Vayechi: End of a cycle

Now Israel’s eyes were dim with age (Gen 48:10)

When Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see…(Gen 27:1)

Two old men with failing eyesight.  A father and son. When Isaac’s eyes were too old to see, he mistook his younger son Jacob (Israel) for his older son Esau, when he was preparing to give the oldest son’s blessing.  Jacob had tricked his father into thinking he was Esau, by presenting his dad’s favorite meal and donning a costume of animal skin to appear like his hairy brother.  He had total support from his mother in this deceit.  As a result of stealing his older brother’s blessing, Jacob and Esau were separated in hatred for 20 years, reconciled with one embrace, saw each other again at their father’s funeral, and that was the end.

Now it’s Jacob that is old, feeble, and blind.  Once again, two young boys come to his deathbed to receive blessings.   It’s Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Menasseh.  Joseph was Jacob’s favorite, and long-lost son, who had been in Egypt for decades; not dead but Jacob had been told he was dead.  Ephraim and Menasseh had been born to Joseph in Egypt – Jacob makes note of this, “Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you (before they were reconciled)”  (Gen 48:5) The rest of the sentence is, “[they] shall be mine”  Jacob was accepting these boys as his own, to be included in his inheritance.

Unlike with Jacob and Esau, Ephraim and Menasseh appear together, and though the younger was blessed before the older, there was no estrangement, no feud, no life-long brother hatred. They are both included in the inheritance, in honor of Joseph’s mother Rachel, “I do this because….Rachel died, to my sorrow…” (Gen 48:7)

The rabbis say the curse of feuding brothers that started with Abel and Cain, ended with Ephraim and Menasseh, and that’s why their names are invoked every Shabbat in blessing one’s sons: May you be like Ephraim and Menasseh.  Perhaps the enmity cycle was broken because these two young men were accepted, brought into the family as equals, after years and years of estrangement, the children of an interfaith marriage.  Joseph had married an Egyptian woman, not a Canaanite, not a woman from home, like his father and grandfather before him.

We don’t necessarily know how Jacob felt about the 20 year estrangement between himself and his brother.  We do know that being separated from his family pained Joseph deeply.  Two fathers, blind with age, yet one could see clearly that keeping hatred and animosity would only continue to destroy families.  Jacob had a favorite son, as did his father…and it wasn’t Jacob.  The wisdom he learned by thinking his dear son was dead taught him that ultimately, favoritism had to stop.


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