This week’s parshah, Vayechi, contains the last chapters in Genesis that describe Jacob’s blessings to his sons from his deathbed. Remember, because Joseph had interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and saved Egypt (and his family) from famine, Pharaoh rewarded Joseph by allowing his entire family to immigrate to Egypt and granted them land. As the years went by, life went on, and Joseph married a nice Egyptian girl by the name of Asenath. Together they had two boys, Ephraim & Menasha.
From his deathbed, Jacob called for his two grandsons, whom he had never met. When the two boys approached him with their father, Joseph, Jacob exclaimed, ‘mi aleh?’/Who are these two guys? For you see, to old Jacob, his grandsons did not ‘look Jewish’. They did not dress like Jews, but rather like Egyptians. They did not speak ‘Jewish’, but rather Egyptian. Even their mannerisms were foreign to Jacob. This makes sense as the boys were born in Egypt to an Egyptian mother. They had grown up in the palace and not in the tents. To Jacob they appeared assimilated, and unrecognizably foreign.
At this point, our tradition tells us that the boys recited the Sh’ma in unison, and when they did so, Jacob realized that they were his grandsons, and that despite their obvious differences, they were as Jewish as he.
Today we live in world where Jews come in all different flavors. Our Jewish children may look, speak, and act very differently from their parents and certainly their grandparents, for they have adapted to the times. Generally this is a good thing.
This metamorphosis is an integral part of the Jewish story, and is as old as our existence.
Our diversity is part of the beauty of Jewish life.
In blessing his grandsons, Jacob proclaimed to Jews of every generation, including our own today, that Jews are to be respected and loved despite our many variances.
In this moment before his death, Jacob blesses his two grandsons with his very best blessing.
It is the same blessing with which we Jews traditionally have blessed our children (and grandchildren) for thousands of years.
Y’varech’cha Adonai v’yishm’recha/ May God bless you and keep you.
Yaeyr Adonai panav ey’echa vi’chuneka/ May God’s face turn towards you and protect you.
Yisa Adonai panav eylecha v’ya’sem l’cha shalom/ May God show kindness and grant you (the greatest gift of all…) the gift of peace.