by Mary C Legg
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I-12 Vayechi Gn 47:28-50:26
Wars are waged over unsettled inheritance. A conniving charlatan gains the confidence of an elderly person and contrives to have the rightful inheritors disfranchised.
People live with interests only for tomorrow's immediate reward without thinking of the long-term payback., devising ruses to deceive the chartered accountant and the government tax investigators. Companies, once proud to use domestic labor, scramble for offshore tax breaks and outsource their labor, trying to maximize their profits.
For some, the rush ends in financial ruin like a house of collapsed cards. From the turn of the century, international firms have been plagued with dishonesty and investigations, incurring bankruptcy after bankruptcy as a result of ethical corruption. And although, no doubt that evil pays in dividends here on earth, God promises that what is harvested shall also be reaped on his day of awesome judgement.
Jacob comes to the end of his life in a foreign culture with his children surrounding him in Egypt. Joseph's dream has come through after many setbacks and hardships. He stands next to the Pharaoh in authority and is respected for his foresight throughout Egypt. In return for the abuse he received from his brothers, he has filled their lives with good and comfort. He saved their lives in the face of famine.
Jacob, calls his children to give them his final blessing:
The first three, Reuben, Simeon and Levi are ominous as the blessing of leadership skips to Judah.
Of Reuben, Jacob declares, "Unstable as water, have thou not the excellency; Because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; Thou defilest thou it—he went up to my couch," (Gn 49:4), referring to his imposition on his concubine, Bilhal (Gn 35:22). Bilhal had Jacob's sons: Dan and Napthali. The relationship is incestuous. Think of the insulting remarks that could be hurled at the younger half-brothers.
In the saga of Joseph's enslavement, Reuben stands by and effectively does nothing. He protests, but he does not assert any leadership, vanishing in the critical time when Joseph is sold (Gn 37:29-30). He seems to be more concerned about covering his tracks, than acting in a responsible manner. In redeeming his brother, Simeon, and guaranteeing safe conduct for Benjamin, he offers to slay his own two sons (Gn Gn 42:37-38). He has few scruples about disposing of human life, thereby forfeiting his leadership. Jacob tells it straight.
Of Simeon and Levi, Jacob pronounces, " Simeon and Levi are brethren; Weapons of violence their kinship. Let my soul not come into their council; Unto their assembly let not my glory be united; For in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they houghed oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce and their wrath for it was cruel; I will divide them in Jacob, And scatter them in Israel." (Gn 49: 6-7)
Why? The actions of the three eldest brothers were reprehensible; nor did they change their behavior. Saying, "sorry," is not enough. Restitution is required in order to complete repentance. Words and acts must be of one accord, but the three eldest had little regard for human life.
Simeon and Levi led an ambush against the men of Shechem and slaughtered them without mercy while they were recovering from circumcision (Gn 34:27-31). Only one other person in the bible is held in such contempt—Amalek, who attacks the back of the exodus and slaughters the women, children and infirm (Dt 25:17-18, Num 24:20, Ex 17:8-16).
The slaughter is as horrific as MyLai or the ethnic purges of Bosnia or Rwanda with as little justification. The dead cannot be restored to life. Traumatized people, who have been victims of such horrors, suffer not only external but also internal scars. Jacob finds his eldest sons unfit for leadership through their contempt of human life.
The fourth son, Judah is blessed, "Judah is the lion's whelp, From the prey, thou art gone up. He stooped down, he couched as a lion, And as a lioness; wgho shall rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, As long as men come to Shiloh; And unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be." (Gn 49:9-11)
When the spies enter into Canaan to scout the land, ten return with complaints and begin to incite rebellion; but two stand up: Joshua and Caleb. (Num 14: 6-9). Caleb is the descendent of Judah and Joshua (Hosea) is descendent of Benjamin.
The blessing of Jacob extends far beyond his deathbed as the Israelites leave Egypt on their exodus into the promised land. What is sown, is reaped.
Too often, the verse, "an eye for and eye," ( Ex 21: 24, Lv 24:20) is misconstrued from its context as wreaking vengeance. The verse falls within a group of laws concerning social intercourse and compensation for injury and loss. Injuries, were legally compensated with vengeance discouraged. However, Simeon and Levi aggressively attacked helpless peole and were no better than murderers. There is no adequate compensation for the loss of human life. How can you equate the thoughts or activities of a person in numbers? Every personnel officer faces this issue heatedly discussed in the halls of board meetings and in the courts of law. Is a woman who stays home to tend her children of less value than someone who cleans apartments or hotels or sits in the boardroom?
The evil which they did could not be easily excused before Jacob. The blessing skips to the fourth son. Judah stepped forward to accept responsibility for Benjamin's life and repented of the wrongs he committed.
The warning is clear: repentance is not a matter of sudden change under pressure, a turncoat who becomes the government witness against his colleagues or the last minute conversion. It is not the chagrinned culprit or criminal handcuffed in court and facing his accusers after years of betraying trust through violence, sexual predation or financial embezzlement—this is not true repentance, but only admitted guilt. To make true repentance, the person must give restitution and correct the wrongs that he has imposed on others and change his way of life.
Rabbi Eliezer used to tell his followers to repent one day before they died. (Pirkei Avos Chapter 2 Mishna 15) Why? Because we never know when death comes and in such a manner, effect daily reconciliation between ourselves and fellow man before God.
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