Parshas Vayechi 5758
Stand & Deliver
Volume 4 Issue 13
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
This week the Book of Braishis ends. Yaakov (Jacob) summoned his son
Yoseph (Joseph) and discussed final arrangements with him. He asked to be
transported to Chevron and to be interred in the same cave as his father,
mother, and grandparents. Yoseph returned home and an unprecedented event
occurred. Yaakov took ill. He is the first human that the Torah records
as getting sick. Yoseph was informed and quickly hurried to his father's
bedside. The Torah tells us that when Yoseph was announced, "Israel
(Jacob) exerted himself and sat up on the bed" (Genesis 48:2). Yoseph
enters the room and Yaakov proceeded to recount major events of his life to
him. Yaakov talked about his divine revelations and the blessings that the
Almighty bestowed upon him. He discussed the death of Rachel and explained
why he buried her in Bethlehem and not Hebron. Then Yaakov proceeded to
bless his beloved son Yoseph's children in a unique manner. He designates
Yoseph's children as shevatim (tribes) with equal rights and inheritance as
his other sons.
One portion of the episode needs clarification. The Torah is usually short
on detail. Why then does the Torah tell us that when Yoseph walked in
Yaakov exerted himself and sat up in bed? Why is that significant? Who
cares if he sat up or lay down? If he was able to sit, why should he not?
And if it was very difficult for him to sit up, why did he? And isn't what
Yaakov said more relevant than how he said it?
Rashi explains that the seemingly supplementary detail teaches us a lesson.
A father whose son has risen to power must show respect. It may have been
quite difficult for Yaakov to sit, however it was important. One must show
respect for royalty, even if it is his own child who has risen to power.
I'd like to analyze the incident from another angle.
American historian Paul F. Boller Jr. relates the following story: At noon
on January 1st 1863, the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation was
placed in front of Abraham Lincoln. He stared intensely at it as it lay
before him on his desk. He picked up his pen to sign it, and was about to
dip the quill into the ink when he hesitated and put his arm down. He
paused, closed his eyes, and began the process again. Determinedly he
picked up the quill, dipped it in the ink, and put it down. With a grim
face he turned to Secretary of State William N. Seward and said, "My hands
have been shaking since nine o'clock this morning. My right hand is almost
paralyzed. If I am ever to go down into history, it will be for this act.
My whole self is in it. However, if my hand trembles when I sign this
proclamation, whoever examines it will say hereafter, 'he hesitated'".
With that, the President mustered his strength, dipped the quill into the
ink, and slowly but resolutely signed in perfect form -- Abraham Lincoln.
As he lay on his deathbed, Yaakov Avinu was about to perform an
unprecedented act. He was about to bestow the title of shevatim, tribes,
to his grandchildren Ephraim and Menashe. This was an honor only relegated
to his own children. Then he blessed them with words that were destined to
become the hallmark of paternal blessings for generations to come. "By you
shall (the children of) Israel bless their children - May G-d shall make
you like Ephraim and Menashe. Thus shall be your children."
Those were not blessings that could be endowed in a prone position. As
weak as Yaakov was, he knew that the future of two young tribes lay in the
strength of his blessing. He wouldn't give it lying down. Yaakov Avinu
knew that any sign of weakness that he would convey in transferring that
most important message would be recognized for eternity. He mustered his
strength and sat up to give that blessing that would wax eternal. Execution
of great actions needs great strength and fortitude. Our forefather Yaakov
knew that just as there are things you can't take lying down, there are
also many things, namely greatness and blessing, that you cannot give lying
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