thursday, December 12, 2013

Vayechi (“and he lived”) B’resheit/Genesis 47:28 – 50:26

Vayechi (“and he lived”)   B’resheit/Genesis 47:28 – 50:26

“…and he lived” is a splendid beginning to this portion which completes the introductory book of the Tanakh.  Was Ya’akov not living before?  A case can be made for that very thought, especially since the parashah’s introductory sentence continues with the words …”in the land of Egypt seventeen years…”.  Ya’akov could have been considered “dead” since the news of Yosef’s supposed demise 22 years prior to the father-son reunion in Egypt.  Additionally, the mention of the seventeen years in Egypt is significant when we also consider that Yosef was seventeen years old when he was sold into captivity (Gen. 17:2).

Thirty-four of Ya’akov’s one hundred forty-seven years were spent in the presence of Yosef.  One hundred thirteen years had been lived away from his presence.  Had he “lived” only when Yosef was actively involved in the family?  Let us reflect on Ya’akov’s remaining one hundred thirteen years.

 As we peruse the past events we notice that through the age of forty all that is revealed is a dysfunctional family in which the brothers are at odds with each other from within the womb to the selling of the birthright to Rebekah’s and Ya’akov’s trickery in the obtaining of Yitz’chak’s blessing.  As a result of the final incident mentioned here, Ya’akov fled for his life and his wife.  This final event occurred when the twins were forty years of age (Gen. 26:34).

Some of the ensuing years are a mystery to us, for there appears to be a period of approximately thirty-seven years of silence regarding Ya’akov.  From the Scripture we know that Ya’akov had been ninety-one when Yosef was born.  That information is gleaned through comparison of a couple of verses from B’resheit.  In 47:9 Ya’akov replies to Pharaoh’s question regarding his age by revealing that he was one hundred thirty at that time.  Yosef became second in command in Egypt when he was thirty years old (41:46), and we also see that when Ya’akov was counseled by Yosef to move to Egypt, it was related that the famine was just two years old (45:11).  Since we know that there had been seven good years of crops followed by the first two of seven years of drought, a simple computation of Yosef’s age reveals that he was thirty, his age at his promotion, plus the seven good harvest years, plus the first two famine years.  Hence, Yosef was thirty-nine at the same time his father was one hundred thirty, a difference of ninety-one years.

What about the “missing” years? Ya’akov specified in Genesis 31:41 that he had spent a total of twenty years with years with Laban, including the final six for his legacy of flocks.  The final six years occurred after Yosef was born (30:25) and prior to the birth of Ben’jamin, whose nativity would occur on the way to Beit Lechem (Bethlehem).

By extrapolation when then can figure thusly: Ya’akov left home at the age of forty and returned to the land of promise at the age of ninety-seven.  There are fifty-seven years sandwiched between the beginning and the completion of his sojourn.  He only attributes twenty of those years to his time with Laban, so that begs the question regarding the missing thirty-seven years, thirty-seven years that seemingly fit in between the time he left home and arrived in Haran. 

There is some rabbinic thought that he spent the time learning at the yeshiva of Shem at or near Jerusalem.  Scripturally though, there is no evidence of which I am aware regarding these lost years, so the events of these years will just have to remain hidden for now.

As the years with Laban are examined, it was not until the birth of Yosef that Ya’akov expressed a desire to be on his own, in essence, his life had begun.  Likewise, upon being told that Yosef had been mauled to death seventeen years later, his father stated, “For I will go down to the grave mourning for my son” (37:25).  Being in a state of mourning, especially one of this length, could hardly be called living.

The final verse of chapter 45 indicates that Ya’akov was somewhat revived upon having heard of Yosef’s seeming resurrection.  Hence, the statement at the beginning of this week’s reading, “Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years.  A further confirmation of this thought comes from Ya’akov’s reply to Pharaoh’s question of his age (47:8 – 9).  The number of years of his life is stated, but he also declared that of the days of his life, they had been few (regarding the good days) and bad had been the rest.  Because of this revelation, it is not out of line to posit that seventeen years out of one hundred thirty would be considered few by most reasonable men.

In concluding this portion of our reading, let us not forget that HaShem blessed Ya’akov with another seventeen years of life with his son Yosef, blessed be His holy name.


As a final thought regarding this parashah, a friend and classmate of mine asked last week if there is any evidence of the ten brothers having asked for forgiveness.  Other than going by the thought that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26), I see no evidence of a confession.  However, it is obvious in verses 19 – 21 of the final chapter of this book that Yosef forgave his brothers.

1 comment:

  1. My sincere apologies to all for the lateness of this posting.

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