Jacob’s Sigh

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Guest post by Prof. Shlomo Karni

Shlomo Karni was Professor of Electrical Engineering and Religious Studies at University of New Mexico until his retirement in 1999. His books include Dictionary of Basic Biblical Hebrew:Hebrew-English (Jerusalem: Carta, 2002).

Of the three Patriarchs, Jacob had arguably the harshest life, as a fighter and a survivor. When he pleads with God, “…with my staff alone I crossed this Jordan…” (Gen. 32:11), we hear the anguish and pain that accompanied all his ordeals with Laban and with Esau.

In a similar way, we read the story of the end of his life. On his deathbed, Jacob speaks his last words to each of his twelve sons. He addresses first Reuben, then Simon and Levy, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, and Dan.

Son after son was mired in controversy. Jacob rebukes Reuben for having “mounted your father’s bed.” He still remembers how Simon and Levy avenged the rape of their sister Dinah. At the time, Jacob’s immediate reaction was, “You have brought trouble on me… if [the inhabitants of the land] …attack me, …I and my house will be destroyed” (Gen.34:30). And so it continues with Judah, Zebulun, Issachar and Dan.

Suddenly, there is a significant “break” after Dan and before Gad: Jacob utters the phrase, “I wait for Your deliverance, O Lord!” (ibid. 49:18). Most of our commentators chose to interpret it by way of דרש, e.g., Jacob foresaw the future fate of Samson. There is a simpler way to read this phrase — via פשוטו של מקרא.

Then, a heavy sigh escapes Jacob’s lips, “I wait for Your deliverance, O Lord!” We hear here, as we did before, a life-weary, embattled giant who sighs, pleading with God for deliverance as he pauses momentarily to rest, to catch his last breath.

This is a most touching, human and humane moment in the life of this Patriarch.

About Shlomo Karni

5 comments

  1. What’s so controversial about the brachot past the first three sons?

  2. sort of like bikesh yaakov leishev bshalva
    KT

  3. This is very similar to Shadal’s explanation, which is that as Jacob was about to bless Gad, he considered making a play on his name, saying something like גד טוב יהי גדו (he gives another example as well). But then thinking better of blessing Gad with good fortune, and recalling that all salvation comes from God, not גד (pun intended) he exclaimed, “I wait for Thy salvation, O LORD,” and continued with the blessing he thought of instead.

    And yes, if this is pshuto shel mikra I’ll eat my hat.

  4. I’m a bit mystified as to the relevance of the posted essay at this time, as well as to the cogency of its argument. First of all, Ya’akov was not pleading with his statement “ki bemakli avarti et haYarden hazeh..”. While it is a part of a pleading to be saved from his brother, the phrase is actually an acknowledgement of the blessing that he has received, “..ve’ata hayiti lishnei machanot”. More importantly, Ya’akov rebuked and expressed disappointment only with Reuven, Shimon, Levi. Yehudah, in contrast, merited lyrical praise. Dan, in the form of a descendant, also received recognition. Nor was any rebuke delivered to Issachar and Zevulun. Consequently, there is little basis to conclude that “lishuatcha kiviti..” is a cry of anguish.

  5. To S. (Nov.9): I trust you blessed “she-hakol” before eating it …but, seriously:
    פשיטא! Do offer a פשט פשוט יותר

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