JACOB’S UNSPOKEN MESSAGE – Va-y’khee, Gen. 47:28—50:26 – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
Our father Jacob delivered a parting message to each of his 12 sons, on his deathbed. Certainly he pulled no punches in expressing his view of each of them. Some of these men earned his respect, and others earned his disapproval.
“Reuben – unstable as water”…”Simon and Levi are brothers, weapons of violence their kinship”… “Judah, your brothers shall praise you”… ”Zebulon, dwell by the sea and be a port for ships”… “Issachar is a big-boned donkey” … “Dan will judge his people”… “Gad, a troop will attack him, but he will drive them away by the heel”… “Asher’s bread must be fat” … “Naphtali is a hind let loose [fleet-footed and well spoken] – and young Benjamin is compared to a violent wolf. But his longest and lovingest message is for Joseph: “Joseph is a fruitful vine…its branches run over the wall…the archers dealt bitterly with him, and shot at him and hated him, but his bow remained firm…by the blessings of Heaven above and of the deep below, and the blessings of the breast and of the womb” …
Yet, deep down, he loved them all. And they were sufficiently devoted to him that they all took the journey to bury him as he wanted, in the Cave of Machpelah.
What we generally overlook in reading this section is what might be called a lighter view of the whole process that Jacob undertook. Maybe he chose his words carefully, maybe not. Most likely he did not plan them in as much detail as was analyzed by one of our classic commentators, the Baal haTurim.
Every Hebrew letter has a numerical value, as we know. Aleph is 1, Bet is 2, Yud is 10, Khaf 20, Koof 100, etc. The Baal haTurim calculated the value of the first letter of the first word of each son’s message, and found a total equaling 365 – the number of days in a solar year.
Then he calculated the value of the last letter of the last word in each message, and guess what that total came to? 354 – the number of days in a lunar year.
His conclusion is no mathematical trick. Both the permanent power of the sun and the moon are indicated in these messages. He says that just as the Almighty causes the sun to give light by day, and the moon and stars by night, so both the solar and lunar years give evidence that the functions of Creation do not change. So also do these messages of Jacob’s show that his descendants will always be G-d’s people. That relationship does not change either.
As the traditional expression goes, halevai omeyn – So may it be.