Machon Daniel Torah Weekly
“To Stir the Mind and to Light up the Shabbos and the Holidays”
Parshas Vayechi 2017/5778
“ויהי אחרי הדברים האלה ויאמר ליוסף הנה אביך חולה” (בראשית מח:א)
“And it was after these things and it was said to Yosef, your father is ill” (Bereishis 48:1)
We need to understand the intention of the word “חולה” / “ill” for it is written above ויקרבו ימי ישראל למות”” / “and the days of Yisrael came close to his death” (Bereishis 47:29). Apparently, this already informs us of Yaakov’s ill state, thereby what does the Torah mean to add when it states “אביך חולה” / “your father is ill”!?
The Ramban explains that the statement ויקרבו ימי ישראל למות”” / “and the days of Yisrael came close to his death” is telling us that Yaakov became very weak; not that he was ill. He realized though that his days were limited and therefore asked that Yosef come to him in order to obtain his help in organizing his future burial in the Cave of the Patriarchs. However, if Yaakov was only weak and not ill, how did he know that his weaknesses was of a terminal nature which prompted him to call Yosef to his side and not of a transitory nature!?
In answer we can suggest from that which it first states “ויחי יעקב בארץ מצרים” / “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt” and immediately says ישראל למות” / “and the days of Yisrael came close to his death” that Yaakov felt that his life-force was leaving him. Thus he immediately called for Yosef to come see him.
We are still left with a difficulty! If Yaakov felt that his days were limited and thus called Yosef to see him, why did he send off Yosef without blessing him or his children!?
If you’ll say that even though Yaakov became very weak, he did not feel as though he had reached the very end of his days? This is not a satisfactory answer, for Yaakov did not know exactly when he would die and he was liable to die before he would be able to bless Yosef and his sons, so we remain in question as to why Yaakov took this chance!?
If you’ll suggest that Yaakov knew that he wouldn’t die until he became ill and at this point of “ויקרבו ימי ישראל למות” / “and the days of Yisrael came close to his death” he wasn’t yet ill and therefore he did not bless Yosef!? This cannot be, for until that time Yaakov nor anyone else became ill before they died, and he was only soon to become ill for the first time as our sages say in Baba Matziah (87a) until Yaakov people did not get sick before they died. Only Yaakov pleaded with Hakadosh Baruch Hu that a person should become ill before he dies so that he will take note of his upcoming death and organize his home and command his family and bless them. Therefore, we are still left with the question as to why Yaakov did not immediately request to bless Yosef and his sons and to bless his other sons as well?
We cannot answer that in any case it was Yosef who asked for the blessings, for although it was Yosef’s initiative to bring his sons to be blessed by Yaakov, it was Yaakov who initiated the blessings as it states “קחם נא אלי ואברכם” / “please take them to me and I will bless them” (ibid 48:9)!
Therefore, we are forced to answer that the statement “ויקרבו ימי ישראל למות” / “and the days of Yisrael came close to his death” is teaching us that Yaakov was aware of the exact number of days he had left to live! And so the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh explains that Yaakov felt those things which change in a person in the last days of his life. He brings the holy Zohar (Parshas Vayechi pg. 217b, pg. 398-399 in the commentary of the Metok Midvash) that thirty days before a person’s demise Hakadosh Baruch Hu takes away the tzelem – one of the spiritual aspects of a person. And from the Zohar it is learned that although most people are not aware if this change, the righteous are aware of it. According to this, when the Torah states “ויקרבו ימי ישראל למות” / “and the days of Yisrael came close to his death”, it means to say that Yaakov felt that at this point he began the last thirty days of his life! Accordingly, Yaakov began to put his house in order and called for Yosef to come to him regarding his burial in Israel. However, Yaakov was not rushed to bless Yosef and his sons for he knew exactly how many days he had left to live!
If so, why then was there a rush for Yosef to arrive when he heard that Yaakov became sick! For Yaakov had asked Hashem that he become ill before his demise, as stated above, and Yosef thought that this might be the very last day of his life so he rushed to his father in order to receive his blessings.
The truth is, Yaakov was in total control of his days and did need to feel ill in order to push him to organize his home and to bless them his children. So why did he request that he become ill!? It appears that he did this in order to show an example to his descendants, in order that they would become aware of the need of put their matters in order, to draw up a will while still possessing their full faculties and to bless their children as Yaakov did!