Parashat Vayechi – Erev Shabbat 6 January 2023
Week of 1-7January 2023
Torah portion: Genesis 47:28 – 50:26 ; Haftarah: 1 Kings 2 :1- 12
Theme: Blessing grandchildren and children
Parashat Vayechi comprises the last four verses of chapter 47, and chapters 48 to 50, thus bringing the book of Genesis to a close. This Parasha deals with Jacob’s last days in Egypt; his blessing of his grandsons, the sons of Joseph; his blessing of his eleven sons; his instructions for his burial in the land of Canaan; his ‘state’ funeral, ironically fore-shadowing the Exodus; Joseph and his brothers’ return to Egypt, where reconciliation takes place between them; and Joseph’s last days, and wishes to be buried in the land promised by God to Abraham, Isaac and now Jacob which Joseph trusted the LORD God would carry out.
My focus for this commentary is according to the ‘Theme’ above: ‘Blessing grandchildren and children’. I am very disturbed by the abuse of children in our country and the world – in homes, schools, churches, religious institutions and society – all professing to be places of safety for children. This is an evil that most societies have not been able to escape or stamp out over the centuries.
In chapter 48:1-20, Joseph takes his two sons to Israel to be blessed. Joseph, the favorite of his father for which he suffered, but God brought him to Egypt to prepare a place for his family during the famine, is now two tribes in his eldest sons: they now belong to their grandfather. Jacob’s blessing is extra-ordinary in that he deliberately brings the second-born, Ephraim, to the fore with his blessing (using his right hand) and therefore Manasseh, the firstborn, is placed second in his blessing (using his left hand). This scene reminds us of how Jacob had usurped his elder brother’s birthright and blessing for the first son; Isaac was placed above Ishmael and Joseph above his brothers. These actions caused much strife among the siblings which we see gradually and eventually resolved by the end of Genesis.
Laura Giller, in her “Contemporary Reflection” [Eskenazi (2008), p. 300], states that in present-day Judaism, sons are blessed in the names of Ephraim and Manasseh; probably because they are the first two siblings in the Bible who do not fight. The blessing for girls is: “May God make you like the greatest women the Torah knows – Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.”
In chapter 49:1-27 Israel blesses his sons. In each of the blessings we see a depiction of the future: what they will become (remembering that these books were written in the time of the Kings before and after the Babylonian Captivity).
Thus Genesis ends with the death of Jacob (Israel) and Joseph, but looks forward to a people blessed in the name of the LORD God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Leah, and Joseph.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1) How will we learn to bless our children (on every level of society) instead of abusing them – beginning verbally? 2) Are you the person you think God wants you to be? Are there still deep longings in your heart? 3) In her ‘The Book of Blessings’ Marcia Falk states the following blessing:”Be who you are…and may you be blessed in all that you are.” Say these words to yourself, your children, and to anyone whom you think needs them.
Bibliography: Eskenazi, T. C. Weiss, A.L. A Women’s Commentary (New York: 2008);
This week’s Parashah Commentary was prepared by
Bernadette Teresa Chellew, Ethekwini, South Africa, Bat Kol Alumna: 2008