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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayechi

Parashat Vayechi

The Acts of the Forefathers

"The acts of the Forefathers indicate what will befall the sons." This is a basic principle for Ramban when it comes to the Book of Genesis and stories of the Forefathers. He learns that "And Jacob lived in the Land of Egypt" hints at the final exile.
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1. "The Acts of the Forefathers Indicate What Will Befall the Sons"
2. "With My Sword and With My Bow" According to Ramban

"The Acts of the Forefathers Indicate What Will Befall the Sons"
This is a basic principle for Ramban when it comes to the Book of Genesis and the stories of the Forefathers. This can be seen at the end of the Book of Genesis where the great sage comments that the affairs of the forefathers may be likened to "antecedents and new information." What is meant by "new information" is a kind of insight regarding what the future holds in store for the Jewish people in later generations. These matters were determined already in the acts of the Patriarchs. In our own weekly Torah portion, for example, Ramban learns that the words "And Jacob lived in the Land of Egypt" hint at the final "Roman" exile.

The children of Jacob went down to Egypt of their own accord in order to save themselves from the famine, and, by so doing, they effectively made themselves dependant upon Egypt. Despite the fact that the Almighty says to Jacob, "I will descend with you to Egypt and I will also surely bring you up again," one clearly sees that we are dealing with a case of "the Divine Presence in Exile," which is certainly a form of descent. This situation, which was brought on by the actions of Jacob and his sons, caused Israel to become dependant upon the Romans in the future. The House of Jacob, then, caused a kind of enduring weakness for Israel regarding this particular nation (Let me note that it is not my intention here to criticize the Forefathers; I rather wish to illustrate this complex prophetic processes and the manner in which it determined the future of the Jews).
Initially, the children of Jacob say: "We have come to sojourn in the land"; yet, later, in the very same Torah portion, we are informed that "they dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they clung to it, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly" (Genesis 47:27).

The Midrash learns from here that knowledge of what will transpire in the End of Days is hidden from us. The explanation, according to Ramban, is that because the children of Jacob became attached to Egypt and settled there, they in a sense caused a concealment of what was to be in the End of Days. This is in essence a case in which we brought about our own downfall. This is how Ramban explained the plight of the Jews in his own time who were living in the "Roman" Exile (i.e., the final exile after the destruction of the Second Temple which was brought on by the Romans). We caused ourselves to fall into their hands via the act of King Agrippas who ran to them for aid, and the situation is such, says the Ramban, that we do not know when the End will arrive, and we are like the dry bones of the dead.

Just as the Egyptians carried the bones of Joseph up to the Land of Israel, and mourned greatly, so, the non-Jews of the final exile will bring us up to our land in the final redemption, as if bringing up an offering to God. In other words, a positive feature was already implanted in Rome: that they should merit the privilege of bringing Israel up to the land, in order to allow us to fulfill our role as "a kingdom of priests and a holy people." For, Israel act on behalf of the rest of the nations in serving God, and this finds expression in the form of the meal offering which they (the nations) present to God through Israel.

"With My Sword and With My Bow" According to Ramban
Jacob says to Joseph that he intends to give him twice as much as that which his brothers will receive, and this is intended for Ephraim and Menashe who are to received their territorial portions from the Emorite. Jacob gives the children of Joseph the land of the Emorite which he took with sword and bow. This appears to be the simple explanation of the verses, but Ramban understands that the reference here is to the sword and bow of Ephraim and Menashe, i.e., that they will need to go to battle and conquer their portion. If this is the case, though, then what is the significance of Jacob's blessing? We must conclude that it is a kind of promise. He promised them that they would inherit their portion, as later became clear.

Ramban - unlike Onkelos who translated the words "my sword and my bow" as "my prayer and my supplication" - explains that the land will be conquered via sword and bow, because the only ones whose land was relinquished without a fight were the Givonites who came to make peace. Later, though, the kings of the Emorite gathered for war, for the Almighty, by hardening their hearts so that they do not surrender, causes them to desire war.
In essence, it is the blessing of Jacob which later results in war and the defeat of the Emorite, and it is imperative that all of Israel know that the blessing of Jacob and the merit of the forefathers is what ultimately brought military victory.

Rambam, in this context, quotes a verse from the Psalm 54. This particular Psalm deals with God's hidden providence in the world. After a description of the assistance provided by God to the heads of our armies in the past, and the victory of all wars, the Psalmist admits that all of the past victories were not due to the strength or courage of the soldiers, but to the merit of the forefathers - "For they will not possess the land through their own sword, nor will their arm save them, but Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your countenance, because You favorably accepted them" (verse 7). This hints at Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In essence, Ramban explains that Jacob says to Joseph's offspring that they will conquer the land with sword and bow from the Emorite only in order that they be made aware that this comes from "the light of Your countenance, because You favorably accepted them." "Your countenance" hints at Jacob, while the entire verse hints at the merit of the Patriarchs, and this is the more profound significance of Onkelos' "prayer and supplication." Ramban also offers his own novel interpretation, explaining that, in his opinion, Jacob, who is a prophet, acted like all prophets, who, in the face of Heavenly decrees, must take action in order to bring the decree down to earth. He therefore performed an act which later led to the conquest of the Emorite. In other words, Jacob received prophecy to perform a certain act - to fire an arrow at Shekhem - and through this act, he was able to bring about the decree through the agency of prophecy. . .
Rabbi Benny Elon
Former Rosh Yeshiva of Beit Orot, gave Shiurim at the Beit El Yeshiva. Has been a minister and Kenesset member in the Israeli government.
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