Parashat Vayechi - January 14

 

VaYechi ויחי

(Asara beTevet fast - see below)

Gen. 47.28 — Gen. 50.26

Before he died, Jacob brought his sons together to give his final blessing to each of them according to their deeds: “This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him” (Gen 49.28).

Among the various blessings, there is one that stands out as special, the messianic blessing given to Judah. Judah is described in the blessing as a war hero overcoming his enemies, and after the victory he is welcomed with shouts of thanksgiving (Gen 49.8): “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you.” The description of Judah as a warrior is broadened into the likeness of a lion, the king of beasts, wielding his authority fearlessly with his prey between his teeth. All this symbolizes the future rule of the tribe of Judah.

Even more importantly, the blessing likens this warrior to a king: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet” (49.10). The scepter (the staff of leadership) belongs to Judah, and “from between his feet” is a euphemism meaning that from Judah will come descendants who will continue to hold the reins of power. Indeed, from the time of David onward, throughout the history of Judah, the kingship passed from father to son.

However, the horizon of this blessing does not end here; the continuation of the verse takes us even into the latter days: “Until he comes to whom it belongs [until Shiloh comes], and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” From this we learn that the line of descent will continue and arrive at its full potential of leadership and authority on a universal level: all nations will obey this one who holds the scepter. Who is this one bearing the scepter? To whom will all nations give their obedience? To the Messiah who comes from the house of David. This is the first prophecy in the Bible declaring that the Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah.

When the Messiah comes, continues the prophecy, he will dismount from his donkey and tie it to a vine. The vine, a symbol of abundance in the Bible, appears here as a post to which a donkey is tied. In other words, there will be so many vines that they will be used even for hitching posts: “Binding his foal to the vine and his ass’s colt to the choice vine” (49.11). It is important to note that Zechariah also prophesied (Zech 9.9) that the Messiah will come riding on a donkey: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.”

It is no surprise, then, that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, he chose to come riding on the foal of a donkey, thus pointing precisely to these verses. Without saying it in so many words, with his entry into Jerusalem Jesus declared that he was the very one of whom Jacob—and later Zechariah—prophesied. The multitudes who welcomed him understood the significance of his coming riding on a donkey, and they cried out: “Hosannah to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosannah in the highest!” (Matt 21.9)

The description of plenty in the days of the Messiah continues in Jacob’s blessing, along with a description of the quantities of undiluted wine that there will be then. There will be so much wine that it will be possible to wash clothes in it: “he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes” (Gen 49.11). It may be that that Isaiah relates to this part of Jacob’s prophecy, while adding another layer to the identity of the Messiah: “Who is this that comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, he that is glorious in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength? ‘It is I, announcing vindication, mighty to save.’” (Isa 63.1) So who is this savior coming from Edom? The answer is given clearly in Rev 19.13: “He [the Lamb] is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.”

[Leehee Ainav]

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Genesis 49.9: This verse contains three different words for “lion”: gur, arieh, lavi. These indicate different stages of growth to maturity. “The picture of a cub growing to maturity fits well within the Jewish understanding of the way in which Messiah will come. His first coming seems to be premature. In Jewish tradition this messiah is called ‘son of Joseph’ who, like Joseph, is ‘killed.’ The appearance of Messiah as ‘son of David’ will reveal him as a fully-grown lion, as the king over all. Genesis Rabbah 98.9 says, ‘“Judah is a lion’s whelp”; at first he has authority like that of a cub, but in the end like a lion king … This is King Messiah Son of David, who lies down among the nations, and none of them can rouse him up.’” 

[Sadan, Light, 12f[

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Genesis 49.10: While the New Testament never refers to this verse, Jewish tradition understood “shiloh” to refer to the Messiah. Midrash Deuteronomy 98,7: “Until Shiloh comes. This is Messiah the King.

In many manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, instead of the word shiloh we find a word with a similar spelling, meaning “his, belonging to him.” This reading is reflected also in the Septuagint and other Greek translations, as well as in Targum Onkelos. This meaning is also alluded to in Ezek 21.32: ”A ruin, ruin, ruin I will make it; there shall not be even a trace of it until he comes whose right it is; and to him I will give it.” Targum Onkelos: “Until that Messiah shall come, whose is the kingdom.”

Jewish interpreters connected this verse with another highly messianic prophecy in Psa 2. In Midrash Genesis, parashah 97: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah,” this is Messiah son of David, who will rule the kingdom with a rod, as it is written (Psa 2.9), “You shall break them with a rod of iron.”

 

The following talmudic passage (Sanh 98b) shows that “Shiloh” was regarded as the name of the Messiah: “What is his [the Messiah’s] name? — The School of R. Shila said: His name is Shiloh, for it is written, until Shiloh come.”

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“And unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” The same is meant to whom the prophecy refers, “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people” (Isa 40.10). Midrash Genesis, 99. 

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Genesis 49.11: “Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes.” Targum Yonatan: “How fair is King Messiah, who is hereafter to arise from the house of Judah. He girds up his loins and goes forth to battle against his foes, smiting kings with (their) princes, reddening their rivers with the blood of their slain, and whitening his valleys with the fatness of their strength; his garments are dipped in blood; he is like to the treader of grapes.” 

Midrash Genesis 99,8 remarks on the words “and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine,” This refers to him of whom it is said “lowly, and riding upon an ass” (Zech. 9.9). 

Whoever sees a vine in his dream will see the Messiah, because it is written, “and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine.” (Brachot 57a)

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The Messiah depicted in Jacob’s blessing is the Ruler of the nations. We see in this a vision of a salvation which is universal in its intent. The word for “ruler’s staff,” mehôqêq, means literally “lawgiver” -- thus the rabbinic emphasis that, “the Messiah will clearly elucidate the Torah.” The Rabbis question whether Israel will need the Messiah’s teaching, since the verse says the Gentiles will obey him. Nevertheless he will come “to his own city.”

The Jews have dreamed of the Messiah as a noble “vine,” something which is brought out by the word sôrêqâh, “a vine yielding purple grapes,” the richest variety. The Messiah will not be prepared for war but rather will come as the Prince of Peace. He will cleanse his people with the “blood of grapes.” And all Israel will, on account of the blessing Judah received, be called “Jews.” The main thing, however, is that the Messiah will be descended from him. 

[Santala, 56f]

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Genesis 49.12: “His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.” Targum Yonatan: “How fair are the eyes of King Messiah to look upon! more beautiful than the vine, purer than to behold with them the uncovering of nakedness, and the shedding of innocent blood; his teeth are more skillful in the law than to eat with them deeds of violence and rapine.” 

[Bernhard Pick, “Old Testament Passages Messianically Applied by the Ancient Synagogue,” Hebraica, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Oct., 1885), pp. 24-32.]

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Genesis 49.24: This verse can be understood messianically. Taken together with the blessing of Judah, it could be understood that the Messiah will come both from Joseph and from Judah. This gave rise to the idea of two messiahs. 

[idea from Sadan, 6-7]

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Genesis 50.15-21: They come to Joseph asking forgiveness, and he gives it, crying. So too the Messiah, when he has been mistreated, will forgive them. Jesus forgave them from the cross (Luke 23.34).

[Elchanan b. Avraham]

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Haftarah: 1 Kings 2.1-12

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Asara beTevet fast

The Tuesday of this week, December 22, is a traditional Jewish fast day.  It is in memory of the start of the babylonian siege on Jerusalem. "And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he, and all his host, against Jerusalem, and pitched against it; and they built forts against it round about". (2 Kings 25:1). It has been kept as a day of fasting for almost 2,600 years now. Zechariah is referring to it as "the fast of the tenth month": "Thus saith the LORD of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace." (Zecharia 8:19).

It is a day of mourning the siege of Jerusalem, but it is also a day of anticipating the fulfillment of that great prophecy! The day when our Messiah, Yeshua, will come back to establish his kingdom and turn all our mourning days and fasting days into cheerful feasts!

Shabbat Shalom!

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