Question & Answer on Parshat Vayechi
"Let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth." (48:16)
Question: Jacob blessed them to multiply as the fish of the ocean (Rashi). What was his motive in comparing them to fish?
Answer: Once the Roman government issued a decree forbidding Torah study. Papus ben Yehudah saw Rabbi Akiva conducting Torah classes and asked him, "Do you not fear punishment by law?" Rabbi Akiva answered with a parable: A fox was strolling along the riverbank and noticed fish swimming swiftly from place to place. He asked, "Why are you running?" They replied, "We are afraid of the net that people set up to catch us." The fox slyly said, "Perhaps it would be wise to ascend to the shore and live together with me as my parents lived with your parents." The fish responded, "You speak foolishly; if we are afraid in our native habitat, our fear will be even greater on land, where death will be certain." Similarly, Torah is our source of life and may save us. Without it we will definitely perish.1
Jacob was instructing his children to always remember that just as a fish cannot live without water, so a Jew cannot exist without Torah; and he blessed them to "swim like a fish" in the ocean of Torah study.
The life of a fish depends in a large measure on its vitality and ability to swim upstream. If it permits itself to be swept along by the current of the rapids or the tide it will be scuttled and squashed. It is only because the Creator has endowed the fish with the precious instinct of self-preservation, whereby it is able to swim upstream against the forces of the billowing waves, that it can thrive and survive.
Jacob blessed his children to be capable and willing to swim upstream and resist the temptation of running with the herd and swimming with the tide.
"He blessed Joseph saying... 'The angel who redeemed me from all evil should bless the lads [Menasseh and Ephraim].' " (48:15-16)
Question: The verse begins with Jacob's blessing to Joseph and ends saying that he blessed Menasseh and Ephraim. What was the blessing for Joseph?
Answer: Jacob's blessing to Joseph was that his children, Ephraim and Menasseh should be righteous. When children conduct themselves in a proper way, the parents pleasure is the greatest blessing they can wish for.
"And he blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them." (49:28)
Question: Superficially, the words of Jacob to Reuben, Shimon and Levi are rebukes rather than blessings?
Answer: Man is mortal and thus subject to failure. He must work to overcome personal imperfection. Often, a person does not realize, or refuses to acknowledge, his shortcomings, and therefore there is no striving for change or transformation. The greatest blessing is knowledge of personal weaknesses.
Jacob made his children aware of their flaws and encouraged correction, so his admonishment was indeed a great blessing.
"And Pharaoh said, 'Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear.' " (50:6)
Question: The famed commenter Rashi explains that Pharaoh told Joseph, "Were it not for the promise, I would not have permitted you to go." However, Pharaoh did not tell Joseph to violate his promise because he was afraid that Joseph might tell him that he would also break the promise he made to him (not to reveal that he knew the language of Hebrew and Pharaoh did not). Pharaoh knew Joseph was a G-d fearing man; why did he fear that if he forced Joseph to break one promise, Joseph would also break another?
Answer: There was a law in Egypt that a king had to know all languages. When Pharaoh met Joseph, he became frightened, because Joseph, in addition to knowing all the languages, also knew Hebrew, which Pharaoh did not know. Pharaoh made Joseph promise that he would not reveal to anyone that he knewLashon Hakodesh and in return, he would appoint him to the position of viceroy, though he was once a slave.
Pharaoh was hesitant to tell Joseph to break his promise, because he feared that Joseph might say to him, "If I have to break a promise, I would rather break my promise to you, and thus, I will become king. As king I will no longer need your permission to be able to fulfill my promise to my father."
(exterted from chabad.org)