This week’s Torah portion, Vay’chi, (Gen. 47:28 – 50:26) is the final portion in the book of Genesis. Jacob is on his deathbed, seventeen years after his arrival in Egypt. At his request, Joseph brings his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, for Jacob to bless them. Like his father Isaac before him, Jacob’s eyesight has dimmed with age. He places his right hand on Ephraim and his left on Manasseh. Joseph, thinking that his father has mistaken the older son for the younger, re-adjusts his hands, but Jacob tells Joseph that his act was intentional: “I know, my son, I know! He too shall become a people and he too shall be great. Yet his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.” (Gen. 48:19)
Thus far in Genesis, the younger sibling has always had to fight the rule of primogeniture – that the eldest receives the birthright, regardless of aptitude or ability. Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, and even Rachel and Leah strive with one another over who will be the one to carry on the tradition. Now, finally, Jacob settles the issue for the coming generation with no deception or violence. The children of Israel are at peace with one another as they begin the sojourn in Egypt which will last four hundred years and culminate in the exodus. This is the end of Israel as a family, and the foreshadowing of it as a nation.
When we bless our male children on the Sabbath, we do so in the names of Ephraim and Manasseh. We do so because they are the only brothers in Genesis who are at peace with one another throughout. May this Sabbath bring to all of us peace in our families, and may it radiate out to bring peace to the world.