Parshat VaYeche


Rabbi Bernard Fox



“And I give you an additional portion, beyond your brothers, that I captured from the Amorite with my sword and bow.”  (Beresheit 48:22)

In this passage, Yaakov reiterates that Yosef’s descendants will receive a double portion of the land of Israel.  Yaakov describes this portion as the land that he captured from the Amorite with his sword and bow. 


This phrase is difficult to explain.  Yaakov seems to say that he is giving to Yosef a portion of land that he had seized from the Amorite in battle.  However, there is no account in the Torah of Yaakov battling the Amorite.  To what land and battle does Yaakov refer?


Rashi offers a number of explanations for this phrase.  One is that Yaakov did wage a war with the Amorite nations.  This was an outcome of Shimon and Leyve’s slaughter of the people of Shechem.  The surrounding nations regarded this attack as an atrocity.  They banded together to destroy Yaakov and his children.  Yaakov was forced to defend himself and his family.  He defeated the Amorite nations and possessed their lands.[1]


Rabbaynu Avraham ibn Ezra offers an alternative explanation of the phrase.  He explains that this phrase refers to the future.  Yaakov tells Yosef that his children will receive a double portion of the land that will be captured from the Amorite nations in the future.  Bnai Yisrael will leave Egypt.  They will reenter the land of Israel.  They will dispossess the Amorite nations.  Yaakov tells Yosef that, at that time, his descendants will receive an extra portion of the land of Israel.


There is an obvious difficulty with Ibn Ezra’s interpretation of the passage.  According to Ibn Ezra, the pasuk refers to land that will be captured in the future.  However, the phrase in the pasuk is written in the past tense.  Translated literally, the phrase describes the land as already captured.

Ibn Ezra offers an important response to this problem.  He explains that Yaakov knew through prophecy that his descendants would capture the land of Israel.  His certainty in the validity of this prophecy was absolute.  He expresses this conviction in the accuracy of the prophecy through employing the past tense.  He is saying that the prophesized possession is so certain that it can be regarded as already accomplished.[2]


Ibn Ezra’s comments deserve closer attention.  According to Ibn Ezra, Yaakov was communicating a message regarding his certainty in his prophecy.  On a basic level, this message taught a lesson regarding prophecy.  The prophet is absolutely certain in the veracity of his prophecy.  He does not doubt the source of the revelation.  He knows that the prophecy is a message from the Almighty.  According to Maimonides, this is one of the lessons derived from Avraham’s binding of Yitzchak.  No father would be willing to sacrifice his son without absolute certainty that Hashem required this.  Avraham bound Yitzchak and placed him upon the altar.  He was willing to take his son’s life.  There can be no doubt that Avraham was certain that his prophetic knowledge of Hashem’s will was accurate.[3]


However, there is another lesson communicated by Yaakov.  We regard the past and present as more real than the future.  The past is known through experience.  The present we perceive with our senses.  The future is only glimpsed through the mind.  The future is less concrete than the past and present.  Therefore, we do not regard the future to be as real as the past and present.


Our evaluation of the future is not completely accurate.  In fact, the future can be as certain as the past and present.  All events are a result of the Creator’s will.  The past and present are an expression of His will.  The future also evolves as a result of His will.  In other words, all events – past, present and future – derive their reality from the will of the Almighty.  Therefore, our evaluation of the relative reality of these events is not accurate.  Prophecy reveals the Eternal’s will regarding the future.  With this revelation, we know the future with the same certainty that we associate with past and present experiences.  Yaakov communicated this lesson.  The future was as real to him as the past.  Both are merely expressions of the Divine will.         




“And he sees that rest is good and that the land is pleasant.  And he bends his back to carry the burden, working like a servant.” (Beresheit 49:15)

Before his death, Yaakov blesses his children.  This pasuk is part of the blessing of Yissachar.  Our Sages understood this blessing as a reference to the special responsibility accepted by the Shevet – tribe – of Yissachar.  This Shevet devoted itself to the study of Torah.  The burden carried by Yissachar was the responsibility of complete devotion to the Torah.  The servitude mentioned in the pasuk was the duty to provide religious leadership to Bnai Yisrael.  Rashi comments that the Shevet of Yissachar provided a disproportionate number of judges and teachers to the nation.[4]


Rabbaynu Avraham ben HaRambam provides an interesting explanation of the beginning of the pasuk.  Yaakov explains that Yissachar values rest.  What is the meaning of this statement?  Yaakov is explaining that Yissachar is not driven by a desire for conquest or domination.  Yissachar enjoys the more quite pleasures.[5]  Is there a relationship between this personality trait and the Shevet’s devotion to learning and spiritual pursuits?


There is an obvious relationship.  Learning is, itself, a quite pleasure.  One who seeks the more intense forms of stimulation will have difficulty finding meaning in intellectual or spiritual pursuits.  However, there is another role played by these characteristics. 


During the period of the composition of the Talmud there were two separate communities of scholars.  One set lived in Israel.  The other was situated in Bavel – Babylonia.  The Talmud, in Tractate Sanhedrin, compares the methodology of these two different groups.  The scholars in Israel preferred to develop their ideas cooperatively. Each scholar attempted to build upon and refine the theories of his fellow.  The scholars in Bavel used a different method.  This method was more confrontational.  Scholars questioned each other intensely.  Through the questions of his peers, each scholar was challenged to perfect his ideas.  Both methods were fruitful and produced invaluable insights into the Torah.  But is one method preferable?


Yad Ramah, a commentary on the Talmud, comments that there are two opinions on this issue.  The first opinion maintains that the method of Bavel had an advantage.  The rigor resulted in greater insight and deeper understanding.  The second opinion argues that the method of Israel was advantageous.  The group effort produced clear conclusions.  In contrast, the Bavel method, although insightful, often failed to lead to a definite conclusion.[6]


This disagreement seems to imply two views of the purpose of Talmudic discourse.  If we assume that the purpose is simply to uncover truth, then the method of Bavel is superior.  It produced the greater insights and depth of understanding.  However, Torah observance requires that we fulfill all of the requirements of the mitzvot.  If the objective of Talmudic discourse is to provide definitive answers to questions of halacha, then it seems the method of Israel was more successful.  The two opinions in Yad Ramah apparently represent these two possible understandings of the purpose of Talmudic discourse.


The character trait of the tribe of Yissachar has a special value in Torah study. These same qualities were found, many generations later, in the scholars of Israel.  These characteristics were fundamental to the development of the cooperative approach successfully applied by these scholars.




“And Yosef had Bnai Yisrael swear saying, "G-d will remember you and you will take up my bones from here".  (Beresheit 50:25)

Yosef approaches his brothers.  He tells them that he will die in Egypt.  He does not want to be buried in Egypt.  They will be redeemed by Hashem and brought to the land of Israel.  At the time of their redemption, they should remove his body from Egypt and bury him in the land of Israel.  The brothers agree to Yosef's request.  They swear that they will fulfill his wishes.


Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik Zt”l asks an interesting question.  Why did Yosef turn to his brothers for assistance?  Yosef had his own children.  He knew that his own descendants would be rescued from Egypt.  Why did Yosef not ask his own children to accept responsibility for fulfilling his wishes?


In order to understand Rav Soloveitchik's answer to this question, we must review an earlier episode in the parasha.  Immediately prior to this incident, the Chumash discusses Yaakov's death and the brothers' reaction.  The Torah tells us that the brothers were troubled by their relationship with Yosef.  They were afraid that Yosef still harbored ill feelings towards them.  They suspected that Yosef had deferred acting on these feeling during Yaakov's lifetime because of his love for his father.  Now that Yaakov had died, perhaps Yosef would seek to punish them.  Yosef assured his brothers that did not resent them and would continue to support care for them.


Yosef realized that his brothers did not completely accept him.  Their suspicion was based on distrust.  He was troubled by this relationship.  He knew that Bnai Yisrael must be a single unified nation.  His descendants must live in peace with the children of his brothers.  How could he bring about a more total reconciliation?


Rav Soloveitchik explains that Yosef identified the underlying cause of the friction between himself and his brothers.  The tension was caused by his superior status.  The brothers were dependent upon him.  They had been forced to bow to Yosef.  They had reluctantly accepted Yosef as their leader.  This stratification was a source of resentment and distrust.  Based on this evaluation, Yosef devised a plan to place his brothers at ease. 


The essence of Yosef's plan was to demonstrate that they were all mutually dependant upon one another.  The brothers needed him.  But he also needed the brothers.  In order to create this mutual dependence he asked his brothers to accept responsibility for his interment in the land of Israel.  He placed his fate in their hands.  In this manner he demonstrated his trust in his brothers and created mutual dependency.[7]



[1] Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 28:22.

[2] Rabbaynu Avraham ibn Ezra, Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 28:22.

[3] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Moreh Nevuchim, volume 3, chapter 24.

[4] Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 49:15.

[5] Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 49:15.

[6] Rabbaynu Meir Abulafia, Yad Ramah Commentary on Mesechet Sanhedrin 24a.

[7] Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Yemai Zicaron (Jerusalem, 1986), p 19.