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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi | 5770

Parashat Hashavuah: Who is the Leader and When?

Harav Yosef Carmel

Perhaps the central theme of our parasha is the berachot Yaakov gave his sons. Yehuda received an important one, being promised that leadership will not stray from his descendants (Bereishit 49:8-10). Yosef (and his full brother Binyamin whom, we have explained elsewhere, share one destiny to a great degree) must wait until the end of the blessing receivers (ibid. 22-26). The blessing describes how Yosef had to withstand the challenges from his brothers, but received blessings that exceeded those Yaakov received from his parents. It also refers to the “head of Yosef and the kodkod (head) of the crown of his brothers,” which represents the leadership of the nation.

If one looks at the story line at the end of Bereishit, it is clear that Yosef is the leader of his brothers, and Yehuda is subservient to him. He is the one Yaakov entrusts with burying his remains in Eretz Yisrael. He and his sons receive special blessings before the other brothers are even called for blessings. Within those blessings, Yaakov not only sets the leadership as being from Yosef’s family but slates Ephrayim to assume the mantle of leadership within the family.

Rashi explains that there is no contradiction regarding the balance of power between Yosef and Yehuda. In the short term, it will belong to Yosef, to be replaced at a later date by Yehuda’s descendants.  

When Moshe leaves his final blessings and instructions to the tribes that descended from the brothers, he does not change the balance of power. He uses the same language regarding Yosef of “the head of Yosef and the kodkod of the crown of his brothers” and throws in the word bechor (firstborn) for good measure. Moshe also reaffirms Ephrayim’s precedence over Menashe, saying: “These are the tens of thousands of Ephrayim and these are the thousands of Menashe” (Devarim 33:16-17).

When and how did the leadership change? The pronouncement actually came from the grass roots. When David, of the tribe of Yehuda, showed success in his battles against the Plishtim, the women showered him with praises that are particularly telling in this context: “Shaul smote by the thousands, and David by the tens of thousands” (Shmuel I, 18:7). This reference to David was not a fleeting one, as the non-Jews of Achish referred to him as the one who was hailed as smiting by the tens of thousands (ibid. 21:12). The officers of Plishtim used the same accolades regarding David (ibid. 29:5). The use of the tens of thousands was the code for assuming leadership that had been attributed to Yosef’s son, Ephrayim.

Yehuda’s ascension is not the intrinsic goal. As we discussed last week, true success is reached when Yehuda and Yosef join hands and live harmoniously together. Let us hope that modern-day Israel will be able to turn the nation’s sporadic show of unity into a consistent uniting of the staffs that represent our different factions in an effective and proper manner. 

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