Vayekhi is the final portion in the book of Genesis. Jacob dies. His family is getting more settled in Egypt. Joseph dies. In these 85 verses, there’s a lot of subtext and foreshadowing and very little sense of a neatly tied up, happy ending.
After 17 years in Egypt, Jacob knows he is about to die and prepares accordingly. First, he very respectfully (“if I have found favor in your eyes”) asks Joseph (his son, the viceroy) to swear that he will not be buried in Egypt but rather in the family tomb in Canaan. Later, Joseph is told Jacob is ill and hurries to him. He brings his own sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and Jacob formally adopts them so Rachel will be ancestress of three tribes instead of two. Jacob also designates the younger son, Ephraim, to outrank the elder, to Joseph’s initial chagrin. Finally, Jacob gathers his sons for some last words, as Israel, their father (49:2). [BTW, can anybody point me to a commentary regarding in what context the names “Jacob” and “Israel” are each used after Jacob has been renamed “Israel”?]
What are these last words? They are prophesies of what will happen to each son’s tribe “in the end of days.” For example, “Dan will avenge his people” (49:16) can be read as foretelling the victories of Dan’s descendant Samson over the Philistines. Naturally, though, a tribe’s future will reflect the nature of its progenitor, so this is partly a performance review (I am SO glad I’m retired!). Reuben’s own wishy-washy impetuosity is condemned, as is that business with Bilhah (35:22). Though he is the firstborn, his tribe will not lead the others. It is Judah who will be the ancestor of Israelite royalty (e.g., King David, who, in the haftarah, I Kings 2:1-12, on his deathbed tells Solomon to observe the Law, reward certain people, and execute certain others.). Simeon and Levi are condemned for the massacre at Shechem, and they will be dispersed among Israel. Indeed, the tribe of Levi will have no land, and the tribe of Simeon will shrink in the wilderness and, according to Nachmanides, be absorbed eventually into the other tribes. Joseph, of course gets a good review and will be the father of two tribes.
Judah is dominant, not Joseph. Why? Perhaps Joseph, though he never loses his Hebrew identity, is too much on the edge of two cultures, whereas Judah has always been with Jacob’s family. Abarbanel suggests that Joseph, known as Yosef HaTzaddik (the righteous one), is so much a star, so far above, that he always provokes jealousy in people and alienates them unwittingly. Judah, on the other hand, is always human; and he matures into a leader of people. Joseph is more a manager of events and a manipulator of people, rather than a leader.
Jacob dies. There is great public mourning throughout Egypt. Joseph diplomatically asks Pharaoh for permission to bury Jacob in the family plot in Canaan. They go, with a great retinue, but leave their children and livestock behind in Egypt (foreshadowing?).
Remember the deaths of Abraham and Isaac, when estranged brothers come together to bury their father? Old wounds are not reopened, and the reconciliations between those individuals seem to stick. Not so here. For the ten oldest brothers, the reality of their father’s death and the processions to Canaan and back to Egypt (maybe even past the pit into which they threw Joseph) trigger uncomfortable anxieties. Joseph had been nice to them for 17 years, but maybe that was only on account of Jacob. Thus, when they return to Egypt, they tell Joseph some arrant nonsense about Jacob telling them to tell Joseph to forgive them. They also offer to become his slaves. Joseph weeps (in disappointment? vexation? frustration?) and says again that there is nothing to forgive, that they were the Lord’s instruments. But note that the brothers never directly ask Joseph to forgive them; they present that as Jacob’s request. And Joseph, never having been asked, never explicitly says he forgives them. The rift remains unhealed and their relationship, uncertain.
Joseph lives until 110, long enough to see a few generations of descendants. Several decades have now passed since Jacob died, and the relationship between the Hebrews and the Egyptians has cooled. Two signs of cooling: On his deathbed, Joseph tells his brothers that the Lord will remember them and bring them up out of Egypt. So they can’t leave now, not even to bury their brother as they had buried Jacob. And when Joseph dies, we don’t see the great wailing in Egypt that there was for Jacob. Joseph is simply embalmed and put into a coffin, to await the eventual return of his bones to Canaan.
64 People and their Famous Last Words (selections)
3. Composer Gustav Mahler died in bed, conducting an imaginary orchestra. His last word was, “Mozart!”
4. Blues singer Bessie Smith died saying, “I’m going, but I’m going in the name of the Lord.”
37. O.O. McIntyre was an American reporter. He died at age 53, and spoke his last words to his wife Maybelle: “Snooks, will you please turn this way. I like to look at your face.”
44. Jack Soo was an actor on the TV seriesBarney Miller. On the show, there was a running gag about Soo’s character making crappy coffee in the office. Soo developed cancer of the esophagus, and when was being wheeled into an operating room, he joked to Barney Miller co-star Hal Linden, “It must have been the coffee.” In a tribute episode, cast members raised coffee cups in Soo’s memory.
53. Blues guitarist Leadbelly said, “Doctor, if I put this here guitar down now, I ain’t never gonna wake up.” And he was right.
55. Derek Jarman was an artist, writer, and filmmaker. His last words: “I want the world to be filled with white fluffy duckies.”
58. Bo Diddley died giving a thumbs-up as he listened to the song “Walk Around Heaven.” His last word was “Wow.”
59. Baseball player “Moe” Berg’s last words: “How did the Mets do today?”
20 Leadership Quotes To Make You Laugh (selections) Ilya Pozin
1. “The question, ‘Who ought to be boss?’ is like asking, ‘Who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?’ Obviously, the man who can sing tenor.” –Henry Ford
3.“You do not lead by hitting people over the head — that’s assault, not leadership.” –Dwight Eisenhower
5.“First rule of leadership: everything is your fault.” –A Bug’s Life
7.”Life is like a dogsled team. If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes.” –Lewis Grizzard
10.“Delegating work works, provided the one delegating works, too.” –Robert Half
18.“Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.” –Malcolm Muggeridge
19.“I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?” –Benjamin Disraeli
When Noah heard the weather forecast he ordered the building of the ark.
— that was Leadership
Then he looked around and said,
“Make sure the elephants don’t see what the rabbits are up to.”
— that was Management