Vayekhi -- Genesis 47:28-50:26

1080-Jacob_Blessing_Ephraim_and_Manasseh_by_Benjamin_WestRenowned violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin (1916-99) was born in New York of Russian-Jewish parents, and made his violin debut at the age of seven performing Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole with the San Francisco Symphony, eventually launching himself at an early age on a lifelong career that was to take him all over the world, playing with leading conductors and orchestras. This exceptional musician and committed humanitarian once noted:

Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.

One can almost hear how the melody of the Jacob narrative works in this way, especially with the stocktaking of his children, the twelve tribes of Israel. It is a melody that remains at peace with the gaps that occur between "imposing continuity upon the disjointed" lives of his grandchildren.

Amidst this grandiose act of blessing the next generation, the most tragic moment almost passes everyone by when it comes to his grandchildren, Ephraim and Manasseh. It is that minor moment where Jacob asks his son Joseph about his very grandchildren: “Who are these?” (48:8) Eventually Jacob agrees to bless his grandchildren, but Joseph is displeased as his father appears to be flouting the social etiquette by blessing Ephraim, the younger, before Manasseh, the elder. True to the ongoing disruption of primogeniture in the Book of Genesis, Jacob corrects his son, Joseph, who has assimilated the primacy of primogeniture in Near Eastern society, wherein the elder ruling over the younger sibling is an expected norm.

In the end, no matter how assimilated, Joseph accepts his father, Jacob’s unconventional blessing for his own children that both challenges societal norms while following in his father’s footsteps. Respecting his father’s last wishes, now also his own, both Jacob and Joseph are interred in the Holy Land together with their ancestors bringing Genesis to a close.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: "Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh," by Benjamin West, 1766-68