Subject: Va-y’chi and naming children

Hi Malka,

I always enjoy reading your Weekly Reader. This week’s was especially interesting as (as you will note below) I did not know where the practice of blessing one’s children came from. As my son blesses his children each Shabbat, I thought he would be interested, so forwarded it on to him.

This is awesome! I’d love to get them and use them for our Shabbas discussions!”
Malka was our previous rabbi with whom Tom studied when he converted and afterwards. We contribute to her congregation in Santa Fe. I thought this would interest you. I never knew the origin of blessing your children on Shabbat.

January 9, 2004
Dear Friends,

This week the Torah portion brings us the end of the book of Genesis and the deaths of Jacob and his son, Joseph. Yet it is called Va-y’chi, “And Jacob lived…” Jacob lived to become Israel and claim his complete identity; he lived to lose his beloved son because of his children’s deceit; and he lived to see that son not only alive but the viceroy of a mighty nation and a father himself. Despite everything, the gift is life, and Jacob embodies one who lived.

In these closing chapters, Jacob, on his deathbed, requests to see Joseph, and Joseph comes to him with his two young sons, Manassah and Ephraim. With his remaining strength, Jacob sits up for the visit and notices the children. “Who are these?” he asks his son. The rabbis wonder why he doesn’t recognize his grandsons. Is he too blind, too weak of mind, or is it that the boys look like who they are, wealthy Egyptian kids wearing the latest fashion?

When Joseph tells him that these are his sons, Jacob asks to have the boys brought near to him so that he can bless them. Joseph is careful to place Manassah, the first born, near his father’s strong right hand. But old patriarchs don’t forget their tricks. With a boy on each knee, Jacob crosses his hands so that Ephraim gets the blessing of the powerful hand. If you want to know why, come join us tomorrow morning at Ponce de Leon, 640 Alta Vista, at 9:30 upstairs in the arts and crafts room. You’ll get bagels and cream cheese along with enlightenment plus the gratitude of all present.

The tradition of blessing our children remains with us. This Friday evening lucky Jewish children will receive the same physically affectionate communication from their parents, who will say to their sons, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manassah.” Why not Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? With girls, we ask that God make them like Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel. Ephraim and Manassah were the first Jews to teach us how to live in two worlds, how to be both Egyptian and Jewish. They knew how to “dress British and think Yiddish.”

I invite you to think of your children, grandchildren, and all little ones whom you hope will embrace our tradition. Imagine placing your hands on their heads and blessing them with the expansiveness and balance to embrace the best of this world while holding fast to our tree of life, the history and wisdom of the Jewish people. By blessing we are blessed.

Shabbat Shalom!

Peace and Blessings,
Rabbi Malka Drucker