Abstract for shiur on Parshat Va'ychi -
Yaakov's Blessings / "bracha", "bechira", and "bechira"
In Parshat Va'ychi, we find many different blessings. In our shiur, we will attempt to explain their nature, based on our thematic study of Sefer Breishit.
The first example that we find in Parashat Vayechi is when Yaakov blesses Yosef's two sons, Menashe and Efrayim. First, Yaakov names Yosef as his legal "bechor," firstborn, a status that grants one a double portion in the inheritance. In this instance, it meant that Yosef will form two tribes within Bnei Yisrael (48:5).
After conferring this status upon Yosef, Yaakov reviews the circumstances surrounding Rachel's death and burial (48:7). He must explain to Yosef that his mother's roadside burial does not suggest a status inferior to that of Leah, who was buried in the Cave of Machpela in Chevron. Rather, Yaakov buried Rachel on the road only because of extenuating circumstances. She is nevertheless considered Yaakov's primary wife, and hence Yosef, her firstborn, the rightful "bechor."
Yaakov then blesses Yosef's children with the blessing "hamalach hago'el oti" (48:16), praying for special assistance in their incorporation into their uncles' family.
Then, of course, Yaakov blesses each of his sons individually. Or does he? Reuven, Shimon and Levi are harshly rebuked rather than blessed. Nevertheless, the Torah refers to Yaakov's comments as blessings (49:28), a reference that becomes clearer when we closely examine the concept of a "bracha" (blessing). Yaakov here blesses his children as a father, not prophet. He is not foreseeing the future, but rather guiding his children in accordance with the unique talents and potential of each. In his blessings to Yehuda and Yosef, he notes their leadership qualities and wishes them proper implementation thereof. He does not reproach his first three sons in order to condemn them, but rather to point out their weaknesses and urge them to strive for improvement. Indeed, later in history the tribe of Levi produces the nation's spiritual leadership.
In fact, Yaakov's blessings to his sons in Parashat Vayechi touch upon the very essence of the concept of "shevatim" (tribes). Why should God's special nation divide itself into twelve factions? Does this not invite contention and disunity? The answer is that Bnei Yisrael must represent the ideal of Godliness to the rest of mankind. It is only natural for people to group together according to common interests, inclinations, goals, talents and the like. The objective, however, must be for the different groups to work together with one another, harnessing their unique capabilities for purposes of "Shem Shamayim" (God's Name). Thus, the twelve-tribe system, when properly implemented, accurately captures the message God's nation must bring to humanity. This nation declares that yes, different groups of people with different interests and tendencies can work together harmoniously and work towards the common good. Yaakov blesses each son by wishing him the proper utilization of his respective talents, such that they all come together to fulfill the destiny of God's special nation.
What an appropriate message to bear in mind as we declare, "Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek"!
Abstract by David Silverberg