The first thing I noticed at the opening of this parashah was the number 17. Jacob lived in Egypt for 17 years, the same number of years that Joseph lived with him before he went missing. The intervening years were harsh for Jacob, yet these last 17 years made up for the years of grief he endured. The number 17 is not commonly found in TORAH, so I had to explore it a bit. Turns out 17 is the gematria of the word tov, good spelled Tet, vav and vet. Tet’s gematria is 9, vav, is 6, is a peg and can also be a channel for Heavenly energy from above to flow down; vet, is 2, houses that energy. Good is a deep concept. After God creates the world, God says it is good, when Adam is alone, God says it isn’t good to be alone and gives Adam a mate. Good is a word that signals the importance of connection, integration. Jacob’s last 17 years of his 147 years were with his entire family. We will see later how this plays out.
We see the letter vav in a word that doesn’t have it. Laymor— “and he said” is spelled here with a vav. This added letter suggests that Jacob is channeling the energy from above in what he is saying. It validates what he is saying.
The concept of connection continues with Jacob’s blessing Ephraim and Menashah, Joseph’s children. Unlike Cain and Abel, Jacob and Essau and Joseph and his brothers, these two brothers got along. Joseph named his first born Menashah, which means, “lest I forget” my homeland, meaning although I live in spiritual exile, away from the land of Israel, I will remember my father, Jacob’s ways. Ephraim means fruitful. While it is important to survive, to remember your identity through your connection to your ancestors(Torah), it isn’t enough just to survive, one must thrive. When Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons, he blesses the younger before the older
A phrase from the blessing is that their descendants and “like fish may they multiply among mankind on earth”(48:16) It is Joseph’s sole obligation to teach his sons the Torah way. It is in this parasha that we find the prooftext for why we bless our sons to be like Ephraim and Menasheh. Like Joseph, parents need to invest themselves in teaching their children.
Torah’s complexity and seeming immorality and cruelty is a mirror for our own striving for moral behavior and kindness to ourselves and our community. I understand the Torah to be more than a dream of random acts and events, but a vision quest. Jacob, the progenitor has two names. Jacob can mean heel and Yisrael means God wrestler or straight to God. There is a part of him that is connected to the Infinite Source. He sees his children for who they are based on their actions. He has suffered from those dramatic actions, but because he is connected to his higher nature his love for them is not diminished. He becomes a channel, like the vav of the word TOV, of that energy to give blessing to his wayward sons to assist them to redeem their hurtful actions. He sees them for who they are, which lets him know just what they need in order to fulfill their life’s purpose.
Their base behavior mirrors our shadow side, the part of us that needs to be refined and polished until we shine with the light of righteousness. How often have we threatened to kill a sibling, friend, lover or customer service representative out of anger? Haven’t we done things that no one knows about because we were careful to conceal our cruel or irreverent actions? These brothers represent the challenges we face in our lives. Their dramatic actions are recounted to shake us up.
It’s the drama that has given the Torah its staying power. It remains on the top charts after 1000’s of years for a reason. We too are on a journey to a homeland, a place in time where everyone behaves with morality and true caring for our fellow travelers, sure of our purpose AND—having the support we need to fulfill that purpose.