Vayechi (Genesis 47:28 ff) concludes Genesis. This book of family dysfunction, dynamics and drama ends with an epic final scene of this family’s story. The death of Jacob and Joseph, and the passionate scene of Jacob’s death bed blessing of his children. We see here the textual basis for the Ethical Will as well as the basis for the Shabbat blessing of children as enacted by Jacob blessing Ephraim and Manasseh. Even here, the text gives us pause as Jacob crosses his right and left hands in his blessing which gave rise to Joseph being “displeased” as he tried to place the right hand on the eldest. It is here, in 48:19 that Jacob, looking at Joseph, says “I know, my son, I know”.
Jacob knows what he is doing. The younger-elder challenge is even played out here as it h as been throughout Genesis. Joseph attempts to set it right, but Jacob “knows”. One comment this passage speaks to the correctness, we may believe, of our perceptions and that, as Rabbi Twerksi in his “Living Each Week” reminds us that “we must always defer to those of our wise elders” (p.103). Twerksi points out that this little story speaks to the generational reality that often younger people “tend to think that they are more enlightened”. Do you remember when we were young and tried to explain our generational reality to our parents? From rock ands roll to cicil rights to politics, we often felt that we “knew better” and that these older people were so “out of touch”. And so now we ARE those elders and we can look back and see the truth and wisdom of Jacob’s statement.
I know, he says. As if to say, Yes, you “know” in your terms, within your context, yet we have lived and experienced aspects of life that you shall eventually experience. And it is that life experience that speaks now. “I know, my child. I know” what you are thinking and why your say what you say, but I also know what life has in store and so I do what I do based on my experience. You too shall learn this, each in your own way and each for your own generation. Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh is more that just a blessing, it is a reminder, I suggest, that the life experience of elders cannot and should not be ignored. There is so much value in learning from those who have gone before. The pity is that all too often in our youth engaged society, we forget; and in forgetting, we doom ourselves to repeat the errors of the past. “We know, children, we know”.
Chazak, chazak, v’nit’chazeik
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.