Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26 )
Bereishis, 49:10: “The Kingship will not be removed from Yehuda…
Rashi, 49:10: Dh: “From King David and on…”
In this week’s Torah portion, Yaakov blesses Yehudah that the Kingship would belong to the members of the Tribe of Yehuda1.
Two strong questions are asked about this. Firstly, it is well-known that the first King of Israel was King Shaul who did not come from Yehudah, rather he was a member of the Tribe of Binyamin. Accordingly, how could Shaul be anointed as King by the Prophet, Shmuel?
A second question arises out of Shmuel’s rebuke of Shaul when Shaul ignores Shmuel’s instruction with regards to bringing certain offerings. Shmuel tells him: “Until now G-d would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, but now your kingdom shall not endure…”2 Shmuel clearly indicates that had Shaul not sinned, then his Kingdom would have lasted forever, but this seems to contradict Yaakov’s prophecy that the Kingship will belong to the Tribe of Yehuda.
The commentaries answer the first question by suggesting that the prediction that no King could alone rule the nation, only applied after the first King from Yehuda ruled. That first King was King David, and after that there should never have been another King who ruled the nation apart from descendants of Yehuda3. However, before a King of Yehuda ruled, it was permissible for someone from a different tribe to rule. Yet the question remains, as to why a descendant of Rachel, rather than Leah, should be the first King. It seems that this question can be answered by examining the ancestry of the tribes of Yehuda and Binyamin. Once this has been resolved, we can return to the second question above, as to how Shmuel could imply that Shaul’s Kingdom could have lasted forever had he not sinned.
King David in Psalms enumerates two kinds of serving God: “Sur meirah v’aseh tov” 4 — “leave evil and do good”. On an individual level, ‘leaving evil’ refers to avoiding sinning and overcoming one’s negative traits, while on a more public level it refers to fighting evil in the world. ‘Doing good’ refers to performing positive actions and developing one’s positive traits, while on a more public level it refers to bringing about increased Divine Service in the world. The Shem Mishmuel explains that the descendants of Rachel had an inherent capacity for destroying evil whilst Yehuda’s descendants’ strength lay in the positive aspect of ‘doing good5.
Where do we see the quality of fighting evil in Rachel? It has been suggested that this is demonstrated in Rachel’s actions with regard to her idol worshipping father, Lavan. When Yaakov and his family escape, Rachel steals Lavan’s idols in an attempt to prevent her father from idol worship.6 This demonstrates a propensity to removing evil. Leah was more inclined to the positive aspect of Divine Service7. Another difference is that Rachel is described as being Yaakov’s main wife in this World, while Leah is the main wife in the Next World, hence she is buried with Yaakov in Chevron. This reflects the fact that Rachel’s power, as passed on to her children, lay in being involved in, yet elevating the physical world, while Leah’s strength lay in more directly spiritual elevation.
These differences are far more pronounced in the descendants of Rachel and Leah – in particular, Yosef and Yehuda and their offspring. Yosef had a clear ability to be involved in the physical world and elevate it, as well as the power to fight evil. Chazal reveal one of Yosef’s unique qualities right at the time of his birth. Yaakov had been staying with his devious uncle, Lavan, for many years up to that point, and had refrained from returning to Eretz Yisrael because of his fear of his antagonistic brother, Esav. However, as soon as Yosef is born, the Torah tells us that Yaakov demands of Lavan that he let him and his family return to Eretz Yisrael8.
The Midrash and Talmud explain based on a verse in the Book of Ovadiah; “The House of Yaakov shall be a fire and the House of Yosef a flame and the House of Esav for straw.”9 A fire cannot destroy straw unless it has a flame with which to spread the fire. Accordingly, Yosef is compared to a flame in that Yaakov alone is not able to overcome Esav unless he has the ‘flame’ of Yosef to spread his own power to the extent that Esav can be overcome. The Talmud then proves that on all the occasions that the Jewish people overcame Esav’s descendants, Amalek, in battle, it was only with the aid of Yosef’s descendants.10 We also see this in the fact that Yehoshua, a descendant of Yosef through Ephraim, overcomes Amalek in war. The Midrash stresses that it is in particular the descendants of Rachel who have this ability11.
Yosef’s other great strength was his ability to be involved in the physical world and use that involvement for the good. One manifestation of this was his vital role in saving the Jewish nation in the material realm by providing for them during the terrible famine that struck the world. A second manifestation is his ability to remain elevated whilst surrounded by physicality. A third aspect was his desire to elevate the physical realm as is seen by his insistence on all the Egyptian men undergoing circumcision.
Yehuda, in contrast had the ability to lead his brothers and ultimately the nation in the spiritual realm. The most explicit examples of this in Yehuda’s own life is the fact that Yaakov sent Yehuda in particular to Egypt ahead of everyone else so that he could set up places of Torah learning.12 While Yosef paved the way in the material realm so that the Jewish nation could physically survive the Egyptian exile, Yehuda paved the way in the spiritual realm so that the nation could maintain its spiritual level. We further see Yehuda’s leadership qualities in doing God’s will when Yehuda’s descendant, Nachshon Ben Amminadav took the first bold steps into the Yam Suf.
Thus far we have seen that the Children of Leah and the Children of Rachel play a dual role in the development of history that will end with the coming of the Moshiach.
The Rabbis tell us that two Messiahs will redeem the Jewish nation: Moshiach ben Yosef (The Messiah from the Tribe of Yosef) and Moshiach ben David (The Messiah from David). Moshiach ben Yosef will achieve the ‘leaving evil’ aspect by defeating the enemies of the nation. In that way he will pave the way for Moshiach ben David to complete the ‘doing good’ aspect by bringing about the ingathering of the exiles and rebuilding the Beis Temple. Furthermore, the sources tell us that in every generation throughout history there are people who had the potential to fulfill these roles but failed either through their own mistakes or the flaws of the nation as a whole. In this vein, King Shaul was intended to fulfill the role of Moshiach Ben Yosef by wiping out Amalek. Had he done this, then King David would have become the King and been Moshiach. He would have not have had to fight any wars and would have built the Temple. Once Shaul failed in his task, David now had to assume the role of Moshiach ben Yosef as well and fight the wars. But, because of the blood that he spilt in the process, God informed him that could not build the Temple.13
However, we have still not addressed the question we asked at the beginning – when Shaul ignores Shmuel’s instruction with regards to when to bring certain offerings. Shmuel tells him: “Until now G-d would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, but now your kingdom shall not endure…”14 Shmuel clearly indicates that had Shaul not sinned, then his Kingdom would have lasted forever, but this seems to contradict Yaakov’s prophecy that the Kingship will belong to the Tribe of Yehuda.
The Ramban addresses this question and offers two explanations: The first is that descendants of Shaul would have been the King of the Tribes descending from Rachel (Binyamin, Ephraim or Menashe), and the second is that they would have been rulers under the Kings of Yehuda.15 The Raavad makes a similar point to the Ramban’s second explanation, and writes that the descendants of Shaul would be like deputy rulers under the Kings of Yehuda.16
Indeed, Yehonatan, the son of Shaul, makes this very point to David when his father is chasing David. Yehonasan says, “Do not be afraid because the hand of Shaul, my father, will not find you and you will rule over Yisrael and I will be to you a second, and my father Shaul also knows this.”17 The Shem MiShmuel explains that this prediction would have come to fruition had Shaul not failed in his task of wiping out all of Amalek.18 It seems that Yehonasan was unaware of this failure and therefore expected that he would be Mishneh LeMelech (second to the King).
The Rama MiPano also writes that had Shaul not sinned, then Yehonasan would have been the second to the King. He adds that the soul of Yehonasan will be reincarnated as that of Moshiach ben Yosef, and this is what Yehonasan was referring to when he predicted that he would be second to David.19
One lesson we derive from the above discussion is that accepting one’s role, even when it means being subservient to someone else, is the key to success in life. Shaul struggled with this challenge, with disastrous consequences. Yehonasan succeeded in the same area, and although he died before his time, we learn from the Rama MiPano that ultimately, he will succeed.
By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
- Bereishis, 49:10.
- Shmuel 1, 13:14.
- Rashi, Bereishis, 49:10, Dh: Loh yasur; See Ramban, Bereishit, 49:10 who writes that the Kings that ruled the Northern Kingdom after the split between the North and South, were transgressing Yaakov’s instructions. The Prophet Achiya had instructed Yeravam to temporarily be King of the North, but it was not intended that this Kingdom extend indefinitely, rather it should have returned to the Kings of Yehuda. Similarly, he writes that the Hashmonaim sinned when they assumed the Kingship, as they were not descendants of Yehuda.
- Tehillim, 34:15.
- Shem MiShmuel (Vayeishev; 5677).
- Bereishit, 31:34.
- As is demonstrated in her tears and prayers to not have to marry Esav. (Rashi, Bereishit, 29:17, Dh: Rakos).
- Bereishis, 30:25.
- Ovadiah, 1:18.
- Bava Basra, 123b.
- Bereishis Rabbah, 73:7. This would help explain the fact that King Shaul, a descendant of Binyomin, not Yosef, was also able to overcome Amalek in war – he was a descendant of Rachel through Binyomin.
- Bereishis, 46:28, Rashi, sv. Lefanav.
- Divrei HaYamim Aleph, Chapter 22, verse 6-10.
- Shmuel 1, 13:14.
- Ramban, Bereishit, 49:10.
- Hasagos HaRaavad Al HaRambam, Hilchot Melachim, Chapter 1, Halacha 9.
- Shmuel 1, 23:17.
- Shem MiShmuel, Vayeishev, 5677, p.102.
- Maamar Chikur Hadin, Chelek 4, Chapter 16.
Reprinted with permission
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