Vayechi: The Sounds of Silence

Unity is on their minds.

Rabbi S. Weiss,

Judaism Rabbi S Weiss.JPG
Rabbi S Weiss.JPG
Arutz 7

With parshat Vayechi, Sefer Bereishit comes to an end. It has been a tumultuous journey, from Eden to Egypt, marked by both Divine distinction and disastrous disunity. The tragic flaw of brother vs. brother that began with Kayin and Hevel continued through the sagas of Noach and his neighbors, Yitzchak and Yishmael, Ya'akov and Esav, and finally Yosef and his brothers.

Ya'akov is acutely aware of this "hereditary illness" in the family as he gathers his sons for one final bracha. And so he uses the code words, heyasfu and hikavtzu, which technically mean to "gather around" him but can also mean "to unite as one". For their part, the sons (see Gemara P'sachim 56) seem to concur with the call for
Menashe and Efraim can break the spell, if only they can get along.
camaraderie as they proclaim, Sh'ma Yisrael Hashem Elokeynu Hashem Echad, with the word "Yisrael" referring specifically to their father. Unity is on their minds, too.

But it's far from a done deal. For at the end of the parsha, after Ya'akov is buried, the sons throw themselves upon Yosef's mercy, ready to be his slaves if only he will refrain from exacting vengeance upon them for having so brutally mistreated him. Yosef cries at their display of fear and mistrust, realizing that the quality of "brotherly love" is still clearly missing from their genetic makeup.

Yet, there is still hope, for a new generation has been born in Egypt. Menashe and Efraim can break the spell, if only they can get along. And so when Ya'akov lines them up for a final blessing, Yosef's anxiety shoots as high as a pyramid when he sees the younger Efraim being given prominence over the elder Menashe.

He tries to stop father Ya'akov, to switch his hands. But Ya'akov is unmoved: "I know, my son, I know (who is the firstborn). Menashe will be great; but Efraim will be even greater."

Yosef - after all he has gone through - wants to tread oh-so-lightly when it comes to favoritism, but Ya'akov is not gun-shy; he deals with the situation openly, frontally, frankly. Judaism is more about ability than age; blessings are about more than birth order. Ya'akov affirms his own place as Patriarch (rather than his older brother Esav) by selecting Efraim to a preeminent position.

Ya'akov's forthrightness pays off. Menashe watches as his brother gets the better bracha and says... nothing! This "sound of silence" speaks volumes about faith and love.

And so the pasuk says, "B'cha ('by you') shall Israel bless its children." The Torah pointedly uses the singular "you" rather than the plural ba'chem. Efraim and Menashe have now blended into one unit, and so Ya'akov refers to them as a single entity.

Their acceptance of one another is a blessing that all of us - children and parents - can aspire to.