Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Parshat VaYechi

The Adoption of Ephraim and Menashe

When Yaakov felt that he was dying, he asked Yoseph to ensure that he will be buried in Canaan, in Hevron, together with Avraham and Yitzchak and his wife Leah. Yoseph promises that he would do that (See Bereshit 47:28:31).

Some time later, Yoseph heard that Yaakov was dying. He brings his two sons Menashe and Ephraim to him. Yaakov then begins along story of how God appeared to him on his way back from Padan Aram and how Rachel, Yoseph's mother died and how he buried her Bet Lechem. In the middle he interrupts the story and adopts Ephraim and Menashe as his two own sons.

It's a strange episode. Rashi explains that the reason why Yaakov is apologizing to Yoseph. He has just asked Yoseph to embark on an ambitious project. i.e. to take his body from Egypt to Ca naan, yet he did not do this for Yoseph's mother Rachel. She died in Bet Lechem and he buried her there. So he's saying even though I did not make the effort to take Rachel's body from Bet Lechem to Hevron, a relatively short journey, I still want you to take me from Egypt to Canaan.

The problem with this explanation is that it is in the wrong place. If this was Yaakov's intention, this story should have been in the previous chapter, when he actually asks Yoseph to bury him in Canaan. Yet this episode occurred sometime later. It also does not explain why Yaakov interrupts the story with the adoption of his grandchildren.

It is likely that Yaakov tells this story because it explains why he is adopting Ephraim and Menashe. How does it explain it?

When Yaakov returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him, saying: "a nation and a multitude of nations shall come into existence from you, and kings shall come forth from your loins" (Bereshit 35:11).

The problem with this is that Yaakov has no more children after this point; nothing more will come forth from his loins. Yaakov therefore understands this prophecy as referring to his grandchildren and so he adopts Ephraim and Menashe. He then goes on with the story to explain why he had no more children; it is because that Rachel his wife died.

Rather than being an apology, Yaakov is raising her status, ensuring that she has a larger share in "congregation of peoples" (ibid 48:4) that would come forth from him.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat VaYechi, entitled: "The Mummification of Yaakov" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat VaYechi, entitled: "Yoseph's inheritance" appears at

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