Sefer Bereishis ends this week with Parshas Vayechi. At the beginning of the parshah, Yaakov realizes that he is about to die. Since he had spent the previous seventeen years in Mitzrayim and the people there admired him very much, he was worried that they would insist on burying him in Mitzrayim, instead of in Me’aras Hamachpela in Chevron. In order to make sure his body would be brought to Eretz Yisrael, he made Yosef swear to bring it there. Because of his royal influence, Yosef was the only one of the brothers who could guarantee this.
After Yosef says he will take care of Yaakov’s body, Yaakov is still not satisfied. “וַיֹּאמֶר הִשָּׁבְעָה לִי וַיִּשָּׁבַע לוֹ וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל רֹאשׁ הַמִּטָּה” “And he (Yaakov) said, ‘Swear to me.’ So he (Yosef) swore to him. And Yisrael bowed at the head of the bed” (Bereishis 47:31). Rashi offers two comments on this pasuk. His first point is that even though Yosef was royalty, Yaakov was not obligated to bow to him since he was his father. Yet, Yaakov does bow to Yosef. Rashi explains from a gemarah in Megillah (16b), “a fox in his time, bow to him.” Even though the fox is not the highest ranking of the animals, there will come a time when he is in charge. At that time, you should bow to him. This is a parable for Yaakov and Yosef. (This explanation does not sit well with me. Is Yosef HaTzaddik comparable to the sneaky fox?)
The second point Rashi makes is why the pasuk mentions that Yaakov bowed at the head of the bed; when lying in bed, people face the foot, so Yaakov should have been bowing in that direction. Rashi explains that Yaakov turned around so that he could bow in the direction of the Shechinah, which rests at the head of the bed of a sick person.
The Sifsei Chachamim asks that these two answers contradict each other! Was Yaakov bowing to Yosef or was he bowing to Hashem? He answers that if Yaakov bowed to Yosef, it does not answer why the pasuk says that he bowed to the head of the bed. And if Yaakov only bowed down to Hashem, why doesn’t the pasuk say straight out that that was what he was doing? Therefore, says the Sifsei Chachamim, both answers are necessary.
I would like to suggest that Rashi’s third explanation on the pasuk is another answer to this question. He explains that the reason why Yaakov was bowing to Hashem at this time was because of Yosef. Since all his children were tzaddikim, Yaakov was guaranteed a spot in Olam Haba. The child who had the biggest challenges in life was Yosef. By spending so many years in Mitzrayim, whether it was in his position as a slave, a prisoner, or even as the king, Yosef was subject to tremendous attacks on his righteousness, and yet, he remained true to Hashem. So when Yosef came into the room, Yaakov was overcome with the need to bow down to Hashem to thank him for all his wonderful children.
This is the explanation behind the two earlier explanations of Rashi. Yaakov had to bow down to Yosef, but it wasn’t because Yosef was the king; and he had to bow down specifically at the head of the bed because he was bowing down to Hashem. The reason he was bowing was because of the person who was in the room with him. Yosef, who by remaining a tzaddik in the face of tremendous adversity represented Yaakov’s entire life’s work, and had guaranteed him a spot in Olam Haba.
Chazak Chazak V’Nischazek!
For any questions, comments, or to subscribe to our email list, please email us at AIMeMtorah@gmail.com.
Please check out our other AIMeMTorah project, Nation's Wisdom!