In Parshat Vayechi, we read about the end of Yaakov’s life. Yaakov blesses each of his sons (and two of his grandsons) with a personalized blessing, and then he dies at age 147. Years later, Yosef dies as well.
The death of Yosef is the end of Bereishit. Next week we’ll start reading Shemot. Its opening verses describe the rapid growth of the Israelite nation, and its second chapter describes the birth of Moshe and his early life.
The Torah tells us a lot about Yaakov and sons, and it tells us a lot about Moshe (who was Yaakov’s great-great-grandson). It doesn’t tell us much about the generations that came between them. And these were important generations! It was during their lifetimes that Bnei Yisrael transformed from a family – the literal sons of Israel – into a nation large enough that the new Pharaoh, who didn’t know Yosef, felt threatened by their numbers.
There is one detail of Jewish tradition that focuses on this in-between generation: the Shabbat blessing parents give their sons. On Friday nights, we bless our sons with the hope that God will make them like Yosef’s sons, Efraim and Menashe: “yesimecha elohim ke’efraim v’chi’menashe.” This bracha originates in our parsha; Yaakov says that the people of Israel should bless their children this way.
This blessing is one of the few details we have about the people who came between Yosef and Moshe, and invites us to consider its significance. The Torah is full of blessings, but this one is unusual. We often read about fathers blessing sons; here – in the Torah’s first depiction of a grandparent interacting with a grandchild – Yaakov blesses his son’s sons, and says that future generations should invoke this same bracha.
Why does our traditional blessing invoke a grandparent and grandchildren, and not a parent and child? I am told that grandchildren can bring even greater joy than children. The relationship has the benefit of maturity and wisdom, and is unburdened by the challenges of parenthood. Through the grandchild, the grandparent might imagine a peek of the future beyond their own lifetime. It would bring Yaakov joy to see Yosef living by the values he taught him, but perhaps an even greater joy to see Efraim and Menashe continue in this path; it might reassure Yaakov that his legacy is likely to endure in the way he would hope.
Yaakov created a standard blessing for Jewish families to bestow on their children, and this blessing can remind us of the chut hameshulash, the threefold cord that is not easily broken, of grandparent, parent, and child, and can help us raise our children and students and communities with the values that are dearest to us. Shabbat Shalom.
Amy Newman, Grade 7 Tanach, Judaic Studies Coach, Schechter Parent