As Yaakov enters into his final days, Yosef brings his two sons to receive a personal blessing from his father, Yaakov. However, before he begins, Yaakov introduces his words with a short history lesson.
“…God Almighty appeared to me in Luz in Eretz Canaan, and blessed me. He said to me, ‘Behold I will cause you to increase and multiply and will make you into a huge gathering of nations and I will give you and your children this land as an eternal inheritance’…and upon arriving from Padam, Rachel died in Eretz Canaan…and I buried her on the way to Efrat, which was Beit Lechem.” (48: 3-4)
Two questions need to be asked concerning this speech: 1) Why is this blast from the past essential for Yosef to hear before Yaakov blesses his children (he only notes them (“and Yisrael said: ‘who are these?’”) after he makes this speech); 2) how does the final point, concerning Rachel’s death, relate to the first part, the description of God’s reiteration of the Avraham promise to Yaakov?
Whenever the Torah repeats a narrative we have to make sure we compare it to the original, for there are most definitely changes that are presented to teach us an important lesson. The previous version is in Va’Yishlach: Yaakov, having departed from his the meeting with Esav, is returning to his father’s house:
“And the Lord said to him, ‘I am God Almighty, increase and multiply, a huge gathering of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your loins. And the Land that I have given to Avraham and Yitzchak I will also give to you and will also give the land to your descendents.” (35; 11-12)
The differences are blatant and brilliant! In the original version, God says that ‘kings’ will come from Yaakov, although in his retelling of the story to Yosef, Yaakov omits this part. Also, God commands Yaakov to ‘be fruitful and multiply’, while in Yaakov’s version, God says that He will make Yaakov fruitful and large in number. Lastly, God does not mention ‘an eternal inheritance’ in describing Eretz Yisrael; Yaakov included this. Why the changes?
Comfortably situated as the second-in-command in Egypt with his Egyptian wife and sons, Yosef could very well have expressed an outward desire to remain in his present position, viewing Egypt as his ultimate goal. Yaakov, before he blesses Yosef’s next generation, makes three distinct changes ‘in history’ to assure the correct ‘future’ direction of his chosen son and his descendants. First of all, Yaakov omits the mention of ‘kings’ as a promise from God, for this would have conveyed a Divinely approved goal of kingship and rule which Yosef had already strongly established in Egypt! Next, Yaakov attributes a ‘God-intervention’ upon any children and grandchildren that Yaakov and Yosef may see in their time; instead of saying that God said to be fruitful, Yaakov reports that God said that He will make him/them that numerous – i.e. even Yosef’s multitudinous royal generations established in Egypt must be attributed directly to God. Yaakov also emphasized the significant nature of the inheritance of the Land of Israel as an ‘eternal inheritance’ for Yosef and his descendants – a goal that is now and forever (as opposed to and in defiance of what Yosef and his brothers had already accomplished in Egypt – ‘and [they] settled in the land of Egypt in the land of Goshen and they ‘inherited’ [or grabbed hold of it] (‘אחזו’) and multiplied a lot’!).
The addition of Rachel’s death, therefore, is perfect: Yosef’s mother, Yaakov’s ‘chosen’ wife, tragically and unexpectedly passed away after giving birth to Yosef’s younger brother, Binyamin, but nonetheless, Yaakov declares, she didn’t die in Padam (outside of Eretz Yisrael) but rather in the Land of Canaan – the only truly proper resting place for Rachel Imeinu, a partner in the Avraham Legacy. And it is with this overall lesson (as taught through the three changes and the addition of Rachel’s death) that Yaakov can then confidently bless Yosef’s kids: he inculcated within the next generation the clear message of the required appreciation of the goal of the entire nation ultimately residing in Eretz Yisrael as the Divine mission of the Jewish people.
And what are the final verses of the parsha that close the entire book of Breishit? (50; 23-25)
“And Yosef saw three generations [of children] born on his knees.”
He was fruitful and did multiply (with royal (‘kings’) offspring).
“And Yosef said to his brothers: ‘behold, I am dying, and the Lord has chosen you and He will bring you up from this land to the land that He promised Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov’.”
And (nonetheless) did appreciate the Divine command for the future of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.
“And Yosef adjured Bnei Yisrael (as opposed to ‘the brothers’ of the previous verse) saying, ‘and when the Lord raises you up from this land, take my bones with you’”.
And (even) appreciated his personal role as the symbol of this national future, way beyond the current borders of this foreign land.
Lesson learned; let the future begin.