Rabbi Raymond Apple
Rabbi Raymond AppleLarry Brandt

The sidra we read this coming Shabbat is called "Vayyechi", "And he lived". It describes the final stage of Jacob’s life when he lived in Egypt.

One could say that only now, as an old man with his struggles behind him, did Jacob really live. But there is more to it than that.

Some Hebrew words never come in the singular. One of them is "Chayyim" – "Life", which ends with the plural "im". Life is a plurality of moments, experiences, failures and successes.

No two people live precisely the same life. No two people live as carbon copies of one another. There are many lives, as many as there are human beings. My life is a plurality; every life is.

So when the Torah says "And Jacob lived", it is not just referring to one moment but to many.


Jacob told his family to gather around his death bed and he would reveal to them "the end of days" (Gen. 49:1). But the Divine Presence prevented him from carrying out his plan.

We are curious to know why Jacob became unable to say what he had intended.

The rabbis say that the gift of prophecy was removed from him (Talmud Pesachim 56a). Does this mean that what departed from him was not so much the ability to prophesy as the knowledge of the future?

This is one of the ideas considered by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in his commentaries. Maybe there was some defect in Jacob that had disqualified him from clear thinking and futuristic knowledge.

A possibility is that it would not have been good for either the family or mankind – or even Jacob himself – to know precisely what the future would bring.

If "the end of days" would take a particular shape and form and arrive at a specified moment, we might think we no longer needed to work for it.


The end of Sefer B’reshit sees Jacob pondering on and depicting each of his children.

In the Torah text, Reuben is called "my firstborn ('bechori'), my strength ('kochi'), the first of my power ('s’eit')".

The Targum Onkelos says that Jacob expected that Reuben would have been endowed with the birthright, the priesthood and royalty, but these privileges were lost because Reuben had not behaved properly.

Rashi thinks the priesthood is suggested by the word "s’eit" (literally "raising") which alludes to raising one’s hands in the priestly blessing, and "strength" denotes royalty. What about the birthright? Rashi does not give an explanation.

Ibn Ezra seems to think that the idea of the firstborn underlies all the leadership roles which Jacob refers to. In Biblical culture and elsewhere in history, being the firstborn imports a special status in family and public life. It is not easy for the firstborn or for parents who are not yet experienced enough to know how to handle their first child.

Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com