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

“Jacob said to Joseph, “El Shaddai appeared to me in Luz
in the land of Canaan and blessed me.” (Genesis 48: 3)

Parashat Vayechi is the last parasha, or portion, in the book of Genesis. It describes the end of the patriarchal era: Jacob gathers together and blesses all his sons and dies. First, though, he adopts Joseph’s two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, and blesses them. Vayechi narrates how Joseph, “… sikeil et yadav…”… he crossed his hands and placed his right hand on Ephraim, even though he was younger…” (Gen. 48:14) and names Ephraim first in the blessing. Has Jacob learned nothing about parental favoritism and sibling rivalry?

Sikeil comes from the Hebrew root SKL, which means wisdom. Chizkuni (13th century French rabbi and commentator) says Jacob shows seichel, or wisdom and insight, by crossing his hands to bless his grandchildren (a first in the Torah!). Menashe, Joseph’s first-born, is positioned to receive Jacob’s right hand, which connotes spiritual primacy, on his head. But Jacob knows Ephraim, the younger brother, will achieve greater spiritual heights. Jacob doesn’t want to embarrass Menashe by moving him, so he crosses his hands instead and blesses them, together.

Jacob knows very well the sad family history; that’s why he is so thoughtful in his blessing practice. Menashe and Ephraim are the first brothers in Genesis who don’t fight. That is why they are invoked throughout the generations when parents bless their sons (Gen. 48:20). Jacob does not want to risk this precious family harmony; he knows the cost. He may have no choice about whom to bless, but he certainly has a choice about how to bless. Jacob’s move preserves both Menashe’s dignity as well as Ephraim’s destiny; a model for all generations. Seichel, indeed.

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