TORAH FOR THE TIMES 

 

 

 

Shabbat Schedule:  Friday- Shabbat, Jan. 13-14

Torah Reading:  Vayechi: Genesis 47:28 - 50:26

Haftora: Kings I 2:1-12

 

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 4:33 PM

Shabbat Ends: 5:37 PM

 

 

B"H

 

 

VAYECHI

THE ULTIMATE BLESSING

A Blessing to All Jewish Children

Before departing from this world, Jacob blessed Joseph and his two sons, Ephraim and Menasheh. When Jacob placed his right hand on the head of the younger son, Ephraim, and his left hand on the head of the older son, Menasheh, Joseph tried to correct his father. Jacob explained that Ephraim, though the younger brother, would be greater than his older sibling, Menasheh.

The Torah then concludes with Jacob’s final blessing to them:

He blessed them on that day saying, “Israel will bless [their children] with you, saying, ‘May G‑d make you like Ephraim and Menasheh.’” He placed Ephraim before Menasheh.”

Since that day, the traditional blessing fathers give their children has been “May G‑d make you like Ephraim and Menasheh.”

This provokes a question: Since the time of Ephraim and Menasheh, there have been thousands of righteous people, many of whom are regarded as spiritually superior to Ephraim and Menasheh, such as Moses and Aaron. What is it about these two brothers that Jacob wanted all our children to emulate?

Continuing Preferential Treatment?

To answer this question, we must first answer another pressing question. After seeing how preferential treatment of Joseph led to such negative results, why did Jacob do it again with Ephraim and Menasheh by showing favoritism to the younger brother?

Moreover, his elevation of Ephraim and Menasheh, Joseph’s sons, to a status equal to that of their uncles, Joseph’s other brothers, Jacob conferred a privilege on them that he did not accord to their cousins.  This step seemed a repetition of his original mistake of showing preferential treatment to Joseph. Didn’t Jacob learn a hard lesson about showing favoritism when he suffered so much precisely from showing preference for Joseph?

In response to this question, we must conclude that Jacob’s open display of his greater love for Joseph coupled with sending him to seek out his hostile brothers, was not, G‑d forbid, an act of reckless neglect or a lack of common sense. The Patriarchs are regarded by our Sages as “chariots,” meaning that every action of theirs was a natural response to G‑d’s will, in the way a chariot responds to the will of its driver. Even their “errors” were not examples of human frailty and moral lapses but were well-intentioned and, moreover, orchestrated from Above to teach us important lessons.

Seeing the Present Through the Eyes of the Future

Jacob prophetically saw into the future and knew that the secret of Jewish survival, and what will ultimately end exile, is unity. Indeed, our Sages inform us that the Second Temple was destroyed because of the senseless hatred that prevailed amongst the Jewish people at that time. The way to correct that destructive force, restore the Beis Hamikdash and usher in the Messianic Age is by reversing that jealousy and enmity that brought about the exile in the first place.

Jacob, therefore, may have reasoned that if he could cultivate a lack of jealousy amongst his diverse children, themselves the progenitors of diverse approaches to serving G‑d, he would have empowered the future Jewish nation to overcome its harmful divisions.

Jacob wanted to inculcate in them the unconditional love for one another that would be crucial for the future of the Jewish nation. The real test of that love is demonstrated when another brother—especially if he is younger - is given preference without arousing jealousy. When all are left equal, there is no stress test of their unconditional loyalty and love for one another. 

If Jacob “erred,” it was that this test of his sons was premature; they were not ready to absorb the lesson. He miscalculated the extent to which his preferential treatment of Joseph would lead to disastrous results. Jacob viewed his sons from his own spiritual vantage point and saw their underlying potential for unity before they were ready for it to be actualized. In other words, Jacob saw them through the eyes of the future and saw how they would ultimately unite.

However, our Sages tell us that when truly righteous people pursue a certain goal, it will inevitably be reached. Jacob’s efforts to instill true brotherly love in the DNA of the souls of his children finally paid off in the next generation with Ephraim and Menasheh. These two symbolize the ideal of King David’s statement in his Psalms: “How good and pleasant when brothers dwell together.” There was not a tinge of jealousy or bad feelings toward Ephraim on Menasheh’s part; neither did Joseph’s brothers harbor any resentment against Joseph for his sons getting an extra tribal portion. This was a new generation and a new dynamic was established.

After all of the travail that Jacob, Joseph and his brothers had experienced, Jacob felt that they had been purged of their jealousy and were ready for the Messianic Age.

Revealing the End Time

We therefore find later in this parsha, that Jacob tried to reveal the future arrival of Moshiach.

Jacob called for his sons and said, “Gather around and I will tell you what will happen to you in the End of Days.”

The Midrash, cited by Rashi, comments:

He wanted to reveal the “End” [of days, when Moshiach would come] but the Divine presence departed from him, so he began to speak about other things.

This raises a question. If Jacob knew that Moshiach’s coming would be in the distant future, why would he want to burden his sons with the sad news that it would not happen for quite an extended period of time? And why did the Divine presence depart from him at that very moment?

The answer is that his desire to reveal the future Redemption was based on how he saw his sons outgrow their rivalry and jealousy and enter into an unprecedented unified state. He had successfully planted the seeds for the final Redemption. More specifically, when Jacob saw Menasheh totally accept his secondary status without any trace of jealousy or malice he knew that the potential for correcting jealousy amongst his descendants did in fact exist and he saw the Redemption on the horizon. 

But, alas, our Sages continue, “the Divine presence departed from him” and he did not reveal the time for the Final Redemption. What went wrong?

The answer is that, once again, Jacob had viewed the world through his prism of being able to see the future in the present. He saw a rehabilitated and united family, devoid of petty jealousy; the ingredients for the Final Redemption. He saw the Redemption unfolding before his very eyes.

However, the process of forging unity had to be more than a one generation phenomenon. For the Final Redemption to become a reality, future generations would need to recreate the dynamic that existed in Jacob’s final days. The seeds of unity needed to be nurtured. As we know, it turned out to be a long, arduous and rocky road until Jacob’s vision could be seen by everyone.

As we stand now, poised on the threshold of the Redemption, we ask ourselves where did this process begin? Where did we derive the power to break out of exile? The answer is that it all began with the lack of jealousy and brotherly love displayed by Ephraim and Menasheh.

The Vessel for all Blessings

We can now appreciate why the ultimate blessing for our children is to be like Ephraim and Menasheh.

It is true that there are many other Jewish historical figures who rate more prominently than Menasheh and Ephraim, such as Moses and Aaron. Nevertheless, what distinguished Ephraim and Menasheh from all others was their total reversal of the dynamic of division and rivalry that plagued their elders. Moreover, the reversal was as dramatic as it gets. They went from the extreme rivalry of their uncles, which lead them to plot Joseph’s murder, to the opposite extreme of harboring not a trifle of envy. 

Their ability to reverse course like this made them unique, even in comparison to Moses and Aaron. When G‑d chose the younger Moses as the liberator of the Jewish nation, Aaron did not feel envy. On the contrary, G‑d told Moses that when Aaron heard that Moses was the chosen one, “he will rejoice in his heart.”

Even so, Menasheh and Ephraim stood out for their lack of rivalry immediately after events that represented the zenith of brotherly division and strife. Their unique contribution is their ability to reverse a negative dynamic.

Jacob, having seen the way Menasheh and Ephraim responded to his preferential treatment of the younger of the two brothers, knew that this would be the ultimate blessing for the future of the entire Jewish nation. He believed that he had finally succeeded in cultivating the unconditional brotherly relationship that would prove crucial for our future. No other blessing could match that of brotherly love, because it is the ultimate vessel for all other blessings.

Peace is the ultimate blessing that makes all the other blessings real and accessible to us, particularly when it follows a time of dissent and discord.

In the eternal words of our Sages, with which they conclude the Mishnah:

“G‑d could not find any vessel that contains blessing other than peace.”

  

Moshiach Matters: 

 

The prophet Zecharia states regarding the Land of Israel in the time of the Redemption, "The whole land will become like a plain, from Geva to Rimon south of Jerusalem, and it will rise and settle in its place." How can this be? The area south of Jerusalem is level, while Geva and Rimon are hilly. Rather, the prophet means that just as Geva and Rimon, which are hilly, will be flattened, so too the whole earth will become as level as the area south of Jerusalem [in the era of the Redemption].