Torah Weekly

For the week ending 10 January 2004 / 16 Tevet 5764

Parshat Vayechi

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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After 17 years in Egypt, Yaakov senses his days drawing to a close and summons Yosef. He has Yosef swear to bury him in the Machpela cave, the burial place of Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sara, Yitzchak and Rivka. Yaakov falls ill and Yosef brings to him his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Yaakov elevates Ephraim and Menashe to the status of his own sons, thus giving Yosef a double portion that removes the status of the first-born from Reuven. As Yaakov is blind from old age, Yosef leads his sons close to their grandfather. Yaakov kisses and hugs them. He had not thought to see his son Yosef again, let alone Yosef's children. Yaakov begins to bless them, giving precedence to Ephraim, the younger, but Yosef interrupts him and indicates that Menashe is the elder. Yaakov explains that he intends to bless Ephraim with his strong hand because Yehoshua will descend from him, and Yehoshua will be both the conqueror of Eretz Yisrael and the teacher of Torah to the Jewish People. Yaakov summons the rest of his sons in order to bless them as well. Yaakov's blessing reflects the unique character and ability of each tribe, directing each one in its unique mission in serving Hashem. Yaakov passes from this world at age 147. A tremendous procession accompanies his funeral cortege up from Egypt to his resting place in the cave of Machpela in Chevron. After Yaakov's passing, the brothers are concerned that Yosef will now take revenge on them. Yosef reassures them, even promising to support them and their families. Yosef lives out the rest of his years in Egypt, seeing Efraim's great-grandchildren. Before his death, Yosef foretells to his brothers that Hashem will redeem them from Egypt. He makes them swear to bring his bones out of Egypt with them at that time. Yosef passes away at the age of 110 and is embalmed. Thus ends Sefer Bereishet, the first of the five Books of the Torah. Chazak!


A Bill For The Pyramids

"Only the land of the priests he did not buy" (47:22)

A few months ago the newspapers carried a news report of an Egyptian legal move to sue the Jewish people for the silver and gold that we asked from the Egyptians on our departure from that land some three thousand years ago.

Those Egyptian lawyers obviously had failed basic Egyptian History 101, because the Egyptians tried the exact same thing some two thousand years ago in the court of Alexander of Macedonia. Alexander summoned a representative of the Jews. The task fell to Geviha ben Pesia who argued as follows: "Our ancestors were 600,000 able-bodied men who worked for a full 210 years. Lets calculate a laborers wages for a year and multiply that by 600,000 and then multiply it again by 210, and well see how much you owe us for our work. Whatever excess there is well return to you."

When the Egyptians started to calculate they very soon reached astronomical numbers and fled without even attempting to defend themselves.

Why did the Egyptians accept Geviha ben Pesias claim in the first place? It was Pharaoh, not the Egyptian people, who had enslaved the Jews. It was Pharaoh who owed them their wages, not the Egyptians. Why, then, were the Jewish People allowed to take the gold and silver of the Egyptians? Ostensibly, the Egyptians owed them nothing.

During the years of famine, it was not only foreign nations that had to buy grain from Yosef but the Egyptians themselves. Eventually, they exhausted their money and they sold Yosef their horses, sheep, and donkeys. In the second year of the famine they came to Yosef and said "The only thing we still own are our bodies and our land. Give us grain and we will be your slaves. We will give you our land as well so that we and our children do not die from hunger. Yosef acquired both the people and their lands for Pharaoh. From then on, the Egyptians became tenants on their former lands and had to give Pharaoh a fifth of all their crops.

Thus in reality, Pharaoh owned the entire land of Egypt and all its inhabitants. When the Jews took the treasures of Egypt with them they were really taking Pharaohs gold and silver.

"Only the land of the priests he did not buy"

One section of Egyptian society was exempt from paying for grain the priests. Why does the Torah bother telling us of the priests unique status? Nothing that the Torah records is incidental. It must be, therefore, that we are supposed to learn something from their inclusion.

If Pharaoh granted special status to his priests who were mere idolaters, surely we should be prepared to support in every way we can the talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) of our generation, on whose shoulders the world stands.


  • Talmud Sanhedrin 91; Meshech Chochma; Bereishet 47:22; Sefer Chassidim

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