Parshat Vayechi is the 12th and final parsha in Sefer Bereshit (also known as Genesis).
This parsha is verses Genesis 47:28 – 50:26, or a total of 85 verses.
Here is a brief summary for each aliyah.
Aliyah 1: Genesis 47:28 – 48:9, 13 verses
It has been 17 years since Jacob came down to Egypt. He senses that he is about to die.
He speaks to Joseph and has his son swear that he will not bury him in Egypt. He wants to be buried in Hebron in the Machpelah Cave (in Hebrew, Maarat HaMachpelah).
Some time later, Joseph is told that his father is sick. He brings his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to be with Jacob.
Jacob reveals to Joseph that he is elevating Manasseh and Ephraim to the same status as Jacob’s other sons. Basically, Jacob is elevating Joseph to the status of firstborn and giving him a double portion.
Jacob also explains to Joseph why he did not bury Rachel (Joseph’s mother) in the Machpelah Cave.
Aliyah 2: Genesis 48:10 – 48:16, 7 verses
Jacob expresses his thankfulness that he has lived to again see Joseph and to see his grandchildren.
Joseph places Manasseh and Ephraim before Jacob, being careful to have Manasseh on Jacob’s right side.
Jacob reaches out his hands toward them. He purposely places his right hand on Ephraim’s head and his left hand on Manasseh’s head. He blesses them that they should be shielded from evil and that they should have abundant offspring.
Aliyah 3: Genesis 48:17 – 48:22, 6 verses
Joseph protests that Jacob should place his right hand on his older son, Manasseh. Jacob explains that he knows what he is doing. Both of Joseph’s sons will be successful, but Ephraim will exceed his brother.
Jacob tells Joseph that he is about to die. However, he assures him that God will be with his family and bring them back to the land of Abraham and Isaac.
Aliyah 4: Genesis 49:1 – 49:18, 18 verses
After having spent time with Joseph, Jacob gathers together all of his sons.
He wants to reveal to them what the future holds for them. However, he is prevented from revealing the future.
Instead, he “blesses” his children. The verses of blessing are not blessings in the traditional sense. Rather, Jacob is revealing to his sons important aspects of their character and what path each should follow.
Reuben / Reuvain
Reuben is Jacob’s firstborn. Therefore, he should have a leading role in the family. However, he was somewhat reckless he cannot be in a leading role.
Simeon / Shimon and Levi
Jacob addresses Simeon and Levi together. He is still upset with their actions when they killed the men of Shechem. He declares that they must be separated and scattered when the Jewish people enter the Land of Israel.
Judah / Yehuda
Judah is like a lion cub, still in his youth. In the future he will be like a lion. The leadership of the Jewish people will be given to Judah and will never depart from his tribe.
This tribe will live by the sea. According to Jewish tradition, the successful commercial activities of Zebulun supported the Torah learning of Issachar.
Jacob describes this son as a strong donkey who submits himself to labor. Some explain this means the tribe will be successful in farming and other agricultural activities.
Rashi explains it means the tribe will bear the yoke of Torah and become leading scholars among the Jewish people.
Jacob looks at Dan and prophetically sees the deeds of his descendant, Samson. His life is recorded in Judges chapters 13 – 16.
Aliyah 5: Genesis 49:19 – 49:26, 8 verses
Jacob continues to bless his sons. He now turns to the two sons born to Zilpah who was Leah’s maidservant.
Jacob hints at the key role the tribe of Gad will play in conquering the Land of Canaan.
Asher is the younger son of Zilpah. His land will be very fertile and will grow excellent produce.
Jacob compares Naphtali to a deer that runs swiftly.
Joseph / Yosef
Jacob saves the sons of his favorite wife, Rachel, for last.
He praises Joseph more than his other sons. Joseph overcame the hatred of others and the temptations of life to become a shepherd of the family.
Jacob uses the phrase “stone of Israel” (Hebrew: “even Yisrael”) to describe Joseph. The Hebrew word “even” can be understood as two separate words: “av” (father) and “ben” (son).
This indicates the dual roles of Joseph. In one sense he is a son of Jacob. In another sense, because of how he supported the family in Egypt, he fulfills the role of father.
Aliyah 6: Genesis 49:27 – 50:20, 27 verses
Jacob turns last to his youngest son.
Benjamin / Binyamin
He describes him as a wolf. Benjamin counts among his descendants men and women who fought valiantly for the Jewish people.
The first king of Israel, Saul, is from Benjamin. Likewise, the heroes of Purim, Esther and Mordechai trace themselves back to Benjamin.
Jacob has finished blessing his sons. The Torah emphasizes that there are 12 tribes. This indicates that each son received the appropriate blessing for him and his offspring.
The Torah is also indicating that whenever the tribes of Israel are counted there will always be 12 tribes.
We might think that sometimes there are 13 tribes, since Jacob elevated Manasseh and Ephraim to be like the rest of his sons.
However, as we will see later in the Torah, whenever Manasseh and Ephraim are counted as separate tribes, then Levi is not counted as a tribe.
There are other times when Manasseh and Ephraim are combined and counted as the single tribe of Joseph. At those times, Levi is also counted as a tribe.
At the beginning of this parsha, Jacob had Joseph swear to him that he would not be buried in Egypt. He now tells all of his sons that they should bury him in the Machpelah Cave.
Once Jacob completed instructing his sons, he died.
As soon as Jacob dies, Joseph falls on him and weeps. He orders his servants to embalm his father’s body.
After the embalming period is completed, Joseph asks Pharaoh for permission to bury his father in Canaan. Joseph promises that he will return to Egypt.
Joseph, his brothers, and a contingent from Egypt carry Jacob up to Canaan to bury him. They leave their children and all of their livestock behind in Egypt.
They bury Jacob in the Machpelah Cave and then return to Egypt.
Now that Jacob has died, Joseph’s brothers think that he will take revenge for their actions. They tell Joseph that their father asked him to forgive them. Even so, they bow before him and state that they are now his slaves.
Joseph proclaims that he has no intention of harming them. He is not in the place of God. He reminds them that although they meant to harm him, God meant all of those past events for the good of the family.
Aliyah 7: Genesis 50:21 – 50:26, 6 verses
Joseph assures his brothers that he will continue to support them and their families. He comforts them and speaks to their hearts.
This is a significant change from when he was young. As a youth he told everyone about his dreams seemingly without concern about the harm his words might cause.
Joseph lives to be 110 years old. Before he dies he tells his brothers that God will remember them and eventually bring them out of Egypt.
He cannot be buried in Canaan, so he asks his brothers to carry his bones with them when they leave Egypt.
Joseph dies, is embalmed, and his body placed in a coffin in Egypt.
1 Kings 2:1 – 12
As King David was about to die, he instructs his son Solomon / Shlomo to carefully observe the Torah. There were certain people who deserved punishment for their actions, but David was not able to deal with them during his life. He instructs Shlomo to deal with them according to their deeds.
Jacob lived for 17 years in Egypt. Joseph was 17 when he had his dreams. My article Joseph’s Dreams Fulfilled looks at the relationship between these two facts.