Parashat Vayehi 5770/ January 2, 2010
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
Burial and Blessing
Dr. Mordechai Sabato
Department of Talmud
This week’s reading
deals with Jacob’s last days in
Jacob’s testament to his sons can be divided into four paragraphs:
These four paragraphs, following one after the other, deal with two themes – the place of Jacob’s burial, and his testament to his sons. The last two paragraphs form a chiastic parallel to the first two, meaning an arrangement in the order A-B-B-A. The third paragraph, dealing with Joseph’s blessing to his sons, parallels the second paragraph, dealing with Jacob’s blessing to Joseph, and the fourth paragraph, dealing with Jacob’s command to his sons to bury him in the land of Canaan, parallels the first paragraph, also dealing with Jacob’s request of Joseph to bury him with his ancestors.
Thus we can say that we
have two sections, each of them comprised of two paragraphs, and that the
sections parallel each other. In the
first section, comprised of paragraphs one and two, Joseph stood alone before
Jacob. He was the recipient of the
request concerning Jacob’s burial and he was the one blessed, while the rest of
the sons are not mentioned at all. In
the second section, comprised of paragraphs three and four, all of the sons,
including Joseph, stood before Jacob.
They were all given parting words and all were commanded to see to his
burial, and Joseph had no special status in this section.
An indication of this difference is given at
the beginning of each section. The first
opens with the words, “He summoned his son Joseph,” whereas the second opens
with, “And Jacob called his sons,” and concludes with, “All these were the
In each of the two
sections one can find linguistic connections between the two paragraphs
comprising it. The first paragraph concludes with the verse, “Then Israel bowed
at the head of the bed,” and the second paragraph says, “
The chiastic structure
is also indicative of the relationship between Jacob being buried in the
What is signified by the
connection between Jacob’s request to be buried in the
Between Jacob and Joseph
This difference reflects
the disparity between Jacob’s status and Joseph’s status.
Jacob was one of the three patriarchs of the
nation, whereas Joseph was one of the tribes comprising the nation.
Joseph, who had been separated from his
brothers at Shechem and taken down to
Jacob’s insistence not to
be buried in
Blessing and the Land
Both Jacob’s blessing to
Joseph and his parting words to his sons are based on the people of
 From verse 14 on, Scripture describes what took place after the burial. However this event too can be related to Jacob’s death, since the subject is the tension between Joseph and his brothers now that Jacob is no longer alive.
 In this article I ascribe to the interpretation that the third paragraph concerns Jacob’s parting words to his sons and that the concluding verse, “this is what their father said to them as he bade them farewell, addressing to each a parting word appropriate to him,” relates to the entire passage. See the discussion of this point in the Hebrew article by Amos Hakham on Parashat Va-Yehi, 1999 (no. 269).
 In this section, too, Joseph’s blessing is singular both in its length and its content. Nevertheless, here Joseph receives a blessing as part of the entire group of siblings. It should be noted that precisely in this section Judah is the brother who stands out above all the others, for he receives the blessing, “Your father’s sons shall bow low to you,” a blessing that until then had been true actually of Joseph, but this is not the place to go into further detail.
 The duplication in the two sections and the need for it is a separate question which will not be discussed in this article. Suffice it to note that also chapter 50, describing Jacob’s actual burial, has considerable duplication between verses 1-11, which give an account of the burial at Joseph’s initiative (and use expressions matching what was said in the passage where Jacob makes Joseph swear regarding his burial), and verses 12-13, which again describe Jacob’s burial, this time by his sons (and there, too, one finds considerable matching of language between these verses and the ones describing Jacob’s instructions to his sons).