This Week's Torah Reading
Genesis 47: 28 - 50:26
We conclude the book of
(Genesis) this week. Jacob is old now and about to die. Joseph pledges to Jacob that he will not be buried in the land of Egypt but will be brought back to the land of Israel, to his ancestral burial plot in Hebron. Joseph's sons Ephraim and Menashe are brought forward to be blessed. Jacob puts his right hand on Ephraim, the younger, and his left hand on Menashe, the older. " 'Not so father', Joseph says to him, 'for the other is the first born; place your right hand on his head.' But his father objected, saying 'I know my son, I know. He too shall become a people and he too shall be great. Yet his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall be plentiful enough for nations.' " (Gen 48:18 - 19) He blesses Joseph's sons with the words "By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying, may God make you like Ephraim and Menashe." (Gen 48:20)
After blessing Joseph and his sons, Jacob calls over each of Joseph's brothers to bless them. These "blessings" however are Jacob's vision of what will happen to their descendants (i.e. tribes) in the future. Some of it is good, and some not. This vision is based on the characteristics and special gifts that each child has, but the specifics of their future are clouded in the poetic language Jacob uses.
records the first formal mourning in the Torah. While previously mentioning the deaths and burials of the other patriarchs and matriarchs, it is only Jacob for whom a formal period of mourning is described. "When they came to Goren ha-Atad...they held there a very great and solemn lamentation and he (Joseph) observed a mourning period of seven days for his father." (Gen. 50:10).
Joseph's brothers are concerned that now that their father has died, Joseph will finally look to seek revenge for their having sold him into slavery. Instead Joseph is forgiving of them, saying " 'Fear not-I will sustain you and your children.' Thus he reassured them speaking kindly to them." (Gen. 50:21).
One of my favorite
is an interpretation of the
that involves Jacob and his sons. Of course, the
prayer is generally translated as "Hear O Israel,
is our God,
is One", and is regarded as an essential article of our faith-that there is only one God, the One we refer to as
however understands the
quite differently. We should recall that Jacob had his named changed to Israel, and after that occurs he is sometimes referred to as Jacob and other times as Israel. So the
envisions Jacob's children gathered around him as he is about to die, wishing to give their father comfort in his final days. Thus they promise him that they will continue to follow in his footsteps by worshiping the same God that Jacob has worshiped. What do they say to him? "
, Listen Israel (i.e. Jacob),
, our God and your God-they are one and the same
This is a beautiful lesson about the legacy that every person leaves at the end of their life. While people certainly want to pass down material possessions to their children, more important than that are the lessons and values that were so much a part of their life. If someone leaves this earth knowing that what was important to them is now important to their children, if they can feel that their true legacy will be seen in how their descendants live their lives, then they undoubtedly have a great sense of accomplishment and peace. This
comes to teach us that this is exactly what Jacob's (Israel's) children declared to him as his life drew to a close.