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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayechi(72)

Rashi helps us understand context and content of Jacob's request.

Genesis 48:7

And I, when I came from Padan, Rachel died unto me in the land of Canaan, on the road when there was yet a stretch of land before coming to Efrasa and I buried her there on the way to Efras, which is Bethlehem.


And I, when I came from Padan: Rashi: Although I burden you to bring me back to burial in the land of Canaan and I did not do likewise for your mother (Rachel) for she died near Bethlehem.

and I buried her there: Rashi: And I did not carry her even to Bethlehem to bring her to a [populated] land and I know you have resentment toward me. But know that it was by the word [of G-d] that I buried her there so that she might help her descendants when Nevuzaradon would send them into exile (To Babylon). And they would pass [her grave] on the way, Rachel would go out from her grave and cry and beseech mercy for them. As it says "A voice is heard in Ramah , Rachel weeping for her children.." And the Holy One answers her "There is reward for your toil, says Hashem and the children will return to their border."


This is a long comment. Why the need for it?

There are several difficulties you could find.

Hint: Look at the surrounding verses.

Your Answer:


An Answer: There are several things that need explaining in this verse. First of all, the verse itself. What is it doing here ? It is out of context. The verse before it speaks of Jacob giving Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Menashe, equal status with his own sons. The verses after it continues Jacob's words about Ephraim and Menashe. So how does this verse fit in?

Another problem is that the Hebrew word "va'ani" ("and I") is totally redundant. For Jacob says immediately "when I came" so the word "I" is already there. Also the letter "vav" meaning "and" is a connecting word, what does this "and" connect to?

A third difficulty is that Jacob is telling Joseph something that Joseph already knows. He was with the family as a young boy when his mother died.

How does Rashi's long comment deal with these difficulties?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Let us take the last difficulty first (that Jacob was telling Joseph something he already knew ). We realize that Jacob must have been saying more than just giving over information, for Joseph knew his mother died by the way and was not buried in a normal grave. Rashi tells us that Jacob was apologizing. How do we see the apology? The word "va'ani" has an oppositional meaning. As in "and I buried your mother on the way (as opposed to what I am asking of you - to bury me in my grave in Canaan). " (We have pointed out, at other times, that the Hebrew letter "vav" can have several different meaning besides "and"). This use of this "and" is similar to (Psalms 96:5) "For all the gods of the nations are naught, "and Hashem ("vaHashem") the heavens did make." Here "and " means but Hashem (as opposed to foreign gods), did something, He made the heavens.

This answers two of the difficulties. What about the context problem? The verse seems to be out of place. The question becomes even more difficult when we realize that Jacob had already asked Joseph to bury him in Canaan not on this visit but on previous visit (verse 47:29). Joseph went to see his father twice. At the beginning of the sedra (verses 47: 29-31). Then he visited his father a second time when he heard he was sick (verses 48:1-22). Some time elapsed between the visits probably several months. So why does Jacob apologize now for asking Joseph to trouble himself to bury Jacob in Canaan? That request was made months ago. Why didn't Jacob apologize then when he made the request?

Can you suggest an answer?

Your Answer:


An Answer: I can only speculate about an answer. Jacob was uncertain if Joseph would do his bidding. That is why he made Joseph swear that he would do as his father requested. Perhaps with the passing of the weeks between the visits and with his illness, nearing death, Jacob began feeling even more helpless, and his doubts grew. And he may have feared a reason that Joseph might not fulfill his request - I had not buried his mother in a decent burial, so why should he bury me as I wish ? To counteract any reason Joseph might have for not taking his father's body back to Canaan, Jacob offers Joseph a special extra portion for his sons. (These are the verses which surround our verse.) Look at Rashi's comment on verse 48:22 where he says this. So our verse is not out of context. It is in the context that Jacob wanted. He "cushioned" his request by the favor he did for Joseph's sons.


The Ramban says something interesting on this verse. He first quotes Rashi, which is a midrash and then says "In any event, one must try to find a hint in the verse for this aggada (i.e. midrash)."

The hint he finds is in the words "Rachel died unto me ... on the road" The Hebrew word for "on the road" is baDerch. which means "on THE road. (a special road). That's the special road that Rachel will cry out for her children on their way to exile.

The Ramban clearly teaches us that midrashim have some hint in the text. They are not arbitrary interpretations. This too is common - for Rashi to cite a midrash without explaining it, while the Ramban will often look for some explanation of it.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.

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