In the Midst of the Land – Weekly Words of Torah, Parshat Vayechi 5774

Insights into Parshat Vayechi of Mr. Avi Lerer of Yeshivat Sha’alvim, by Rav Re’uven Ungar of Sha’alvim.

In Yaakov Avinu”s Brachot to Ephraim and Menashe the pasuk says, “And may they multiply greatly in the midst of the land”.(Perek Chof Chet Pasuk Tet Zayin)

What exactly does it mean when the pasuk says in the midst of the land? Why could the pasuk have not simply said “in the land”?

The Kli Yakar and the Vilna Gaon offer answers to this question.

The Kli Yakar explains that this blessing of Yaakov is a foreshadow to the way the Jewish nation would reproduce and grow in Egypt. The Gemarah in Sota (11b) tells us that when children were born to the Jews in mitzrayim, the mitzrim would hear of it and come to kill them. Therefore, Hashem caused these newborns to sink deep into the ground where they could not be found. The Egyptians responded to this miracle by plowing the fields but to no effect because the infants were too deep down for their plows to reach them. After the infants matured they returned home. When Yaakov blessed them that they should multiply “in the midst of the land”, he was literally referring to the miracle of the Jewish infants multiplying and surviving underground in the midst of the land of Egypt.

The Vilna Gaon’s answer is based on the fact that although Yaakov blessed Efraim and Menashe to be plentiful, we see when they are counted in the Midbar, there is no evidence of these tribes being larger than the other tribes. When then, the Vilna Gaon asks, will Yaakov’s blessing become true? He suggests that this took place after the Jews entered Eretz Yisrael during their conquest of the land. At that time we find the tribes of the descendants of Yosef complaining to Yehoshua that their portion in land is too small. “Why have you given us as our birthright only one lot and one portion when we are a populous nation, for thus Hashem blessed us?”(Yehoshua Perek Yud Zayin, Pasuk Yud Daled). Based on this the Vilna Gaon answers that this is what is meant when Yaakov blessed them to multiply greatly in the midst of the land. Yaakov was referring to the land of Israel where the blessing actually would take effect.