Weekly Cycle

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shechem in the Parasha, the Torah Portion of Vayechi

This week's Torah portion describes Jacob's time in Egypt, particularly the blessings he gave to Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Menashe, as well as those given to each of his twelve sons before Jacob's passing.

Jacob gives Joseph a double inheritance, making each of his sons, Ephraim and Menashe, one of the twelve tribes to inherit the Land of Israel. Interestingly, Jacob's statement giving Joseph the birthright has also been interpreted as Jacob giving Joseph the city of Shechem, where Joseph is ultimately buried:

22. And I have given you one portion [Shechem Achad] over your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow."

And I have given you: Since you are taking the trouble to occupy yourself with my burial, I have given you an inheritance where you will be buried. And which is this? This is Shechem, as it is said:“And Joseph’s bones, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt, they buried in Shechem” (Josh. 24:32).
one portion over your brothers: Heb. אַחַד עַל אַחֶי‏ שְׁכֶם, the actual [city of] Shechem, which will be for you one share over your brothers. [Accordingly, we render: Shechem, [which is] one [share] over your brothers.]- [from Gen. Rabbah 97:6] Another explanation:“One portion” refers to the birthright, and indicates that his (Joseph’s) sons should take two shares. שְׁכֶם is a word meaning “a portion,” as the Targum renders. There are many similar instances in Scripture:“For You shall place them as a portion (שְׁכֶם)” (Ps. 21:13), You shall place my enemies before me as portions;“I will divide a portion (שְׁכֶם)” (ibid. 60:8);“…murder on the way, שֶׁכְמָה ” (Hos. 6:9), [meaning:] each one his share;“to worship Him of one accord אֶחָד) (שְׁכֶם” (Zeph. 3:9), [meaning: in one group].

which I took from the hand of the Amorite: From the hand of Esau, who behaved like an Amorite (Gen. Rabbah 97:6). Another explanation [of why Esau is called אמֹרִי]: who deceived his father with the sayings (אִמְרֵי) of his mouth.
with my sword and with my bow: When Simeon and Levi slew the men of Shechem, all those [nations] around them (Jacob’s sons) assembled to attack them, and Jacob girded weapons of war against them. — [from Gen. Rabbah 97:6, Targum Jonathan ben Uzziel]

with my sword and with my bow: I.e., his cleverness and his prayer.

Rashi's comments point to the many distinct facets of the city Shechem, and the rich meaning of the place. First, Rashi mentions Shechem's role as a place of burial, given as a reward for performing this great mitzvah. Joseph performing this mitzvah leads to an incredible "chain of mitzvahs," performed by ever higher entities. The mitzvah of burying Jacob is charged to Joseph, whose burial is charged to Moses, whose burial, in turn, is performed by Hashem himself. (See Talmud Sotah) After Moshe passes, it is Joshua, a descendant of Joseph from the Tribe of Ephraim, who is charged with actually burying Joseph inside the Land of Israel. Interestingly, the passage quoted by Rashi is actually juxtaposed with Joshua's own passing. Even more fascinating is the fact that both Joshua and Joseph were 111 years old when they died. One could speculate about whether Joshua and Joseph were not in fact one and the same.

Rashi then explains how Shechem is associated with the extra portion of the firstborn. Shechem has many other associations with being the "first:" Shechem is the first place visited by Abraham, Jacob, as well as Joshua when entering the Land of Israel. Even in modern times, the first settlement established in Judea and Samaria after the Six Day War was Elon Moreh, which is another biblical name for the city Shechem. Shechem is the gateway to the Land of Israel.

Related to the above, Rashi then notes that Shechem was taken from Eisav, who behaved like an Amorite and lied to his father. Jacob is characterized by the fact that all of his children remained true to their Judaism and Jewish identity (Mitatoh Shleimah - "his bed was complete"). Furthermore, Jacob is associated, first and foremost, with the truth ("Titen Emeth L'Yaakov," "Give truth to Jacob"). The Torah also states that Shechem was acquired monetarily by Jacob (similar to how Jacob acquired the birthright), and that it is one of the places that Gentiles are unable to even claim that they were stolen by the Jews. (Genesis 33:18-19; Midrash Rabbah)

That said, Rashi mentions the radical actions of Shimon and Levi. It was also in Shechem that Joseph's brothers, led by the zealotry of Shimon and Levi, attacked Joseph and sold him as a slave. After Reuven's sin, Shimon and Levi were both in line to be the leaders of the rest of the tribes. However, their zealous violence prevented them from playing this role.

Finally, Rashi interprets the words used to describe weapons ("bow" and "sword") as a reference to cleverness (wisdom) as well as prayer. Often, much more can be accomplished through these two more peaceful means than through violence. The power of Jacob is his Torah and his prayer - "Koloh Kol Yaakov," "the voice is the voice of Jacob, while force is primarily the weapon of Eisav - "Yadoh Yad Eisav," "the hand is the hand of Eisav."

Shechem is Jacob's inheritance to Joseph. It is more than just a place. It is a way of being. It stands for all that was mentioned above and more: keeping the mitzvot, leadership, identity and continuity, truth, passionate moderation, Torah, wisdom, and prayer. Shechem in Hebrew, literally means "shoulders." It is as if Jacob is now passing the torch to Joseph, who is now literally "shouldering" the responsibility for keeping these values intact.

We see a hidden reference to the values of Shechem much later in history, with the appointment of Saul as King of Israel (I Samuel, Chapter 9):

1. Now there was a man of Benjamin, and his name was Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah, the son of a Benjamite man, a mighty man of power. 2. And he had a son whose name was Saul. He was young and handsome, there being no one of the children of Israel handsomer than he; from his shoulders (Shichmoh) and upwards he was taller (Gavoah) than any of the people.

Just like Joseph received a Shechem (portion; shoulder) over his brethren, so too was Shaul taller than all his brethren, from his shoulders upwards. He was also young and handsome like Joseph.

Shaul also had another similarity to Joseph. Just as Joseph had experienced all his brothers attack and nearly kill him, so too had Shaul seen all the other tribes nearly extinguish his tribe, the Tribe of Benjamin, in a bloody civil war that followed the events of Pilegesh b'Givah, the concubine of Givah.

As recounted extensively in the end of the Book of Judges, men of Givah had raped and brutally murdered a concubine woman. The Tanach's account directly parallels the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are even opinions that these men of Givah were a reincarnation of those of these two infamous places. All the Tribes of Israel demand that the Tribe of Benjamin hand over the men that performed this outrageous act to be killed, but Benjamin refuses. This leads to civil war.

Herein lies also a parallel with Shechem. The man called Shechem (presumably for whom the city is named after) raped Dinah, the daughter of Jacob. Because the men of Shechem refused to bring the rapist to justice, Shimon and Levi decimated the entire city. Maimonides writes that the acts of Shimon and Levi were in fact justified under Jewish law.

Joseph is given Shechem. Shaul, who had the potential for becoming Mashiach Ben Yoseph, is from Givah. In fact, he even rules all of Israel for a short period from Givah itself. (I must admit that I am not 100% certain that Givah refers to the same city as the concubine of Givah, but I have no reason to believe otherwise). Both Shechem and Givah are places that suffered tremendous atrocities in response to lack of justice, and both become associated with the respective leaders of the generation.

Furthermore, the reason why Shaul does not become Mashiach Ben Yoseph is because of his failure to decimate Amalek, when explicitly told by the prophet Samuel to do so. Shaul has all the values and characteristics that Jacob passes Joseph, connected to Shechem, including passionate moderation, wisdom and prayer. He was also the first, the first King of Israel. However, he appears to be deficient in the most important of all values, the very first one listed by Rashi: the accurate performance of a mitzvah. That is Samuel's ultimate rebuke to Shaul after the debacle of not utterly destroying Agag and Amalek: "And Samuel said, "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in hearkening to the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams…" (Samuel I, Chapter 5:22)

Mordechai and his generation, in their fight against Haman the Agagite, somewhat rectify Shaul's mistake by showing ultimate self-sacrifice in order to fulfill God's commandments. The introduction of Mordechai, the last of the male prophets, in the Megillah (Esther, 2), very much parallels the introduction of Shaul in the Book of Samuel:

5. There was a Judean man in Shushan the capital, whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair the son of Shimei the son of Kish, a Benjamite, 6. who had been exiled from Jerusalem with the exile that was exiled with Jeconiah, king of Judah, which Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had exiled.

However, there is one radical difference between Mordechai and Shaul. Even though both are from Benjamin, while Shaul is primarily associated with Joseph and Givah/Shechem, Mordechai is explicitly connected to Judah (particularly the King of Judah) and Jerusalem, which both represent total nullification and self-sacrifice.

Benjamin is a combination of Judah and Joseph. He represents the sefirah combination of Yesod shebeMalchut. As previously explained, Joseph represents Yesod and David, Malchut. Even geographically, the land of Benjamin connects the land of Judah and of Joseph. (See "Jerusalem in the Parasha," here) Benjamin connects these two facets of the Jewish people and of Jewish History.

Although Elijah (who, although from Benjamin, is clearly associated with the Tribe of Joseph, and Elijah even states explicitly that he is descended from Rachel) and Mashiach Ben Yoseph will pave the way of the redemption, ultimately, it all must be connected to Judah, to Mashiach Ben David. As we read in last week's Haftorah (Ezekiel 37):

19. Say to them, So says the Lord God: Behold I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim and the tribes of Israel his companions, and I will place them with him with the stick of Judah, and I will make them into one stick, and they shall become one in My hand.  

20. And the sticks upon which you shall write shall be in your hand before their eyes. 

21. And say to them, So says the Lord God: Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side, and I will bring them to their land. 

22. And I will make them into one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be to them all as a king; and they shall no longer be two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms anymore. 
23. And they shall no longer defile themselves with their idols, with their detestable things, or with all their transgressions, and I will save them from all their habitations in which they have sinned, and I will purify them, and they shall be to Me as a people, and I will be to them as a God.

24. And My servant David shall be king over them, and one shepherd shall be for them all, and they shall walk in My ordinances and observe My statutes and perform them.  

25. And they shall dwell on the land that I have given to My servant, to Jacob, wherein your forefathers lived; and they shall dwell upon it, they and their children and their children's children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever.  

26. And I will form a covenant of peace for them, an everlasting covenant shall be with them; and I will establish them and I will multiply them, and I will place My Sanctuary in their midst forever.
27. And My dwelling place shall be over them, and I will be to them for a God, and they shall be to Me as a people. 

28. And the nations shall know that I am the Lord, Who sanctifies Israel, when My Sanctuary is in their midst forever.

May it be soon, may it be today, may it be now.

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