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Parashat Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

“Then Israel saw Joseph’s sons and he said, “Who are these?” (Genesis 48:8)

Parashat Vayechi is the last parasha (portion) in the book of Genesis. It concludes the story-cycle of Joseph and his brothers and includes Jacob’s deathbed blessings to his children. Before he does so, though, he formally adopts Menashe and Ephraim, Joseph’s two children and blesses them. In doing so, Vayechi narrates, “…sikeil et yadav…” he crossed his hands and placed his right hand on Ephraim, even though he was younger….” (Gen. 48:14) and names him first in the blessing. This becomes the formula recited Friday nights when parents bless their sons, “…May you be like Ephraim and Menashe…” (Gen. 48:20).

Rabbi Sheldon Marder (Rabbi and Department Head of Jewish Life at the Jewish Home of San Francisco) notices the phrase sikeil et yadav links this scene to one at the beginning of Genesis. When Eve looks at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, she realizes, “…nechmad ha-eitz l’haskil, the tree is desirable as a means to wisdom…” (Gen. 3:6) Sikeil and l’haskil share the root SKL, which means wisdom.

The two scenes act as bookends to Genesis. Eve’s and Adam’s eyes are young and wide-opened (Gen. 3:7); Jacob’s are old and closing (Gen. 48:10). While Eve and Adam are new to knowledge, Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) explains Jacob’s crossed hands are not accidental, but rather, are informed by Jacob’s lifetime of accumulated wisdom. But since Jacob is referred to in this episode as Israel, he also embodies the wisdom of the ages, representing the fulfillment of the first couple’s thirst for knowledge and understanding.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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