the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
A Father’s Testament to his Sons
The Institute for the
History of Jewish Bible Research and
concludes Genesis, the book of Creation and the patriarchs, marking the end of
the patriarchal era and the transition from a family to a people.
This transition is embodied in the
figure of Jacob, who of the three patriarchs was destined to build the people
by siring twelve sons – the tribes; Jacob, whose additional name,
In his testament, Jacob transmitted the heritage of the last generation of patriarchs to the first generation of the tribes comprising the nation. His testament has a chiastic structure: first comes his command to Joseph regarding burying Jacob in Canaan, then his announcement to Joseph about the future of the house of Joseph – the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh in the land of Canaan, then his prophecy to all the tribes about their future in the land of Canaan after conquering and settling the land, and lastly a reiteration of his command to bury him in Canaan; the second time, however, the command is addressed to all his sons. We see that the first two parts of this structure are addressed to Joseph alone, and the last two, to all of the tribes.
As we mentioned, the command to bury Jacob in the ancestral
The Road Not Taken
The mourning and funeral procession of
In his testament to his sons/the tribes regarding their
future, when they would return from Egypt to Canaan (the inner pair of the
chiastic structure) Jacob granted senior status to Joseph by first giving a
special testament to him before the testament to the rest of the tribes.
The testament to Joseph fills all of
chapter 48 and includes five subjects:
1) dividing the House of Joseph into two tribes; 2) giving them senior
status “no less than Reuben and Simeon”; 3) mentioning Ephraim before Manasseh;
4) mentioning Rachel’s burial; 5) referring to the city of
Jacob began by mentioning G-d’s revelation to him at Luz,
the same as
Joseph as Two Tribes
There seems to be another reason, however, why Joseph is
considered as two tribes; this reason is intimated in Jacob’s earlier words to
Joseph, prior to blessing the two sons:
“I never expected to see you again, and here G-d has let me see your
children as well” (Gen. 48:11). In
other words, when Joseph disappeared from his father, his father considered him
as dead, as erased from the tribes.
But now, with Joseph reappearing to Jacob – as if a revival of the dead
– he appeared along with two sons that had been born to him. Therefore, those
two sons were henceforth considered Jacob’s two sons:
“Now, your two sons, who were born to
you in the
The Genesis Motif
In Joseph’s family, Jacob gave preference to Ephraim, the
younger, over Manasseh, the first-born.
This motif of preferring the younger is repeated throughout Genesis in
particular, and throughout the entire Bible in general.
The last instance in the biblical narrative
is when David, the youngest, is chosen over all his brothers, and there an all-inclusive
explanation is added: “For not as
man sees [does the Lord see]; a man sees only what is visible, but the Lord
sees into the heart” (I Sam. 16:7).
In this instance, and in all the other cases, the Bible tells us either
directly or indirectly why the younger was preferred, whereas here, with
Joseph’s sons, no reason is given and we are left to present our own hypothesis.
It stands to reason that Manasseh, the
first-born, was born early in Joseph’s marriage to the Egyptian Asenath,
perhaps about eight years before Joseph made himself known to his brothers and
was reunited with his father’s house.
Manasseh was brought up by his Egyptian mother in an Egyptian
environment, his father Joseph kept busy with managing the Egyptian
economy. However the younger
brother, Ephraim, grew up after Jacob’s family had come to
The Fourth Patriarch
Since Joseph was recognized as the first-born of his
brothers and father of two tribes, in a way he can be thought of as a fourth
patriarch, and his mother Rachel ought to have been buried in the
Nahmanides notes (at the end of his commentary on Gen. 49:7) that this was more than a technical explanation; Providence intended it that way as a matter of principal: it was not befitting to bury in the patriarchal crypt a man and his two wives who were sisters, that being contrary to the laws of the Torah (Lev. 18:18). Therefore only Leah, his first wife, was buried with Jacob, whereas Rachel was buried in a tomb of her own. Thus, the Israelites had a patriarchal burial place where three pairs of patriarchs and matriarchs lay, and another two burial places – one of the matriarch and the other of her son: the tomb of Rachel and the tomb of Joseph, who as we have said was like a fourth patriarch, father of the House of Joseph.
As a sort of fourth patriarch, Joseph was directly informed
by Jacob of the destiny of the entire nation:
The House of Jacob made one military conquest in the
The bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought up
“And which had become” –
both the city of
Last Will and Testament
Jacob’s testament to the House of Joseph is followed by his testament to the entire House of Israel, tribe by tribe (49:1-28), with tidings and prophecy of the future: “what is to befall you in days to come” (Gen. 49:1). “In days to come” means most plainly “after the present time.” Here, after your time in Egypt, during the first stage of settling the land of Israel, namely the period of the Judges, “Until he comes to Shiloh and the homage of peoples be his” (Gen. 49:10), i.e., until the beginning of the Davidic dynasty from the tribe of Judah. For about half of the tribes, these were favorable prophecies, actually blessings, although less favorable prophecies were made of Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Issachar. Also the prophecies about Dan and Gad were not the most encouraging, so that in the midst of them Jacob had to pray, “I wait for Your deliverance, O Lord!” (Gen. 49:18).
tidings to each tribe about what awaited them in the future, in the
we mentioned, Jacob’s remains were brought to
 According to Nahmanides’ commentary on Gen. 49:31.
 Isaac had given Jacob a similar blessing, “so that you become an assembly of peoples” (Gen. 28:3), before the birth of Jacob’s sons, the tribes; hence we conclude that these promises do not relate to the period of the birth of Jacob’s children.
 Not actual adoption, which is not recognized by biblical law.
 See Exodus Rabbah 5.13. The Israelites’ belief in the message of redemption (Ex.4:31) is related in prose, therefore there is no repetition of the verb p-k-d.
commentators interpret the oblique Hebrew phrase, shekhem ehad al aheikhah,
as meaning an extra portion over that of his brothers, and not as pertaining to
the city of
 See Ibn Ezra on Gen. 49:1, and following him, Radak on 49:28, who, contrary to the masoretic markings of the cantillation signs, separates the words, “and this is what their father said to them,” referring to the above prophecies, from the continuation of the verse, which is about the blessings.