The source of our blessings
Why did Jewish tradition assign this particular blessing, of being like Ephraim and Menasheh as the blessing for the children? One idea is that Ephraim and Menasheh were the first two Jewish children born outside the land of Israel. As Jewish parents we need to bless our children, asking G-d to help them keep their identity and values intact and secure.
One of the beautiful traditions that we have in Judaism is on Friday night before the Shabbat Dinner, to bless the children. There is a blessing for the boys and another blessing for daughters. The parent lays his hands on the head of the child and receites:
May you be like Ephraim and Menashe.
May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
The blessing for both completes with the following famous lines:
May God bless you and protect you. May God show you favor and be gracious to you. May God show you kindness and grant you peace.
While the ending of the blessing is well known as the oldest blessing in Judaism - being the blessing that the priests use to bless the congregation, the blessing for the sons is taken from this week's portion. Jacob says these words as he blesses Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manashe, on his deathbed.
Jacob lives the final 17 years of his life in Egypt. Before his passing, he asks Joseph to take an oath that he will bury him in the Holy Land. He blesses Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, elevating them to the status of his own sons as progenitors of tribes within the nation of Israel.
The patriarch desires to reveal the end of days to his children, but is prevented from doing so.
Jacob blesses his sons, assigning to each his role as a tribe: Judah will produce leaders, legislators and kings; priests will come from Levi, scholars from Issachar, seafarers from Zebulun, schoolteachers from Simeon, soldiers from Gad, judges from Dan, olive-growers from Asher, and so on. Reuben is rebuked for “confusing his father’s marriage bed”; Simeon and Levi, for the massacre of Shechem and the plot against Joseph. Naphtali is granted the swiftness of a deer, Benjamin the ferociousness of a wolf, and Joseph is blessed with beauty and fertility.
A large funeral procession consisting of Jacob’s descendants, Pharaoh’s ministers, the leading citizens of Egypt and the Egyptian cavalry accompanies Jacob on his final journey to the Holy Land, where he is buried in the Machpelah Cave in Hebron.
Joseph, too, dies in Egypt, at the age of 110. He, too, instructs that his bones be taken out of Egypt and buried in the Holy Land, but this would come to pass only with the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt many years later. Before his passing, Joseph conveys to the Children of Israel the testament from which they will draw their hope and faith in the difficult years to come: “G‑d will surely remember you, and bring you up out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Parasha summary courtesy of Chabad.org
Life and Death
Parashat Vayhi deals with death, the death of Jacob and the death of Joseph. There is a lot we can learn from how death is described and treated in this portion. When we look at death as a way station instead of a final destination, we can view our lives in a different perspective and treat our loved one’s death in a very different manner.
Words can't describe it!
How do you describe in words the indescribable? How can you communicate the beauty of a sunset to a blind person? How can a deaf person appreciate the brilliance of Mozart? How do you translate the emotions of the heart into words that another person will understand? Jacob, at the end of his life thought he could convey such feelings regarding the end of days.
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