Commentary for Vayechi

13 Jan

In this week’s parshah, Jacob passes away. Before he dies, however, he calls his sons to his deathbed in order to tell each of them “what will befall you in the end of days (Gen. 49:1).” Jacob then proceeds to give each of his sons either a prophecy of their future, or either a blessing or a warning, depending on the son- or perhaps a combination of a prophecy and a warning or blessing. Which one it is depends on your point of view.


Jacobs’ prophecies- or blessings, or warnings- start off on a very interesting note- or rather, they start off on a very interesting two notes. Jacob starts off addressing Reuven saying, “Reuven, you are my firstborn (Gen. 49:3),” a routine phrase with a very non-routine pronunciation. The words “bechori atah- you are my firstborn,” would both normally be accented on the last syllable (be-cho-ri a-tah), but in this verse, they are accented on the penultimate syllable (be-cho-ri a-tah), and each due to a different obscure grammatical rule. To make things even stranger, the particular rule that necessitates the change for atah would also normally change the vowel under the first letter to a different vowel with an identical sound, but an additional corollary to that rule negates that change in this particular case. The result is a very common phrase that suddenly becomes very uncommon.


The placement of this phrase at the beginning of Jacob’s final messages to his sons teaches us an important message. Whether you take Jacob’s words as true, Divinely-ordained prophecy or as a commentary on that particular son’s behavior, the message remains that the actions and temperaments of each individual son are the things that will bring that son to the end that Jacob tells him of. No matter how ordinary we might feel we are, we, like this seemingly simple phrase, are unique, and the actions that we take do, in fact, matter, to our lives and to those around us.

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