Parshat Vayechi

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald, Rosh Yeshivat Meir Harel Modiin-Ofakim

One important foundation of national strategy involves demographics and population settlement. In the Torah, this foundation is integral to the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel. Effective planning of demographics and settlement depends on a multitude of considerations: sociological-the characteristics of the population, economics, defense, politics, transportation, water supply and natural resources, agriculture, ecology, population density, etc.
Unfortunately, in recent years demographic considerations have been utilized primarily by forces interested in diminishing the dimensions of the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel.
Our parsha centers on Yaakov's parting with his sons and his blessing to each of them. Each son received a blessing that is special in many aspects. Each blessing expresses the specific son's spiritual character, touches on his past conduct, blesses him and his future tribe, and determines, through divine inspiration, what will be the inheritance of his tribe in the Land of Israel. The Kaftor Vaperach says "And when Yaakov blessed his sons he told them which part of land each was allocated: 'Zevulun will dwell on the coast and will be a harbor for ships, his border will reach Tzidon.' 'Yissachar rests between the extremes of the land…and that the land is pleasant.' Also 'From Asher will come rich bread (foods)' and we will come to Yehuda's land where wine will flow like a spring."
Even before the sons turned into tribes, and the tribes into a nation, it was determined that the demographic and settlement strategy of the Land of Israel would be the allocation of regions to tribes. Except for specific tribes, each tribe will be concentrated in a defined area and will retain its spiritual uniqueness. The match between the tribes and their regions wasn't arbitrary. This was a divinely inspired spiritual match (Chesed L'Avraham). However, the blessings of Yaakov, as written in the parsha (and explained by Torah sages over the generations) include references to demographic and strategic factors critical to the placing of each tribe in its inherited region.
            We see the security consideration regarding the "frontier settlements" of the tribe of Gad: "Legions will form against Gad" – he will fight many battles (Ramban). Rashi on Devarim 23:20 says: "He is likened to lions because he is close to the frontier, and whoever lives near the frontier has to be courageous."           
Also, regarding the tribe of Issachar, Rashi says: "He puts his shoulder to bear the burden of battles and conquer regions of the frontier, and he will subjugate his enemies."
Additionally, the tribe of Dan was located on the Philistine front: "For Your salvation I hoped, G-d" because Samson began to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines. (Lekach Tov)
The placement of the tribe of Yehuda in Jerusalem had political ramifications: "He will have a gathering of nations" ('yikhat', gathering also has a second meaning, gnash): "This is Jerusalem which is destined to cause the idol-worshippers to gnash their teeth.'On that day I will put Jerusalem as a weight-stone on all the nations'." (Yalkut Shimoni).
We see the sociological element coming into play in the separation between the tribes of Shimon and Levi: "Yaakov said: if these two tribes dwell together they could destroy the world, so I will disperse them - "I will separate them in Yaakov and scatter them in Israel." (Aggadat Bereshith)
Conversely, there is also a spiritual rationale for the dispersion of the tribe of Levi - so they can teach Torah on every place, and also in placing Binyamin in the location of the Temple: "Behold, we heard her in Efrata, we found her in the fields of the forest" by one who is compared to the animals of the field, as is written: "Binyamin is a predatory wolf" Binyamin merited to have the Divine Presence in his portion (Sifri on Devarim, Vezot Habracha). Also the tribe of Yehuda in the place of the Sanhedrin: "The scepter will not depart from Yehuda," this is Lishkat Hagazit which is Yehuda's portion. As it says in Tehillim: "And He despised the tent of Yosef and didn't choose the tribe of Efraim, and He chose the tribe of Yehuda."
We see the consideration of national resources in the settlement of areas with unique geographic and agricultural characteristics: Regarding Yehuda's portion-vineyards: "He prophesized that Yehuda's portion will flow with wine like a fountain." (Rashi) And Zevulun-shipping: "Zevulun will dwell on the coast." The Midrash Aggadah says, "Zevulun complained, 'Master of the world, You gave my brothers fields and vineyards, and You gave me mountains and hills. You gave my brothers lands, and You gave me rivers and seas. G-d answered him: "Everyone needs you for the snails they purchase (the special snails that are the source for Techelet, blue dye for tzitzit comes from the sea.) Regarding Yissachar, fruit: "Yissachar is a strong-boned donkey" the fruits of Yissachar are very large, and Zevulun took them and shipped them across the sea, and the nations of the world saw them and were amazed (Bereshith Rabbah). Additionally, "Yissachar is a strong-boned donkey" describes his region: just as a donkey is low in the front and back and high in the middle, so there is a valley here and a valley there and also a mountain. Yissachar "rests between the extremes of the land": these are two valleys, the valley of Paslan and the valley of Yizrael. (Bereshith Rabbah) Also we see that the proximity of Yissachar and Zevulun will create a partnership between them.
In Asher's inheritance – olive oil: "They supplied the holy anointing oil, as the Carmel was in his portion." (Lekach Tov) Also, "From Asher will come rich bread," this is Mount Carmel whose fruits are delicacies for kings, and therefore it says "Asher is blessed from the sons," that everyone blesses his land (Lekach Tov, Vezot Habracha). And in the inheritance of Naftali, irrigation-based agriculture near the Kinneret "The subject is his land, which is all irrigated, as it says (Devarim 3) 'from the Kinneret to the sea of the Aravah' (Bereshith Rabbah)." Additionally, "Naftali is a deer running free" – this is the valley of Ginnosar which blesses its fruit and hastens (their growth) like a deer. (Tanhuma Yayechi)
Yosef, as we read, was blessed by receiving the city of Shechem in advance: "And I am giving you Shechem above your brothers," meaning that he received Shechem in addition to what the brothers received. (Lekach Tov Vayechi)
At the conclusion of the blessings, Yaakov asked for the reciprocity and sharing of national resources of his descendants not to be impaired by the demographic division into tribes. "'And this is what their father said to them, and he blessed them, each man according to his blessing he blessed them.' It is written 'blessed them' and not 'blessed him': since he divided the land among them and gave Yehuda barley-producing land, and Naftali wheat-producing land, he nevertheless included them all at the conclusion so that each of them will eat from the others" (Bereshith Rabbah).
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