Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayechi
To dedicate this lesson

Gotta Hand It To You


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Tevet 13 5776
As the cataclysmic book of Bereisheit comes to a close, Yakov gathers his children around him for one final blessing. Now, a bracha is not just a well-meaning wish for the future. It represents – certainly when it is a final blessing – the hopes & dreams we have for the people we love, & the direction we hope they will take.

What is the essence, the core of the blessings which Yakov – the greatest of all the patriarchs, the true "father of our country" – wants to invoke upon us, his children?

In the opening section of Vayechi, Yosef brings his two sons, Efraim & Menashe, to Yakov for a blessing. A rather strange dialogue then ensues, seemingly over who "owns" Efraim & Menashe. First Yakov says, "Your two sons shall be mine – li haym!" But then, just a moment later, Yakov asks, "Mi Eyleh, whose are these?" To which Yosef replies, "Banai Haym – these are MY boys!" At that point Yakov pointedly places his right hand on Efraim, his left on Menashe, & blesses both.

This back-&-forth battle over the boys - & to whom they ultimately belong – begs some kind of explanation. But first, let’s ask an additional question.

In last week’s parsha, Yakov bitterly related to Paro that "the years of my life are few & bad." And yet, this week’s sedra begins, "Vayechi Yakov, and Yakov lived!" - implying that Yakov did indeed enjoy quality of life. Well, did he or didn’t he?!

The Bal HaTurim answers: Yakov’s life was "good" when his entire family was together. That happened during the first 17 years of Yosef’s life – before he was sold by his brothers - as well as the final 17 years of Yakov’s life, when they all were reunited in Egypt. These 34 "good" years are hinted at by the word "Vayechi," which has a gematria of 34! The first blessing, then, is Unity, brotherhood, family, love. This unity is epitomized by the closeness of Efraim and Menashe; the text refers to the boys as "He" in the singular ("B'Cha") rather than in the plural ("Ba'Chem') to emphasize this special relationship.

As for the "debate" between Yakov & Yosef, as to whom the children belonged, this was an attempt to clarify what their basic outlook on life would be. Would it follow primarily a material path – as represented by Yosef, who was, after all, the material leader of Egypt - or would it follow the spiritual path, as represented by Yakov, the "Ish Ohalim," the dweller in tents of Torah study. Yakov’s insistence on "taking a hand" in the boys’ future, & telling Yosef pointedly, "May MY name be declared upon them!" was his way of directing them towards spiritual growth.

We all struggle with our kids & worry about where the journey of their life will take them. We want them to be materially blessed, but, at the end of the day, we are most concerned that they have a relationship with G-d. That, as well as the importance of sticking together as a family unit, is the prime legacy we hope to "hand" over to the generations to come.
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