Parasha Inspiration – Vayechi

וַיַּגֵּ֣ד לְיַֽעֲקֹ֔ב וַיֹּ֕אמֶר הִנֵּ֛ה בִּנְךָ֥ יוֹסֵ֖ף בָּ֣א אֵלֶ֑יךָ וַיִּתְחַזֵּק֙ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיֵּ֖שֶׁב עַל־הַמִּטָּֽה: וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יַֽעֲקֹב֙ אֶל־יוֹסֵ֔ף אֵ֥ל שַׁדַּ֛י נִרְאָֽה־אֵלַ֥י בְּל֖וּז בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנָ֑עַן וַיְבָ֖רֶךְ אֹתִֽי: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלַ֗י הִנְנִ֤י מַפְרְךָ֙ וְהִרְבִּיתִ֔ךָ וּנְתַתִּ֖יךָ לִקְהַ֣ל עַמִּ֑ים וְנָ֨תַתִּ֜י אֶת־הָאָ֧רֶץ הַזֹּ֛את לְזַרְעֲךָ֥ אַֽחֲרֶ֖יךָ אֲחֻזַּ֥ת עוֹלָֽם: וְעַתָּ֡ה שְׁנֵֽי־בָנֶ֩יךָ֩ הַנּֽוֹלָדִ֨ים לְךָ֜ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֗יִם עַד־בֹּאִ֥י אֵלֶ֛יךָ מִצְרַ֖יְמָה לִי־הֵ֑ם אֶפְרַ֨יִם֙ וּמְנַשֶּׁ֔ה כִּרְאוּבֵ֥ן וְשִׁמְע֖וֹן יִֽהְיוּ־לִֽי:

And [someone] told Jacob and said, “Behold, your son Joseph is coming to you.” And Israel summoned his strength and sat up on the bed. And Jacob said to Joseph, “Almighty God appeared to me in Luz, in the land of Canaan, and He blessed me. And He said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and cause you to multiply, and I will make you into a congregation of peoples, and I will give this land to your seed after you for an everlasting inheritance.’ And now, [as for] your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt, until I came to you, to the land of Egypt they are mine. Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine like Reuben and Simeon.

Genesis 48:2-5

This week’s Torah portion concludes the book of Genesis. It contains a short but very important passage regarding the tribes yet to come. Joseph comes before Jacob and brings his two sons, Manasseh and Efrayim, with him. As they come before Jacob, Jacob performs a very significant act. Jacob adopts his grandchildren.

In his act of adoption, Jacob makes his grandchildren, Manasseh and Efrayim, equal, in his eyes, to all of Joseph’s brothers. Not only are they elevated in this way, but the younger brother, Efrayim, is elevated over the older brother Manasseh.

With the adoption of Efrayim and Manasseh, what would become the 12 tribes, is filled out. Efrayim and Manasseh would be counted as full members of the tribes of Israel. This makes the counting of the 12 tribes problematic, and we see the 12 tribes counted in different ways in different locations within Scripture. Sometimes Efrayim and Manasseh are counted and Joseph is not. Sometimes Joseph is counted and Efrayim and Manasseh are not. Additionally, sometimes Levi is counted, and sometimes not. This leaves us with a number of potential methods of counting the 12 tribes, but, in the counting or listing of the tribes, the result is always 12, no matter how they are counted. Shabbat shalom.

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Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Steve was born on Lag B’Omer in Ann Arbor, MI but was raised in Gainesville, FL. The son of two University of Florida professors, he excelled in the sciences in school. In addition to his normal academic studies, he pursued his Jewish education studying with many Rabbis and professors of Judaic Studies from the University including visiting Rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach.