Several weeks ago, when his mother encouraged him to dress up as his twin brother and make off with his father’s blessing, Ya’akov was hesitant and anxious. The chances of getting busted were high, and the consequences severe: “If my father touches me, I shall appear to him as a trickster and bring upon myself a curse, not a blessing” (Genesis 27:12).
So it’s somewhat ironic that after making off with that blessing, when it comes time to bless his sons at the end of his life in this week’s Torah reading, Vayehi, that Ya’akov’s parting words are far more curse than blessing. In his book on Joseph titled Assimilation versus Separation, the late political scholar Aaron Wildavsky called his chapter on this section: “If These are Jacob’s Blessings, What Would His Curses Be Like?” (pp. 163-189)
While traditional interpreters saw Jacob’s final testament as prophetic, many modern scholars see them as retrojections, reflective of history as it unfolded in the Israelite tribal confederacy. Not one of the sons walks away feeling entirely blessed; even the top-raking sons, Yehudah and Yosef, take their lumps from dad in this poem.
It doesn’t seem like the most healthy way to say goodbye to children before slipping into the hereafter. What might the Torah’s lesson be in painting such an awkward deathbed scene? We’ll discuss this on Shabbat morning, as we say goodbye to Ya’akov and to the first book of the Torah.