Shabbat Vayehiy

Friday, December 29 - Candles @ 4:17pm
December 30 - Havdalah @ 5:15pm

“The scepter will never be taken from Judah, the ruler’s mace will remain between his feet, when Shiloh comes and the people will accept him as their ruler.” (Genesis 49.10)

This phrase comes from the Last Will and Testament of Jacob just before he dies in Egypt. Jacob's deathbed poem is about his sons themselves and their future. Its core message is that Judah and Josef will become the two leading tribes of the Israelites. This began only when David became king and the Tabernacle was moved from the town of Shiloh to Jerusalem. Then after Solomon died, the kingdom split. The South became known as Judah although it included Benjamin. The North was known as Israel but was referred to in the Prophets as Joseph (including the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe).

What did Jacob mean by referring to Shiloh? Long after the Biblical period, Christianity adopted Shiloh to be a reference to Jesus. In response the Talmud adopts Shiloh to be a reference to the Messiah. And there were going to be two Messiahs, one from Judah and one from Josef to symbolize the return and reconciliation of all the exiles. In the Bible the idea of the Messiah is simply the return of exiles under a new Monarch. In the context of Jewish history that makes sense. It is consistent with themes in Moses’s farewell speeches in which he says that Jews will abandon their faith, be exiled and yet return to rebuild their Temple. Which happened.

Some scholars suggest that this was written by a Judean scribe after the kingdoms had split. But our tradition is that this was written long before that. That is why I do not think this can be a reference to the Messiah. Others suggest that Shiloh is made up of two Hebrew words Shai, a Gift, Lo, for him. That could mean that Jacob was saying that at some time in the future, Judah would be gifted absolute authority. Something already evident in the role of Judah and his family in Egypt.

Jacobs blessings were less long-term references to an abstract concept such as Messianism and more an assessment of the characters of his sons and which ones he thought would be the major influences in the future of his family.