July 12, 2024
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Throughout Sefer Bereishit, the recurring phrase of “[Ve’]Eleh Toldot” has appeared 11 times, depicting the development from universal to particular selection of those who will call out in the name of God and merit Divine covenant. In every generation since Noach, the “toldot” introduce the child(ren) rejected, followed by those selected to perpetuate the promises of land and nation. Even the stories of Yaakov began with “These are the toldot (generations) of Yaakov, Yosef,” implying selection of one child as primary progeny, which led to resentment, jealousy and suggested fratricide.

After 22 years of separation, Yosef and his brothers are reunited, and Yaakov descends to Egypt with his entire family. He is assured by God that his children will become a great nation and the motif and cycle of “toldot” selection finally ends with the words “Ve’Eleh Shemot”—“And these are the names of the children of Israel, who came into Egypt, Yaakov and his sons” (Bereishit 46:8), as they are all selected to continue the legacy of their patriarchs. This is underscored at the beginning of Sefer “Shemot” wherein we learn once more of the selection of all the children of Yaakov/Yisrael as the forebears of the nation of Israel.

It is therefore surprising that Sefer Bereishit does not end after the genealogical list of Yaakov’s descendants in Chapter 46—a perfect segue to the beginning of Sefer Shemot! The four ensuing chapters seem somewhat superfluous after the series of selections has finally closed. Yet, upon further examination of these chapters, we notice that there is still a schism between Yosef and his brothers. Yosef is the viceroy in charge of Egypt’s economy and the survival of his brothers. Parshat Vayechi opens with Yaakov requesting an oath from Yosef to supervise his burial in Me’arat Hamachpelah, albeit it will be commanded to all his sons one chapter later! Similarly, Yaakov blesses Yosef through his children and grants him double tribes and territory as his firstborn to Rachel, followed by including him again in the blessings accorded to each of his sons. Lastly, the Torah records a double burial ceremony for Yaakov Avinu—one conducted by Yosef and the Egyptian court, followed by the personal burial performed by the brothers. This schism between Yosef and his brothers is most evident in one of the final scenes of the sefer. After Yaakov dies, the brothers approach Yosef with fear that he will now seek revenge for their cruel behavior toward him years earlier. Although the pattern of selection may have ended from a Divine perspective, the sefer cannot conclude while there is still a rift between the children of Yaakov.

Yosef will bring an end to this family feud. He assures his brothers that there is no need to fear because his position of power has been divinely supervised to ensure the survival of his brothers and their families during the years of famine and thereafter. He may be in charge now, but he turns to them with a request for the future: “I will die, but God will surely remember you, and bring you up out of this land unto the land that He swore to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov” (50:24). Yosef knows that his brothers are more connected to the land as he was exiled at a young age. He therefore requests an oath from them to assure burial of his bones in the land of his forefathers. The mutual dependency of Yosef and his brothers one on the other for the present and the future creates the brotherhood and unity necessary for the true birth of the nation of Israel.

Today as well we sense the symbiotic relationship expressed in last week’s haftarah by the prophet of exile, Yechezkel (ch.37). Tribes are dispersed, and our nation may be divided between Tzion and the Diaspora, but the dependency of one community on the other assures ultimate return to the land as a united nation—wherein Yosef and Yehudah, “Yosef and his brothers,” may finally become forged as one “Bnei Yisrael.”


Rabbanit Shani Taragin is educational director of World Mizrachi and teaches at Matan and other educational institutions in Israel. She is a member of Mizrachi’s Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).

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