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The Sword & Bow of Jacob

Parashat Vayechi (Gen.47:48-50:26)records the passing of Jacob and, later his son Joseph. Vayechi opens with a blessing conferred solely on Joseph by his father: "I assign to you one portion more than to your brothers." The one portion is what Jacob calls Shechem, which he identifies as the city, "I wrested from the Amorites with my sword and bow.” However, in this same parsha, Jacob calls Shimon and Levi, "instruments of cruelty" because of their revenge on the city of Shechem after the rape of their sister Dina.


A distinction should be made between Jacob's reaction to Shimon and Levi taking the law into their own hands to extract angry retribution, rather than seeking justice. Jacob, on his death bed makes it clear that he would never sanction vengeance as a motive for war. Thus, when he states unequivocally that he took Shechem"with his sword and bow" he is actually making a reference to a later, defensive battle that was led by Jacob to defend his family against an unprovoked attack on the innocent. The epic narrative of that campaign is found in chapters thirty-seven through forty of Sefer HaYashar. It occurs when Jacob, at the age of one-hundred five returns with his family to settle near the rebuilt built city Shechem:


"And all those kings of the Canaanites and Amorites that surrounded the city of Shechem, heard that the sons of Jacob had again come to Shechem and dwelt there.

And they said, Shall the sons of Jacob the Hebrew again come to the city and dwell therein, after that they have smitten its inhabitants and driven them out? Shall they now return and also drive out those who are dwelling in the city or slay them?

And all the kings of Canaan again assembled, and they came together to make war with Jacob and his sons. And Jashub king of Tapnach sent also to all his neighboring kings, to Elan king of Gaash, and to Ihuri king of Shiloh, and to Parathon king of Chazar, and to Susi king of Sarton, and to Laban king of Bethchoran, and to Shabir king of Othnay-mah, saying, Come up to me and assist me, and let us smite Jacob the Hebrew and his sons, and all belonging to him, for they are again come to Shechem to possess it and to slay its inhabitants as before." Sefer Ha Yashar 37:4-8


This time, Jacob takes up his bow and sword to lead his sons into a righteous war to save his entire family from being wiped out. This event, as retold in Sefer HaYashar is a rousing, dramatic narrative with stunning acts of bravery performed by a small band of warriors led by Jacob who, with HaShem's aid, miraculously defeat thousands. And it was a war that lasted only 6 days!


Genesis 49:24 offers a symbolic view of Jacob's weapons: "But his bow remained steady, and his strong arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel." The "sword" represents the ability to defend oneself and others, while the "bow" represents the ability to strike from a distance.


Today Israel finds itself in another war and though the nations rage and imagine it is a war of vengeance, for those of us who embrace the truth, we know Israel is engaged in a righteous fight for their survival, as well as the future of those of us among the nations who love God, Torah and Israel.

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