Sunday, December 23, 2007

Parashas Vayechi

V’ani nasati lecha shechem echad al achechah asher lakachti miyad ha-Emori b’charbi uv’kashti [Bereishis 48:22] ... and I have given you Shechem as an extra portion over [that given] your brothers which I took from the Emori with my sword and my bow.

The translation follows Rashi who explains that the city of Shechem is the extra portion granted Yosef above and beyond the single land allotment granted the other shevatim. This extra allotment had already been alluded to when Yosef came to visit Yaakov and was informed that Efraim and Menashe would be considered as separate shevatim given a portion like Yaakov’s sons [see pasuk 6]. A number of questions arise: If Yaakov’s berachah to Yosef was that Efraim and Menashe were to be considered individual shevatim, they should receive portions in the same manner as every other shevet. Divide the Land into twelve portions [shevet Levi not receiving an allotment] and have each shevet settle there [as was actually the case]. Yet here we find that the portion is preordained to be one specific city, an entitlement not granted any other shevet. Even the allusion that Zevulun would receive the seashore [49:13] was not a reference to or prophecy about a specific area. Furthermore, in the actual allotment of the land, Menashe and Efraim receive separate portions that are not even contiguous. We do not find that they were given Shechem [which was indeed in the allotment of Efraim] and one other piece of land.

Second, why is Shechem specifically granted to Yosef? Moreover, Yaakov’s assertion that he had captured the city with his sword and bow seems to be somewhat disingenuous. If anything, the fact that the city was forcibly taken by Shimon and Levi in the process of saving Dinah was not a chapter of which Yaakov was particularly proud. The Targum explains charbi vekashti as being an allusion to prayer; however, we do not find that Yaakov prayed for the capture of Shechem. On the contrary, it is one of three places in Israel [M’aras ha-Machpalah and Har ha-Bayis are the other two] where our ancestors - in this case Yaakov - actually purchased the land.

As we had previously noted [see comments to parashas Vayeshev], Shechem and Chevron represent different aspects of our national character. It was to Shechem that the shevatim retired in order to take counsel regarding their problem with Yosef and it is Shechem where the rebel monarchy of Yeravam is established [before the construction of Shomron], for Shechem represents the unwillingness to accept collective authority, whereas it is in Chevron that Dovid first establishes his rule over the entire nation [later moving to Yerushalayim]. In the aftermath of the Yehudah/Yosef controversies, Yaakov realizes that he cannot grant Yosef dominion - the other shevatim will simply not accept this decision [see 49:8 atah yoducha achecha - your brothers acknowledge you as leader]. However, he is not constrained in treating Yosef as the bechor and therefore awards him Shechem as a gift to Yosef, for Shechem is the portion of the land that he clearly has the right to allocate since he purchased it. The gift of any other parcels could be contested since they were the shevatim’s by virtue of the Divine promise to Avraham. Shechem, however was different, because Yaakov had paid for it himself.

Ibn Ezra and Rashi to Tehillim both translate Shechem as a portion. We can thus say that the granting of the city to Yosef was not in place of an extra allotment in the division of Israel. Efraim and Menashe received individual portions in fulfillment of Yaakov’s promise that they would be considered individual shevatim. Shechem was an extra portion granted as a gift to Yosef, perhaps, as Ramban writes, compensation to Yosef for his suffering. Could there be a greater gesture of love from Yaakov to Yosef than to present him with the city where he had gone to search for his brothers and from where he had been sold as a slave?

As we have seen, the Targum translates charbi vekashti as my prayers. Abarbanel comments that clearly the Targum chose to be homiletic in his interpretation, for not only do we not find that Yaakov prayed for Shechem, he also did not do physical battle to win the city. In reality, he purchased the site. Rather, the phrase charbi vekashti is a metaphoric reference to the power that enabled Yaakov to succeed, which the Targum suggessts is his ability to pray. Perhaps we might expand upon this notion and suggest that charbi vekashti represents the various and varying powers that Yaakov had at his disposal. See, for example the beginning of Vayishlach when he confronts Esav after his Lavan experience. Rashi, based on the Midrash, explains that Yaakov was prepared to either pray, battle or pacify Esav by bribing him; the method he would choose was dependent upon which was the most effective at the moment. If it was necessary to pay, he was prepared to do that; if fighting would be more effecacious he would do that and if prayer would be the best option he could do that. All of them are charbi vekashti - the arsenal at Yaakov's disposal.

No comments: