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פ׳ ויחי

ואני נתתי לך שכם אחד על אחיך אשר לקחתי מיד האמורי בחרבי ובקשתי

And I have given you Shechem, one (portion) over your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.

(Bereishis 48:22)

Yaakov's enigmatic statement to Yosef after he had blessed Yosef's sons and before blessing the שבטים (tribes) is very hard to understand on the pshat level. First, Yaakov did not take Shechem; it was Shimon and Levi who killed the residents of Shechem - and Yaakov was angry at them for their action! Further, why should it be given to Yosef? And, what is meant by אחד על אחיך "one over your brothers"? Also, there is no record of Yaakov lifting a sword and bow - that was not his way, as implied in the possuk: הקול קול יעקוב והידיים ידי עשיו - "the voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau" [Bereishis 27:22, and see Gittin 57a].


Rashi attempts to explain the verse on the simple level. He says that now, after Yosef had promised to bring Yaakov back to be buried with his fathers (in Hevron), Yaakov was allotting Yosef his own burial place, in Shechem. He cites a midrash that after the slaughter in Shechem, the neighboring tribes gathered to do battle, and Yaakov had to don implements of war. A hidden miracle occurred [see Gen. 35:5], and the residents were overtaken by fear and never attacked. However, Rashi himself doesn’t like this explanation, since it leaves open the question of why Shechem should be given to Yosef, and not to Shimon and Levi.


Ramban and Rashba understand the verse as referring to the future, and interpret בחרבי ובקשתי as זכותו - “the merit of Yaakov”. Ramban says that the conquest of Eretz Yisrael, which began with the Emorite kings, Og and Sichon, would require armed conflict, but victory could only be attained through Yaakov’s merit. Rashba points out the parallel language in the last chapter of Joshua (24). In his final address to the people of Israel, Yehoshua – who was of the tribe of Ephraim, and thus a descendant of Yosef - gathered them all together, in Shechem to review their history, including (v.12) –
ואשלח לפניכם את הצרעה ותגרש אותם מפניכם שני מלכי האמורי: לא בחרבך ולא בקשתך

And I [Hashem] sent the hornet before you, and it drove them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; not with your sword, nor with your bow.
but rather, says the Rashba, with the merit of Yaakov.


Rashi’s second (and preferred) explanation is that Shechem doesn’t mean the city of Shechem, but rather “a portion”. He cites several examples of where the word is used this way. Thus, “one over your brothers”, is the portion of the firstborn, who, according to Jewish law, gets a double share. “That I took from the Emori”; Rashi explains as referring to Eisav (from whom Yaakov took the בכורה) - either because Eisav acted immorally like the Emorim, or because he fooled his father באִמרֵי פיו - with the words of his mouth [see Rashi to 25:27]. Charbi and kashti are spiritual weapons, according to this explanation; Rashi says they symbolize חכמתו ותפילתו – his wisdom (Torah) and prayers.

Even Targum Onkelos, who usually just gives the simple (Aramaic) translation, translates Shechem as חולק - a portion, and b'charbi u-v'kashti as בצלותי ובבעותי – with my tefillah (prayer) and bakasha (supplication). This is consistent with the gemara [Bava Basra 123a] that uses this possuk as a proof that the bechor gets פי שנים, a double portion. The gemara [there] as well says that חרבי זו תפלה קשתי זו בקשה - charbi refers to tefillah and kashti to bakasha.

The Maharsho explains that the Jewish people have two main national enemies that are embodied in Eisav and Yishmael. On the one hand Eisov's livelihood depends on the sword, as expressed in, ועל חרבך תחיה - "by the sword you shall live" [Bereishis 27:40], whereas Yishmoel's main weapon remains the bow, as expressed in, ויהי רובה קשת - "he became an archer" [Bereishis 21:20]. These are the powers that our tefillah and bakasha counteract.

Rav Zev Leff, based on the Meshech Chochma and the Brisker Rav, explains the difference between tefilla and bakasha. Tefillah is the set order of davening said as part of the tzibbur. This institutionalized tefillah, where the words and their combinations were composed by the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah – who included among them several prophets - are themselves influential and effective on the spiritual forces of nature. This is like a sword, whose essence is sharp and potent. The word b’charbi can also be read בּחר בִּי. This power is unique to the people who chose to receive the Torah.

On the other hand, בְּקַשְתִּיb’kashti,” which can also be read “bakashasi,” refers to personal supplication. In this type of tefillah, one recognizes his inadequacy to control his situation and subjugates himself to Hashem, beseeching Him for his needs and wants. Here, complete devotion and intense concentration are required.

The Kotzker Rebbe put it beautifully. He explained that just as with a bow, the closer you draw the arrow to your heart, the further it will fly, so too our bakashos; the closer we bring it to our heart - meaning, the more kavana we have - the further it will go.


The Midrash says that charbi and kashti refer to מצוות ומעשים טובים - mitzvot and good deeds. The Kehillas Yitzchok asks: why is it that the sword is listed before the bow? In war, one would first use his bow against the enemy that is farther away, and only when he gets closer would he use his sword. So, the possuk should have been be-kashti u'v'charbi - "with my bow and with my sword". Based on this Midrash, he says that the "war" is refring to מלחמת היצר - ones internal battle with his evil inclination. The yetzer hara starts out inside a person,as it says כי יצר לב האדם רע מנעוריו - "for the inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth" [Breishis 8:21]. In one's battle with the yetzer, first one has to drive it away through doing mitzvos (sword), and only afterwards keep it at a distance through maasim tovim (arrows). [Similar to the idea of סור מרע ועשה טוב - "turn away from bad and do good", Tehilim 34:15]

In light of current events, when Acheinu Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael are fighting our enemies with physical implements of war, it is up to us to do our part, to invoke the merit of Yaakov avinu by increasing our intensity in Torah, in Mitzvos and maasim tovim, and in tefillah, and with focused and targeted bakashos.

Posted by joem on Jan 08, 2009 8:00 pm

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