Parshat Vayechi


The Promised Land (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

Qasr El Yahud, the baptismal site on the Jordan. Photo courtesy Beata Andonia

This week we will read the last section of Genesis. We will read about the end of Jacob’s life, and how he asked Joseph to swear not to bury him in Egypt but in the Promised Land, in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, with his forefathers. He also blesses the two sons of Joseph, Menashe and Ephraim, whom he considers his sons – there are no tribes named Joseph but rather two other tribes instead – Menashe and Ephraim. Jacob also blesses the other sons, especially Judah and Joseph, to whom he devotes a particularly long and special blessing (Genesis 49:8, 22). There is also a description of Jacob’s funeral (Genesis 10:10) and it is followed by Joseph’s wish to be buried in the Land of Israel (50:25). Throughout the Parsha there are repeated promises that the family will return to the Promised Land (48:4-6, 21; 50:24).

This week I want to take you to the baptismal site of Jesus and John in the Jordan River near the city of Jericho, north of the Dead Sea. In this place the children of Israel crossed the Jordan, led by Joshua son of Nun (Joshua 3:13-17), and John baptized many people, including his relative Jesus. When Jesus was baptized: “…the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17). Today this location is a national park, surrounded by many monasteries that were built in the Byzantine and Crusader periods and some were restored or built from the 19th century until today. Here you will find monasteries and churches of many denominations: Catholics, Greeks – Orthodox, Ethiopians, Armenians, Syrians, Ethiopians, Copts, Russians, Romanians and others. Following the Six-Day War in 1967, the area became a dangerous confrontation zone between Israel and the Palestinian militias in Jordan. The site was filled with mines and barbed wire and the monasteries were abandoned. Following the Israel-Jordan peace treaty from 1994 Israel began clearing the minefields and the site reopened for visitors and baptism in 2011.

In this place John the Baptist called on the Jews for: “…baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). There is also a great deal of forgiveness in the Parsha. According to the Rabbinic interpretation, Jacob asked for forgiveness from Joseph for the trouble of burying him in Hebron and not in Egypt, while Jacob himself did not bury Rachel in Hebron even though she didn’t die so far away (Genesis 48:7). The brothers fear that Joseph will take revenge after Jacob’s death, but he forgives them as well (Genesis 15:15-21). Another biblical idea that is strongly expressed is that the younger and little ones will be increased: Just like young Joseph became Pharaoh’s right hand so Jacob wishes to bless the young grandson, Ephraim, on the expense of Menashe to Joseph’s discontent. Jacob even emphasizes: “…his younger brother (Ephraim) will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations” (Genesis 48:19). Jesus will also say: “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11), and: “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2-4). Jacob blesses Joseph’s seed which will “multiply like fish”, only that in the English translations it only says: “increase greatly” (Genesis 48:9). This special blessing does not appear again anywhere else in the Bible. Joshua son of Nun, the leader of Israel who lead the people across the Jordan River after Moses died, is from the tribe of Ephraim and his father’s name is Nun, which means in Aramaic – fish. Who are the spiritual descendants of Ephraim? The fishermen, the disciples of Jesus, whose full name in Hebrew is actually Joshua. Where does the second Joshua’s mission begin? In the Jordan River where the first Joshua crossed into the promised land, only this time he leads the way of all mankind to the Kingdom of Heaven, without any sins or minefields…

Itamar Ben David


Itamar Ben David is a professional tour guide and educator. He is one of the most popular Travelujah guides providing valuable biblical, historical and modern day insight on the land of Israel to Jewish and Christian groups and exclusive private tours. He has guided famous media personalities such as Larry King, congressmen and other VIP clients. He and his wife live in Jerusalem.

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