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Parshas Vayechi - Why Exactly Was Yosef Promised Shechem?

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Jan 2, 2009
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"And Yisroel said unto Yosef, 'Behold, I will die, and God will be with you, and He shall return you to the land of your forefathers. And I grant you Shechem Achad above your brothers..." (Bereshis 48:21-22) Rashi interprets the italicized phrase to refer to the city of Shechem, which Yaakov bequeathed to Yosef as an extra portion in the Land of Israel. (Rashi ibid. from Bereshis Rabbah) Why did Yaakov grant to Yosef's descendants the city of Shechem? Why was this bequest presented at this point, after Yaakov's promise that Hashem would return the Jewish People to Eretz Yisroel, rather than as part of Yosef's personal beracha in the next chapter?

To answer this question, we need to turn to the very beginning of the parshah, where Rashi - again quoting Bereshis Rabbah - explains that the entire parshah is s'tumah - a closed-ended text - due to the fact that Yaakov's death, which is the focus of the parshah, led to the "closing" of the eyes and hearts of the Jews in Egypt, as the bondage began to encroach upon them from that juncture. It was clear that the privileges and freedoms enjoyed from the time that Yosef's extended family arrived in Mitzrayim were ending, and a period of darkness and despair was approaching, as prophesied by Avrohom years back.

It is for this reason that Yaakov assured Yosef that - despite the darkness which was about to set in - there would be a liberation and a return to the Promised Land. Yaakov wished to reveal that the eventual return would not be a mere physical one; rather, it would be a true salvation and a reversal of the bad fortunes about to befall the Jews. To make the point, Yaakov granted to Yosef the city of Shechem as an inheritance, for Shechem was the locus of Yosef's own entrapment and personal bondage. Just as this same place, which symbolized Yosef's individual bondage, would become his very inheritance upon redemption from Egypt - so, too, Yaakov reassured Yosef that the period of darkness about to settle in would be reversed into a state of salvation and redemption, such that the national bondage which was about to precipitate would be transformed into a state of liberation and salvation.

Chazal comment that Yaakov sought to reveal the End of Days in Parshas Vayechi but was prevented from doing so. Yaakov's focus at the end of his life was to inspire and secure a future for his children, and this is why he gave Yosef messages of optimism and hope and sought to disclose to the entire nation the coming of the eschatological era.

The eternal inspiration and hope which Yaakov instilled in his children upon their entry into bondage paved the way for their redemption, keeping alive emunah that the end of the shibud (enslavement) would arrive, despite the appearance of an unending period of suffering. Yaakov's inspiration was with the Jews throughout, and his words set precedent for future promises of redemption during exiles yet to come. This is the meaning of Chazal's statement that "Yaakov Avinu lo mes" - "Yaakov our father has not died", for the optimism and inspiration instilled by Yaakov Avinu eternally sustains the Jewish nation, giving it the courage to continue and prepare for God's future redemption.

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