Vay’chi (And he lived)

Vay'chiGenesis 47:25 to 50:26

Jacob blesses Joseph’s two sons. This action starts a tradition that is still alive today and is demonstrated in the traditional blessing of our children on Shabbat.


The title – And he lived – refers to Jacob’s life. The first line of the parsha tells us that Jacob lived in Egypt with his son Joseph for 17 years. It is interesting to note that this is the same number of years that Joseph lived with his father before being sold into Egyptian slavery. We also learn that Jacob died at age 147. (Gen. 47:28)

Early in the parsha Jacob gives his family blessings to Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. He tells Joseph: “Your two sons born to you in the land of Egypt before my arrival in Egypt – they are mine: Ephraim and Manasseh will be to me like Reuben and Simeon. But your progeny whom you engender after them are yours; they will be called by their brothers’ names in their family allotment.” (Gen. 40:5-7) Jacob is in effect adopting Joseph’s first two sons as his own. This action acts to further unite Joseph’s family with Jacob/Israel’s family…. The offspring of Joseph become part of the Children of Israel. Each of the sons is given a share of the Promised Land.

This event is recalled today if we recite the traditional blessing parents say over their sons every Shabbat:

Blessing for a boy:
 May God inspire you to live like Ephraim and Manasseh.

Blessing for a girl:
May God inspire you to live like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

Blessing for both boys and girls:
        May God bless you and keep you.
        May God’s light shine upon you, and may God be gracious to you.
        May you feel God’s Presence within you always, and may you find peace.
(Mishkan T’Filah – A Reform Siddur, p.603 – the combined prayer for boys and girls is based on Numbers 6:24-26, the Priestly Benediction)

Why should our sons be like Ephraim and Manasseh? … and our daughters like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah? They all have qualities that we find admirable. Both of the sons of Joseph live together in peace, without conflict…. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah all take actions that strengthen their respective families.

The results of the blessing for Ephraim and Manasseh differ dramatically from the blessings of Jacob and Esau. After the blessings by Isaac – a generation earlier – Jacob was forced to flee the wrath of his brother. Now the younger is blessed again… but the results are peace and understanding without jealousy or envy.

The battles between siblings goes back to the beginning of Genesis.
– Cain and Abel – Murder and banishment
– Abraham – The text tells us that Abraham had two brothers – Nahor and Haran. The text tells us nothing about any relationship with these brothers. Abraham does take Lot, Haran’s son, with him as he left his home. So, in effect, Abram had little or no contact with his brothers.
– Ishmael and Isaac – Ishmael is banished, but the two brothers are reunited at the time of their father’s death.
– Jacob and Esau – Brothers separate, but reunite later in life. But, separate again due to a lack of trust.
–  Joseph and his brothers – Again they separate, but are reunited with a real sense of forgiveness. Joseph takes steps to improve the lives of his brothers and welcomes his family into his adopted land.
– Ephraim and Manasseh – Display cooperation between each other by putting aside jealousy and envy after Jacob’s blessing.

Then in Exodus, we see the relationship between siblings grow even stronger.
– Moses, Aaron, and Miriam all work together to build a united community. However, because of incidents in their lives, they show a lack of faith in the Eternal and are not permitted to enter the Holy Land.
– The generation after Moses works together toward common goals and has a strong faith in God.

The stories of Genesis and Exodus show a continued increase of trust between siblings… all the way from murder to peace and cooperation. Now that peace is demonstrated, the “Family of Israel” is more prepared to become the “Nation of Israel.” But how this plays out is the story of Exodus which we will begin next week.

Through this blessing by Jacob we, as 21st Century Reform Jews, learn two lessons….

First, as pointed out above, we see the importance of peace in the community and its importance in forming the basis of a successful community.

Second, we observe the importance of passing traditions from generation to generation. If Jacob can see the benefit of blessing his two “Egyptian” grandchildren … We should also see the importance of blessing (and teaching) our children the traditions of Judaism … even though they live in baseball caps, sweat suits and rarely move from their tablets and smart phones….. These ideas are just as significant today as they were in the time of Jacob and Joseph.

And, with these words, once again we celebrate the completion of book of Torah by reciting: CHAZAK, CHAZAK, VINETCHZAK. From strength to strength, we strengthen each other. (and isn’t that what Torah study is all about?)

Earl Sabes

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