Perspective

parashas Vayechi 5782

“When Joseph saw.” – Genesis 48:17

When the time arrived for Jacob to give his blessings to his children, he began by blessing his two grandchildren, Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Because his father’s eyesight was dim, Joseph specifically arranged the children for the blessings: Manasseh, the older son, he placed toward Jacob’s right hand; the younger son, Ephraim, he placed toward Jacob’s left hand. He intended that the primacy is given through the right hand to the older son as would be the custom; however, Jacob changed his hands, placing his right hand on the head of Ephraim, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh.

“When Joseph saw” this rearrangement, he was displeased, and said, “Not so, my father, for this is the first-born; put thy right hand upon his head” (Genesis 48:18). Yet, his father explained, “‘I know it, my son, I know it; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; howbeit his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations’” (Genesis 48:19). Moreover, he established the tradition that Israel shall bless their children “saying: G-d make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh” (Genesis 48:20).

At that moment, Jacob was given prophetic insight: he foresaw the greatness of the descendants of the younger brother Ephraim. And, so, aided by the power of the Ruach HaKodesh, he was able to see beyond the expected scenario. Additionally, by instituting the blessings given to Jewish children, he has empowered us to accept ourselves, regardless of our status. While Joseph’s perspective is akin to our own commonplace understanding of events in our lives, the perspective of Jacob reaches higher towards an outcome even beyond expectations.

Furthermore, from another viewpoint, intending to place primacy upon Manasseh, whose name alludes to the verb “forget” (Genesis 41:51), Joseph was emphasizing putting his past sufferings behind himself. Yet, what we can learn by the name of Ephraim, is to be “fruitful” in regard to performing mitzvot (good deeds), so that we may flourish, despite our sufferings. For, it is not enough to put our past sins and negative character traits behind us (sur meira); we must also focus on holiness, through asei tov (doing good). “Turn from evil and do good” (Psalm 34:15).

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Established from Above

Upon completing the monumental task of building all of the various components of the Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the desert), the artisans and craftsmen brought everything to Moses, who responded with the appropriate enthusiasm of the leader of B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel). “And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks—as the L-RD had commanded, so they had done—Moses blessed them” (Exodus 39:43, NJPS).

The Israelites had done all that was commanded of them; so, of course, they deserved a blessing. Yet, what does a blessing in and of itself constitute, especially for such an enormous amount of work that was done willingly, as a free gift offering by they who committed themselves to the task?

In the modern world, remuneration for services rendered is the norm amongst those who work for a living; and, often we value even our very selves, based upon our profession, and our ability to provide for ourselves and our families. Yet, anyone, including myself, who has worked as a volunteer for some cause knows the reward for doing so; and, to feel a part of a greater whole, for the sole sake of contributing to a good cause is an invaluable estimation of one’s time and effort in the endeavor.

Even so, the greater picture concerns our contribution to the expectations of G-d for the sake of others, as well as ourselves. There is no remuneration that can be measured in terms that would assess the benefits that the soul receives for having been part of G-d’s master plan; for He is the great architect of our lives, as well as the end goal of all human endeavors that are in alignment with His divine blueprint for the world.

The  Mishkan was constructed for the sake of providing a place where G-d’s presence would rest amongst His people. The project required a coordinated effort from the people to build something of lasting value for the sake of maintaining a connection with G-d. We would also do well to consider, that whatever we do will only be established through the blessings of G-d in our lives, whether we realize the nature of those blessings or not. The more we contribute to worthy endeavors that will be approved in His eyes, the greater will be our security. When we place our trust in Him, He will guide us in the right endeavors. “Except the L-RD build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1, JPS).

“Let the graciousness of the L-rd our G-d be upon us; establish Thou also upon us the work of our hands; yea, the work of our hands establish Thou it.”

– Psalm 90:17, JPS 1917 Tanach

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