Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Vayechi - 5775

My friends,

This Shabbat we read the Parasha of Vayechi (He Lived) - the last portion in the Book of Genesis. It begins with the words, "Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, so that the span of Jacob's life came to one hundred and forty seven years." Jacob, sensing that he will soon die, makes Joseph promise him, by oath, that he will carry his body and bury him in the Land of Canaan, in the Cave of Machpelah, where Abraham and Isaac are buried.

Before he dies, Jacob blesses Joseph's children, Ephraim and Manasseh. He also calls all his children and says something special about each of his twelve sons. In the blessing to Ephraim and Manasseh, Jacob establishes that, in the future, Jewish parents will bless their children, by praying that G-d make them like Ephraim and Manasseh.

One can ask: What was so special about Ephraim and Manasseh over all the other sons and grandsons of Jacob, that in the future, they will be held as the role models for new generations of Jewish children to emulate? One of the answers given is as follows:

Jacob's children grew up together within the same family. It was expected that they will grow up upholding the teachings and ideals of their family traditions. Ephraim and Manasseh, however, were raised in a non-Jewish environment, in Egypt. Yet, they were able to keep the traditions that Joseph taught them and not be influenced and become assimilated by the Egyptian culture and idol worshipping. Jacob envisioned that his descendants would be dispersed in all parts of the world, without a viable and strong Jewish community. To be like Ephraim and Manasseh is to be able to live as Jews even in a non-Jewish majority. That is the reason he selected these two grandsons form all the others.

As parents, we do everything we can to imbue our children with the love of Judaism and Jewish practices. We provide them with Jewish education, Jewish camping and an Israel experience. As they grow up and begin their own journeys, will they remain loyal to our heritage?

Each Friday evening, we bless our children that G-d make them like Ephraim and Manasseh. They remained loyal to their people no matter how isolated they were from the Jewish community. This evening, and every Friday evening, do not forget to bless your children. May they grow up to be like Ephraim and Manasseh.

It is true that, for our daughters, we pray that they be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. The concept of being like Ephraim and Manasseh applies to our girls as well.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram