Final parshah of a series of very dramatic פרשיות; Yaakov's lifelong struggles, the drama of יוסף and his brothers – now reach their final chapter, with the deaths of יעקב and then of יוסף and his brothers וכל הדור ההוא. It is a chapter of conclusions, in which all the dramatic tension that has built up over these past פרשיות is finally resolved.
At the center of the פרשה is יעקב’s deathbed, from which he gives his final instructions, his final blessings, and takes his leave of his family. The Torah describes how יעקב summons יוסף and extracts from him a promise אל נא תקברני במצרים.
And then – אחר הדברים האלה – apparently some time later, ויאמר ליוסף הנה אביך חולה, and יוסף brings his two sons, אפרים ומנשה, to יעקב to be blessed. And יעקב tells him that his two sons – יעקב’s grandsons – will forever be reckoned as יעקב’s own children – אפרים ומנשה כראובן ושמעון יהיו לי.
And then יעקב says: ואני בבאי מפדן כו' – Why does he brings this up now? Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ramban – all learn it’s connected to request to bury him in מערת המכפלה; apologizes for not doing same for רחל. But if so it should be in previous פרק, when he makes that request – not now, in connection with blessing of אפרים ומנשה.
I’d like to make a suggestion. But to understand it, we have to go back several פרשיות, to the story of רחל and לאה and their very stormy relationship to each other and to יעקב.
Think about lives of רחל and לאה. What did רחל have? יעקב’s love. What did she long for? Children. הבה לי בנים ואם אין מתה אנכי.
לאה – just the opposite. She had no trouble conceiving. But what she yearned for – was יעקב’s love. המעט קחתך את אשתי גו'.
This symmetrical tension – is highlighted in episode of דודאים. לאה has דודאים – power of fertility. רחל wants them. לאה is bitter – המעט קחתך את אשתי – you have יעקב’s love. At least leave me this – that I am the mother of his children.
So they exchange – לאה gives רחל the דודאים – and רחל gives up a night of יעקב’s company. Each one gives up something of what they have – in the hope of getting that which they yearn for.
The bitter irony – is that it does no good. רחל doesn’t get pregnant from the דודאים – on the contrary, it is לאה who conceives as a result of that exchange.
But on the other hand – לאה keeps hoping that by having children she will get יעקב’s love – shows in the names she gives –
לוי (הפעם ילוה אשי אלי), זבולון (הפעם יזבלני אשתי), ראובן (כי ראה ה' את עניי כי אתה יאהבני אשתי)
But it doesn’t help – רחל retains all of יעקב’s love.
This story is the backdrop for whole second half of ספר בראשית, this bitterness that divides the two sisters. And it is against this backdrop that we have to understand the hatred of the brothers for יוסף – and, for that matter, יוסף’s relationship towards his brothers.
רחל’s bitterness in seeing לאה give birth to son after son, while she remained barren, her sense of disenfranchisement – which the Torah captures so vividly in the פסוק where she comes crying to יעקב: הבה לי בנים ואם אין מתה אנכי – her sense of failure – is the backdrop for יוסף’s behavior when his story first begins, when the Torah tells us: והוא נער את בני בלהה ואת בני זלפה נשי אביו ויבא יוסף את דבתם גו' – he prefers the company of the בני השפחות, and he tends to denigrate לאה’s children – in short, he carries רחל’s chip on his shoulder, and her resentment of לאה’s children.
And even more acutely – the bitterness that לאה had felt as the less beloved wife – the jealousy for יעקב’s love, she, too, bequeaths to her children. (Episode of בלבול משכב בלהה – Rashi: תבע עלבון אמו). And therefore when the brothers saw that יוסף was the favorite – that the love that יעקב had reserved for רחל – and withheld from לאה – he now showered on יוסף, רחל’s son, and withheld from them – the pain and anger that they felt was רחל’s pain, living on in them – and magnified, therefore, by their love for her. And their hatred, the explosiveness of their response – the whole terrible saga of מכירת יוסף – can only be understood in that light.
And thus the tension between רחל and לאה, the bitterness in their relationship, which the Torah depicts so vividly and unmistakably, bears bitter fruit in the lives of their children.
When does this breach begin to heal? When the brothers finally learn to make peace with the fact that יעקב will always love רחל’s children more. And that happens when they put their lives on the line in order to restore בנימין to יעקב. And, particularly, when יהודה offers to stay in מצרים instead of בנימין.
We often wonder how the brothers – יעקב’s children! – could have sold יוסף into slavery. But let us stop and wonder at the greatness that יהודה shows here – not just sacrificing himself for בנימין – but sacrificing himself because he recognizes that – however much his father will be distressed at his loss – he will be far more shattered by the loss of בנימין. Consider that – measure that in the light of all that has gone before, לאה’s lifelong pain that יעקב loves רחל more – her son’s pain at that memory – all their anger and bitterness – and then consider what it means when יהודה says – I have to sacrifice myself for בנימין, because בנימין is all that my father has left of רחל, he is the focal point of my father’s love – and therefore his life takes precedence over mine. The nobility – the maturity – the distance that יהודה has traveled – and the brothers with him – are staggering.
But יוסף has also changed. Where once he resented his brothers, he now sees his primary role – the whole reason for his elevation – is to help them. כי למחיה שלחני אלקים לפניכם.
And so with the reconciliation of יוסף and his brothers, the struggle between רחל and לאה comes to a close, too.
My grandmother used to make a very beautiful observation. All her life לאה had yearned to be close to יעקב; and all her life רחל had yearned to be the mother of יעקב’s family. What they each yearned for they ultimately received, after their deaths. לאה, who had yearned to be close to יעקב, is buried with him, lying together through the ages; while רחל, who had yearned to mother כלל ישראל, is buried על הדרך, on the road where the Jews will march into גלות, where they can cry at her graveside, and she can cry on their behalf – קול ברמה נשמע נהי בכי תמרורים. And through the centuries it is רחל to whom we refer as מאמע רחל – even though we are biologically most of us לאה’s children.
And this brings us to יעקב’s bedside. We asked at the outset – what is the connection between יעקב’s statement that אפרים ומנשה כראובן ושמעון יהיו לי, and his statement that ואני בבאי מפדן ארם גו'? In the light of what we have seen I would suggest the following:
In this last act of this drama, יעקב finally gives to each of his two wives what they had desired most. To רחל, who had yearned all her life for children, he gives two more children. אפרים ומנשה כראובן ושמעון יהיו לי. It is his last gift to רחל. But at the same time, in the very next breath, he says – ואני בבאי מפדן מתה גו' – acknowledging that רחל will not be buried with him; that in the final act he will be laid alongside לאה. And that is his last gift to her.
There is a very deep message here. In all of our lives there is a gap between what we have, and what we want. We all have our dreams – נחת from children, wealth, professional success, spiritual stature, intellectual or artistic or creative accomplishment, popularity, marital bliss, fame, leadership, and so on. The hardest fact of life is that no one gets everything. Not everywhere do the dreams that we dare to dream really come true. To each of us some things are given, and some are denied. Some gifts we are given, and some are denied us. And those we are given are not necessarily those that, given a choice, we would have preferred. And in each of our lives there will always remain unfulfilled longings, and unrealized dreams.
But if we allow that longing to overwhelm us, to blind us to the wonderful things in our lives, if we dwell on our dissatisfactions, and the gifts that we have been denied rather than those we have been vouchsafed, then we ruin our enjoyment of what the רבש"ע does choose to give us – and, if we are not careful, we can poison our whole lives – and not only our lives, but very often the lives of our children as well. Bitterness and longing are passed on to children. At the end of the day no one gets everything; and the hallmark of maturity is to make peace with that knowledge, and to be able to acknowledge the gifts that we are given, and to rejoice in them.
May the רבש"ע give us the wisdom and the maturity to recognize His gifts and to be grateful for them; may He gives us the capacity to fill our lives with joy and gratitude for what He gives us, and the maturity to make peace with what He, in His wisdom, chooses to withhold. And may we see that joy and contentment passed on from generation to generation, until that time when our greatest dream will indeed be fulfilled, when בשוב ה' את שיבת ציון היינו כחולמים.