Messianic Education Trust
    Vayechi  
(Gen 47:28 - 50:26)

B'resheet/Genesis 47:29   And the days approached for Isra'el to die, and he called for his son, for Yosef ...


The construct form used in this verse - , the days of Israel - does not translate well into English. A literal translation of the start of the verse might be: "and they approached, the days of Israel, to die ...", so a little license is used above in order to read more smoothly. Most versions even blur the use of the word 'days', changing it to 'time', so the NASB says, "When the time for Israel to die drew near"; the NIV "When the time drew near for Israel to die". The CJB goes as far as making Ya'akov the subject of the verb, rather that the time: "The time came when Isra'el was approaching death". The Hebrew is both standard phraseology and a reflection of Ya'akov's conversation with Pharaoh: "'How many are the days of the years of your life?' ... 'The days of the years of my sojournings are a hundred and thirty years; few and hard have been the days of the years of my life and they have not reached the days of the years of the lives of my forefathers'" (B'resheet 37:8-9).

The sages comment that "'Drawing near of days' was said in connection with the chosen one of the Patriarchs, the chosen one of the prophets, and the chosen one of the kings. The chosen one of the Patriarchs was Jacob - For the L-rd has chosen Jacob for Himself (Psalm 135:4), and drawing near of days is said in connection with him: and the days of Israel drew near to die. The chosen one of the prophets was Moses - Had not Moses His chosen stood before Him in the breach (Psalm 106:23), and drawing near of days is stated in connection with him: And the L-rd said to Moses: Behold, your days approach to die (D'varim 31:14). The chosen of the kings was David - He chose David His servant (Psalm 78:70); and approach of days is stated in connection with him: Now the days of David drew nigh to die (1 Kings 2:1)". Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi adds that the phrase is only used when someone "did not reach the days of his fathers." Abraham and Yitz'khak both lived longer than Ya'akov; Amram lived longer than Moshe and Jesse lived longer than David.

Who Is ...

Ramban: Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman of Gerona or Nachmanides (1194-1270 CE), Spanish rabbi, author and physician; defended Judaism in the Christian debates in Barcelona before making aliyah
Nachmanides explains that the phrase means, "when the time for Israel's death approached, which was during the last year of his life, he called his son Yosef." In other words, this phrase does not mean "on the day that he died", but as the Ramban continues, "he felt exhaustion and undue weakness in himself, but was not sick. Rather he knew that he would not live much longer." The text itself confirms this idea when it continues, "Some time afterward, Yosef was told, 'Your father is ill.' So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim" (B'resheet 48:1, JPS), when Ya'akov is now about to die. Nachmanides points out that the same knowledge is evident in David's case: "When David's time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, 'I am about to go the way of all the earth ...'" (1 Kings 2:1-2, ESV); David knew in his heart that his end was approaching although he still appeared to be in full control of his faculties.

Many people have reported that their elderly relatives are "ready to go" when they reach a certain stage at the end of their lives, just somehow knowing that death is only a little way away - be that hours, days or sometimes even months. This isn't at all the same thing as people who want to die, to end their suffering or pain from cancer or some other debilitating or wasting disease; these people may want to die, but don't have that sense of imminence or readiness. On the contrary, it seems to be a peace, an acceptance, perhaps even a surrendered-ness, that makes the moment of death just a mechanical irrelevance; the time-scale has ceased to be important and there is no sense of struggle either to delay or hasten the passing from this world into the next. The ability to "die well", with grace and dignity despite the physical circumstances is an important end-of-life grace. Whether this is the IDF major1 who died saying the Sh'ma as he saved the lives of his men by throwing himself on top of a grenade about to explode in their midst, someone who dies in a hospital surrounded by bleeping machines and medical equipment or an elderly person who dies quietly in their sleep, the principle is the same: recognising and accepting the true state of things and being at peace with what is inevitably going to happen.

Two components seem to be critical in this process: being prepared to let go and having an assurance about what comes next. The first covers such items as making a fair and sensible will, visiting or being visited by close family and friends, settling any open grievances or disagreements, releasing obligations, forgiving and being forgiven, long perhaps rambling chats to simply reminisce and remember shared times, chuckling over past mistakes. These are all things that bring peace and wholeness; restoring balance and dignity to all the parties involved, enabling business to be finished off and properly closed so that things and people are released before the point of death rather than being torn apart by the death and left hanging in mid-air. The second is a matter of faith; not just being at peace with men, but being at peace with G-d and being ready to meet Him face to face. The fear of punishment, of having failed, of being unworthy or of having unfinished business here, all spoil this peace and bring tension and distress both to the person about to die and to all those around them. The lack of peace, the unreadiness, is apparent to all as the person struggles - often with themselves - to reach peace before the end overtakes them.

In the midst of a season of defeat and despair, the Psalmist wrote, "For your sake we are put to death all day long, we are considered sheep to be slaughtered" (Psalm 44:23, CJB). The writer feels the pain of exile or occupation: "You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them. You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples" (vv. 12-14, ESV) and feels wrongfully and unreasonably abandoned by G-d: "All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten You, and we have not been false to Your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from Your way; yet You have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death" (vv. 17-19, ESV). Yet, in the same way as the writer of Lamentations cries out to G-d from the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the Psalmist affirms his overall faith in G-d: "Awake! Why are you sleeping, O L-rd? Rouse Yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do You hide Your face? Why do You forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground. Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of Your steadfast love!" (vv. 23,26, ESV). That writer is not at peace, he is not "ready to go"; he is still kicking and screaming, still demanding a response from G-d.

Rav Sha'ul, on the other hand, quotes that verse from the psalm but resets it in the context of Messiah Yeshua: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of G-d in Christ Jesus our L-rd" (Romans 8:35-39, ESV). Sha'ul is ready to go at any time; he is at peace with His G-d, knowing that nothing - even death itself - can separate him from his relationship with Yeshua. Later on Sha'ul wrote to the Philippians: "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose" (Philippians 1:22-23, NASB). Even though he is in a Roman prison, Sha'ul is so much at peace that living and dying are all the same to him - he just wants whatever will serve His L-rd the most: "But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake" (vv. 22-24, NASB).

When we reach that moment, may we know G-d's peace to accept His hand on our lives, for good or for good and be ready to go or stay at His command!

1 - Major Ro'i Klein, zt"l

Further Study: John 10:15; Isaiah 53:7

Application: Have you reached that point of readiness, knowing the nearness of death and the hand of G-d? Are you at peace with all men - including your family? If not, then don't waste time fighting, but be reconciled with both G-d and man to reach and know His peace today.

© Jonathan Allen, 2010

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