Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Vayechi - 5777

Dear friends,

Last week, we read how Jacob and his entire family came down to Egypt at the invitation of Pharaoh and Joseph. They willingly left the Holy Land, the Promised Land, because of the famine, and also because of Jacob's strong desire to see Joseph before he dies. Jacob was 130 years old when he undertook this trip.

This week's Parasha tell us that he lived in Egypt for seventeen years, and that he died at the age of 147. Before his death, he called Joseph and made him promise that he will transport his body to Canaan and bury him in the Cave of Machpelah, the family burial place where Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebecca, are buried.

When Jacob sees Joseph's sons Manasseh and Ephraim, he places his hands on their heads and blesses them. He says to them that future parents will bless their children by asking G-d to make them like Ephraim and Manasseh.

The question that is asked is: What was so special about Joseph's two sons that future parents will hope and pray that their own children will be like them? Several answers are given. Here is one I like:

In the Book of Genesis, which we conclude today, we saw that brothers did not always get along. The first family, Adam and Eve, had two sons: Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel.

Abraham and Sarah had two sons: Ishmael and Isaac. At Sarah's insistence Ishmael is sent away, and these brothers are separated forever.

Isaac and Rebecca had two sons: Esau and Jacob. They also did not get along. Jacob flees from Canaan for 22 years to avoid being killed by Esau. They also will be separated forever.

Jacob has twelve sons. There is strife in the family because of Joseph's behavior and desire to rule over his brothers, even though he is not the first born. The brothers get rid of him by selling him to merchants heading to Egypt, and he is gone for 22 years.

When Jacob sees Joseph's sons he is impressed that there is brotherly love between them. With the Ruah Hakodesh - the Holy spirit - that is within him, he sees that they are going to remain good brothers throughout the generations. That is the quality he wants future parents to bestow upon their children. That they remain close and loving to one another. That they will never be estranged from their family.

Friday evening is an auspicious time to bless our children with such a wish. The angels of peace, Mal-achei Hashalom, are present in our homes. The parent wishes to place that sacred peace of Shabbat upon the children, so that they will always live in love and in peace.

It is interesting to note that this Parasha begins with the passing of Jacob, and ends with the passing of Joseph. Yet the first two words of the Parasha are 'Vayechi Ya-kov' - 'Jacob LIVED'. The last seventeen years were the best years for Jacob and for Joseph, now that all the brothers were reunited and lived together like a loving family. That unity and love in the family was what Jacob wished for all future parents and families.

Do not forget to fulfill your duty as a parent. Whether your children are young or adults, whether they are at your table or far away, on Friday evenings at the Shabbat table, place your hands on your children's heads, or direct your hands towards them if they are somewhere else, and bless them with the words of our father Jacob and with the Priestly Blessing which ends with the words "Veyasem Lecha Shalom" - "May G-d grant you Peace". Although this blessing is called Birkat Banim, blessing of the children, one can use it to bless all those gathered at the Shabbat table. Because we can all use the sacred peace that Shabbat brings to our table.

Shabbat Shalom,