Beit Midrash

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A Shoulder to Cry Upon


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Tevet 16 5781
As Yakov's life comes to an end, he prepares to bless his children and prepare them for the future. Each of the sons will get their own special blessing, as well as sharing in the bracha of everyone else. But before he does that, Yakov gives a special blessing to Efraim and Menashe - his grandchildren, whom he did not see for so many years - as well as to Yosef. Yosef's bracha is puzzling:

"G-d will be with you and will bring you back to the land of your fathers. And I am giving you one "Shechem" more than your brothers, which I took from the Emorite with my sword and bow."

"Shechem" literally means "shoulder." Rashi comments that the word also can mean "portion;" i.e. Yosef is getting an extra portion of the land of Israel via his 2 sons, who will receive an equal allotment when the land is divided. This "double portion" indicates that Yakov considers Yosef a legitimate first-born, and so is entitled to a double share.

But Rashi seems to favor the literal translation of Shechem, namely that it refers to the city itself, which was set upon by the brothers when they rescued their sister Dina, who had been kidnapped and raped by the prince there. Yakov joined in this battle with his "sword and bow." Indeed, Yosef is always associated after this with Shechem, and he is buried there in Kever Yosef.

Of course, Shechem is not only linked to the Dina saga. One of the oldest cities in history - it dates back more than 4000 years - it has a unique Jewish provenance. It is the first place that G-d appears to Abraham, promising him that the Land of Israel would be given to his descendants in perpetuity. Following the Exodus, Joshua assembled the Israelites in Shechem and encouraged them to reaffirm their adherence to the Torah; the city would later become the first capital of the kingdom of Israel, although it was in Shechem that the kingdom was divided in the days of Rechavam. It also served as one of the Cities of Refuge mentioned in the Torah, a place that housed involuntary man-slaughterers fleeing from the avenging next-of-kin.

But I suggest that the key to Yakov's act is that Shechem was also the scene of that horrendous crime of disunity, the place where the brothers threw Yosef into a pit, and later sold him into slavery, setting into motion the eventual descent into Egypt and subsequent redemption. Yakov, in a sense, is "returning to the scene of the crime." Troubled to the core for years by what he suspected had happened to Yosef - and somewhat blaming himself for having sent Yosef to his jealous brothers in Shechem - it is only appropriate that Yosef inherit this particular city as recompense of sorts for what was done to him there. It is also a subtle message to the Shvatim, that they who once united so valiantly when coming to the aid of their sister, must now acquiesce to this gift to their brother as a form of atonement for their sin of disunity; appropriately, they show no objection whatsoever to Yosef having been granted this extra piece of land in addition to his regular share.

At long last, before he leaves this world, Yakov can finally - at least somewhat - unburden himself of the guilt he has painfully "shouldered" all these many years.
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