We come to the end of the First Book, the end of a chapter. Things are good in Egypt. Yet we know, because we reread The Book every year, that things will change quickly, for the worse. Our family, 70 in all, will grow and multiply, will be seen as a threat and enslaved. They will be tortured and abused. And then they will be redeemed, will become a People, will encounter God, and enter a Promised Land, The Promised Land. That is how it will end. But for now, the Blessing has been secured and transmitted, the Promise made. Things will be good.
Ya’akov, in his final days and moments, assembles his family, blesses his sons and shares his parting words before he is “gathered unto his people.” They are at once beautiful and poetic and, at the same time, confusing and painful like the life of Ya’akov itself. Each child gets their own words of blessing, their own conversation, perhaps private but recorded for posterity, Ya’akov speaks and we do not hear their reactions. Efraim and Menasheh are adopted and will be the perpetuation of Yosef’s name. It is from here that we take the phrase, “May God make you like Efraim and Menasheh,” the words that I will whisper to Elan tonight as we begin our Shabbat meal, followed by blessings for Mira and Amalya recalling Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. The Tribes are blessed. Their father returns to his people, his body buried back in Hebron, in the cave at Machpelah, along with his, and our, ancestors in the first homestead of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel.
Ya’akov loves his children. He loves them, along with their shortcomings. He loves them despite his own shortcomings. Yes, he has a complicated relationship with them, shows favoritism that continues to the end, but he loves them, blesses them, and tries to prepare them for a world of good, for a bright future, in a Land, in their Home, in Israel. Does he know that things will get bad for them and their descendants before they get good and get home? We don’t know.
Ya’akov’s words of blessing to Yosef have always been powerful to me but I find them even more so today:
טו וַיְבָרֶךְ אֶת-יוֹסֵף, וַיֹּאמַר: הָאֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלְּכוּ אֲבֹתַי לְפָנָיו, אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק--הָאֱלֹהִים הָרֹעֶה אֹתִי, מֵעוֹדִי עַד-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה.
הַמַּלְאָךְ הַגֹּאֵל אֹתִי מִכָּל-רָע, יְבָרֵךְ אֶת-הַנְּעָרִים, וְיִקָּרֵא בָהֶם שְׁמִי, וְשֵׁם אֲבֹתַי אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק; וְיִדְגּוּ לָרֹב, בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ.
And he blessed Yosef, saying: “The God in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day - The Angel who has redeemed me from all harm --Bless the Children. In them may by name be recalled, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth. Genesis 48: 15 - 16
The Promised of the Land is once again threatened. Redemption from all harm has not yet been granted. Young men and women must once again go into battle to insure Israel’s safety and her promise. We pray that they will Blessed, that they will be protected from all harm and that they will be redeemed from the fear and terror that has rained on towns from Sderot to Ashqelon, and now east to Beersheba and North to Gedera, for seven years. I hope that someday they will be able to dwell in teeming multitudes throughout the land. The price of achieving such redemption is too high to imagine just as it is impossible to imagine what it might mean to never achieve it at all.
Things get bad.
And then, they get better.
For our friends in Ashqelon and Beersheba they are bad. And for their children, those that are serving in the IDF in Gaza or other potential hot spots and those that are living with the daily fear of rockets landing on their homes, things are tough. I hope that our love and prayers and support help in some small way to get them through the day. If you have not been in touch with them, please call or e-mail or skype or chat. Let them know that you are thinking of them.
Keep in your prayers and hopes that our friends serving will return home safe and sound, that the missiles and mortars and rockets will end, that the residents of Gaza will build their own lives, have a return to normalcy, and to a sense of safety and hope, and that the redemption that will be heralded in the future by an Angel will come soon and in our day.