Perashat VayehiFriday, January 02, 2015
Blessings occupy a prominent place in the Torah and specifically in the book of Bereshit. From the moment of creation when G-d blessed all the creatures to be fruitful and multiply, to our own times when we go to seek the blessings of a righteous individual, the concept of blessing played and plays an increasingly important role in our lives.
Perashat Vayehi, tells the story of Yaakob conferring his blessing to Yosef and to his children Ephraim and Menashe; and later on to his own children, the 12 tribes.
With Menashe and Ephraim, we are told that Yaakob switched his hands; placing his left hand on Menashe who was sitting on Yaakob’s right side, and his right hand on Ephraim who was sitting on Yaakob’s left side. When Yosef attempted to correct his father’s hands placement, Yaakob refuses and says “I know, I know, Menashe will become great, yet his brother Ephraim shall become greater than he.” Our Sages conclude that Ephraim pre-eminence was not the result of Yaakob’s blessings. Rather, it was because Ephraim was destined for more greatness that he required a more intensive blessing, for important people need a blessing to carry out their mission successfully. Not Yaakob’s blessing, but Ephraim’s upbringing was the source of his future greatness.
We also notice that when Yaakob blessed his 12 children, the passage concludes by saying that Yaakob “blessed each one according to his appropriate blessing”. In fact when we read the blessings, we realize that many are not real blessings. In many of them Yaakob “airs dirty laundry” in public, about his children. Yaakob introduces these blessings by saying “I will tell you what will befall you in the End of days. Nowhere in the introduction, Yaakob uses the word blessing when gathering his children.
As my dear friend Michael Hirsch wrote “what we have here is a very concerned, devoted father counseling his children for the last time. He correctly discerns their character traits, their flaws. He perceives how at stressful times, they allow their emotions to rule over their intellect. Yaakob epitomizes what a good parent should be—not someone who blows sunshine at their children, but someone who counsels them on their shortcomings. Hoping, of course, that this will lead to their improvement as individuals”.
More importantly, we learn from here that blessings are not magical incantations that will change our future if we get one or even many. Unfortunately, what I see happening in our time and throughout the Jewish world, a phenomenon where people are running to catch a blessing from anyone and every one. They pay a hefty monetary price to charlatans who prey on their weaknesses and give them a “blessing”, hoping that the words of this “saintly or righteous appearing person” will become a reality.
The Perasha teaches us in two instances that even Yaakob’s blessings only revealed the greatness or smallness of a person without changing in the least the person’s destiny.
Jun 2 2020
Sivan 10 5780