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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Vayechi

And I, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died unto me in the land of Canaan on the road when there was still a stretch of land to come to Efras, and I buried her there on the road. (48:7)

Yaakov seems to be justifying himself for not burying Rachel in the Me'oras Ha’machpeilah. After all, Yaakov is imploring Yosef to make sure that he is interred in the burial place of the Patriarchs, even though his beloved wife, Rachel, Yosef’s mother, was not buried there! If that was the intended meaning, however, then Yaakov’s "speech" would have been placed earlier in the parsha, where Yaakov asks Yosef to bury him in the Me'oras Ha’machpeilah. In this context his statement is apparently connected to the decision to grant each of Yosef’s sons a special position as an individual tribe among the shevatim.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, notes that during this entire conversation the Torah refers to him as Yaakov -- not Yisrael. This is the case until the point when Yaakov confers "shevet" status upon Menashe and Efraim and blesses them. "Vayischazak Yisrael," Yaakov pulled himself together only when Yosef approached him. Yaakov's response indicates Yosef’s importance. Specifically, it underscores how Yosef's significance would ultimately affect the national future of Klal Yisrael. As Yaakov looked at his two grandsons, he viewed them as Yisrael - attributing special meaning to that moment.

Horav Hirsch contends that Yaakov’s decision to make Yosef's descendants into a double tribe was the result of his overwhelming love for Yosef. Unrelated to national considerations, it was purely a personal decision. In these last days of his life, Yaakov’s thoughts reverted back to Rachel, his intended wife, whom he cherished with great affection, who had been tragically taken away from him the earliest. Her memory was especially prominent in his mind. Indeed, it was more than likely that her fate would cast her in the distant background in the future memorials of the nation. He feared she would be forgotten. In the future, when Yaakov’s descendants would go to pray at the graves of their ancestors, they would visit the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, but Rachel Imeinu, the Matriarch who was Yosef’s mother and Yaakov’s beloved, would be missing. Yosef’s mother, even in death, did not receive her rightful place. Only two tribes would memorialize her as their mother.

Yaakov feared that Rachel would be forgotten, so he decided to make Yosef - Rachel’s firstborn - the firstborn of the tribes, by forming two tribes from the descendants of Yosef's two sons. He granted them a "double portion" as is the due of the firstborn. Yaakov clearly was demonstrating his undying affection for Rachel. He gave her in death what she never had experienced in life.

And Yisrael saw Yosef’s sons and he said, "Who are these?" And Yosef said to his father, "They are my sons whom Hashem has given me here." He said, "Bring them to me if you please, and I will bless them." (48:8,9)

The Midrash explains that Yaakov obviously knew the identity of Yosef’s sons. He was in Egypt for seventeen years. He certainly had the opportunity to interact with them during this time. Also, Yaakov studied Torah with Efraim. Chazal explain that when Yaakov was about to bless Yosef’s children, the Shechinah departed from him. He foresaw that evil kings would descend from them: Yaravam and Achav from Efraim; Yehu and his sons from Menashe. This vision shocked Yaakov so that he asked Yosef, "Who are these?" meaning, from where did these sons, who are apparently unworthy of blessing, come? Yosef assured his father that they were begotten from a union which was holy and kosher according to the demands of halachah and were consequently worthy of blessing.

We may question the words of the Midrash. If Efraim and Menashe are not worthy of blessing based on their own merit since their descendants would be evil, how would the kashrus/halachic acceptability of their parents’ union change this reality? They are either worthy or they are not! Also, why did Efraim and Menashe become the standard for blessing with which every parent blesses his sons, "May Hashem make you like Efraim and Menashe?" What was so unique about these two sons in contrast to the other tribes?

Horav Avraham Kilav, Shlita, describes a major difference between Efraim and Menashe and the other tribes. The shevatim were all born in exile when their father worked for Lavan. When they finally left Lavan’s home, it was not in a dignified manner--they were forced to flee from him. While they were yet on the road prior to settling in Eretz Yisrael, the tragedy that befell Dinah occurred. This preceded the tragedy of mechiras Yosef, which left their father a broken man, bereft of his favorite child. One may submit that even after they settled in Egypt under Yosef's protection, they were still "unsettled" as they were fully cognizant that they were responsible for creating tragedy in Yosef’s life. Thus, we may suggest that the sons of Yaakov were filled with anxiety. They never could call themselves "free men" in the sense that they were never released from the cloud of fear which loomed over them.

Conversely, Yosef’s sons were born to him when he was already the viceroy over Egypt. Eminently successfull and powerful, Yosef was able to provide a lifestyle of royalty, dignity, and freedom for his sons. His sons were revered. While Efraim and Menashe knew their roots, the ambiguities and anxieties that plagued their grandfather did not really affect them. They were raised as free men with incredible self-confidence. They were aware that, as Yaakov’s grandsons, they were the scions of the Patriarchs, replete with kedushah and taharah, holiness and purity. They were also the sons of Yosef, the powerful leader of Egypt, the man to whose word the entire world listened. Indeed, Yosef’s sons had the characteristics necessary to become great leaders.

Something happened, however. Yaakov saw disaster in the future. He saw how Efraim and Menashe’s resolution and spiritedness backfired many generations later through the evil which their descendants perpetrated. The qualities that were so desirable for national leadership and blessing actually became a catalyst of downfall. The self-confidence turned into gross chutzpah; the courage was transformed into audacity and shamelessness. Yaakov questioned Yosef, "Who are these?" He saw the roots of evil in Efraim and Menashe. How could this be? Yosef responded, "They are my sons which Hashem has given me here." They were born in Egypt, so that our people would have leadership that was not raised amidst anxiety, depression, and exile. They were born into and raised throughout their lives in the comfort of freedom and autonomy--not beholden to anyone. Their self-determination was a valuable asset for Klal Yisrael. Yehoshua, the leader who took Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael, was a descendant of Efraim. One who is free, one who is filled with self-confidence and resolve, can serve Hashem without fear or anxiety. Yes, there is a possibility that self-determination can lead to disaster. Without it, however, Klal Yisrael’s leadership would have been limited. The two must serve together, Efraim and Menashe, each enhancing the other’s qualities. Efraim represents the spirit while Menashe symbolizes material pursuit. Together, they create an unparalleled leadership. Only when Menashe acquiesces to Efraim is there no fear of the consequences of material endeavor. On the contrary, this relationship sublimates the material, engendering it with sanctity. This is the blessing that we give our children: "May they be like Efraim and Menashe." Efraim’s devotion to the spirit permeates and imbues Menashe’s material enterprise.

Water like impetuosity--you cannot be foremost, because you mounted your father’s bed; then you desecrated Him Who ascended my couch. (49:4)

Reuven’s impetuosity cost him his right to national leadership. We may wonder if Reuven’s action was really that inappropriate. After all, he was demonstrating overwhelming respect to his mother. Indeed, the Torah lists Reuven together with the rest of his brothers. This causes Chazal to comment that Reuven was as righteous as they. He did not sin. He erred and was deserving of a formal reprimand. Why, however, should he have lost the bechorah?

Horav Zaidel Epstein, Shlita, makes a compelling statement. Reuven was certainly demonstrating concern for his mother's feelings, fulfilling the mitzvah of kibud eim, honoring his mother. What about his father? Is he permitted to neglect honoring his father in order to respect his mother? Yaakov was implying to Reuven that his impetuousness caused him not to think of all the ramifications of his actions. His impulsiveness caused him to lose sight of his father's needs. Consequently, commensurate with his level and position, his potential for leadership was viewed as deficient. Therefore, he lost the birthright.

Horav Epstein cites a similar instance in the Talmud 31b which recounts how Eili the Kohen Gadol sent a Kohen to slaughter a bullock. When Shmuel, who later became the leader of Klal Yisrael, saw that they were looking for a Kohen, he said to them, "Why do you go looking for a Kohen to perform the shechitah? The shechitah may be performed by a zar, layman!" They immediately brought him to Eili, who asked him, "How do you know this?" Shmuel responded with a valid proof from the Torah. Eili replied, "You have spoken well, but you are guilty of rendering a decision in the presence of your rebbe. Whoever gives a decision in the presence of his teacher is liable for the death penalty." Thereupon, Shmuel’s mother, Channah, came and cried and begged forgiveness. Shmuel was spared, but not until Eili expressed strong criticism regarding his impulsive behavior.

When we think about it, we should question: What did Shmuel do that was so irresponsible? All he did was state a halachah! In fact, as the Maharsha posits, Shmuel was only two years old at the time. Rather than focusing on his brilliance, he was chastised for speaking "out of turn." One would think that rather than be criticized, Shmuel should have been praised for his scholarly application of the laws. In truth, Shmuel was criticized not for what he said, but rather for the manner in which he communicated. It appeared to the innocent bystander that Shmuel was insolent, rendering a decision in the presence of his rebbe.

We infer from here the enormous responsibility one has whenever he undertakes a given activity, regardless of its positive nature. It is quite conceivable that while our intentions are correct, and the focus of our activity is commendable, there might still be a tinge of impropriety that we have neglected to consider. That one little error can devastate the most glorious plans.

Shimon and Levi are brothers. (49:5)

In the context of the pasuk, the word "achim," which is usually translated as "brothers," is interpreted as "comrades." Shimon and Levi are paired together as comrades in arms, who conspired together to commit a violent act against the people of Shechem. From the fact that Yaakov calls them "achim," we may infer that he viewed them as equals, neither one having any distinction over the other. Interestingly, this equality did not last very long. In the end, they went different ways. Levi went to the extreme right, serving as the symbol of Torah. Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, the leaders who shepherded Am Yisrael during its formative years, are descendants of Levi. Shimon’s descendants had a derogatory reputation. Zimri, who openly defied Moshe and cohabited with a pagan princess, initiated the rebellion that was the cause of the deaths of twenty-four thousand Jews. It was Pinchas, a descendant of Levi, who had the zealous response which quelled the ensuing plague.

The tribe of Shimon was small in number, because many of them perished as a result of their sins. Shevet Levi’s numbers were also small, but that was due to their constant exposure to the sanctity of the Aron Hakodesh. Neither received an official portion in Eretz Yisrael. The reason for the individual exclusion of each, however, was different. Levi did not inherit a portion because Hashem is considered to be his portion. He is to be totally dedicated to the sacred, not involving himself in the mundane. Shimon, on the other hand, did not receive land as a punishment for his transgression.

Where did they differ? How did two brothers, seemingly equal in nature and temperament, uniform in their attitude and observance, separate and go in different directions? Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, suggests that while Yaakov apparently rebuked both brothers equally, Levi applied himself, corrected his error and adjusted his attitude considerably. He devoted himself whole-heartedly to the study and dissemination of Torah. The two brothers started out the same way. One, however, listened and accepted the mussar - reproach - that he received, to a greater degree. Levi listened to the point that his descendant, zealous for the honor of Hashem, killed the prince of the tribe of Shimon as he was committing a repugnant act. It is not one’s sin that destroys an individual as much as his unwillingness to correct and mend his ways. One's character is reflected most deeply in his sincere teshuvah.


1. The chesed that is performed with the deceased is called _________ ____ ________.
2. Why did Yaakov bow down towards the head of the bed?
3. A. Why did the Shechinah leave Yaakov as he was about to bless Efraim and Menashe?
B. Where else in this parsha do we find that the Shechinah left Yaakov?
4. Which great leader descended from Menashe?
5. What two great honors did Reuven lose as a result of his impetuousness regarding Bilhah?
6. Which one of the tribes was compared to Shevet Yehudah?
7. How much time elapsed between Yaakov Avinu’s death and his burial in Me’oras Ha’machpeilah?


1. Chesed shel Emes
2. A. He bowed to the Shechinah which is at the head of the bed.
B. He thanked Hashem that his "bed" was perfect; none of his children had become reshaim.
3. A. When Yaakov saw b’ruach Hakodesh that Yaravam and Achav would descend from Efraim, and Yehu and his sons would descend from Menashe, the Shechinah departed from him.
B. When Yaakov was about to reveal the "end of the days" to his sons, the Shechinah left.
4. Gidon.
5. Kehunah and malchus.
6. Dan.
7. 70 days.


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