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Torah Sparks

January 14, 2006 - 14 Tevet 5766

Annual: Genesis 47:28-50:26 (Etz Hayim, p. 293; Hertz p. 180)
Triennial Cycle: Genesis 49:1-49:26 (Etz Hayim, p. 298; Hertz p. 183)
Haftarah: I Kings 2:1 - 12 (Etz Hayim, p. 313; Hertz p. 191)

Prepared by Rabbi Michael Gold
Congregation Beth Torah, Tamarac, FL

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director


The book of Genesis comes to an end, with the death of Jacob and eventually the death of Joseph. Jacob has lived 117 years in Egypt, 147 years altogether. He makes his son Joseph pledge to bury him not in Egypt but in the family burial place back in Canaan. Joseph also takes his two sons Efraim and Manessah to his father for a blessing. Jacob put his right hand on the younger son, Efraim, and his left hand on the older son, Manessah, telling Joseph that the younger brother will be greater. He blesses them with the words, "By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying God make you like Efraim and Manessah." (This blessing is still used today when Jews bless their sons. When they bless their daughters, they say "May God make you like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah.")

Jacob calls his twelve sons around him, and gives them each a final blessing. The words are part blessing and part prophecy, often painfully revealing Jacob's feelings toward each of his sons. The strongest blessings are reserved for Judah and for Joseph. Again Jacob asks to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah next to his first wife, Leah. Jacob dies surrounded by his sons. He is embalmed, and carried back to Canaan for burial with a great processional, including Egyptian dignitaries.

After the mourning period, the brothers tell Joseph that their father asked him to forgive them for their harsh treatment. They tell him that they are prepared to be his slaves in Egypt. Joseph responds, "You intended me harm, but God intended it for good, the survival of many people." Joseph lives 110 years, long enough to see his great grandchildren. He asks that after he dies, his bones be brought up from Egypt. Joseph dies and his body is embalmed in Egypt.

Issue #1 - Older and Younger

"But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Efraim's head, though he was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh's head - thus crossing his hands - although Manasseh was the first-born" (Genesis 48:14)


  1. One of the most prevalent themes in Genesis is the younger son taking priority over the older. God accepts Abel's offering before Cain's, God makes the covenant with Isaac rather than Ishmael, Jacob takes both the right of the firstborn and the blessing from his older brother Esau, Jacob chooses his strongest blessing for Judah rather than older brothers Reuben, Simeon, or Levi. What is the Torah trying to teach us?
  2. By Torah law, the eldest son does have certain prerogatives. He inherits a double portion, even if he is born of an unloved wife (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). Later rabbinic law teaches that a younger sibling should honor an older one in a manner similar to the way parents are honored, particularly when the older sibling has taken a role in raising him or her (Yoreh Deah 240:22).
  3. Francine Klagsbrun has written that birth order matters (Mixed Feelings; Love, Hate, Rivalry, and Reconciliation Among Brothers and Sisters). It is the firstborn who feels the greatest sense of displacement when younger children are born. He or she has gone from being the only one to sharing mom and dad with another. Firstborns often feel rage and resentment towards younger siblings; they also often experience protective and paternal or maternal feelings. A younger child is in a very different position within the family. Everybody else is bigger, older, more powerful. He or she will look up to and admire an older one; yet he or she also may resent the power and authority of the older child. Middle children share aspects of both older and younger. They suffer the same dethronement as the firstborn, without all the ongoing attention given the baby. It is not unusual for them to feel confused. How true are these generalities?
  4. Is one theme of Genesis that we are not victims of our biology; that birth order is not necessarily destiny? What does that teach us today?

Issue #2 - The Messiah

"The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet; So that tribute shall come to him, and the homage of peoples be his" (Genesis 49:10)


  1. The verse is difficult to translate. We translated od kee yavo sheelo as "so tribute shall come to him." The rabbis understood its meaning as shai lo, gifts will be brought to him. Rashi writes "This is the King Messiah, and thus does Onkeles translate this verse. The Midrash says shai lo, `Let them bring presents to the one who is feared' (Psalms 76:12)." In other words, this verse is an allusion, some would say the only allusion in the Torah, to the coming of the Messiah.
  2. Jewish history has seen many false messiahs. Rabbi Akiba thought that Bar Kochba was the messiah. Jews never have accepted Jesus of Nazareth as the messiah. Many Jews in Europe became followers of Shabbatai Tzvi when he claimed to be the messiah, until he converted to Islam. Many people today claim that the late Lubavitcher Rebbe was the messiah. How will we know when the real messiah has come?
  3. Some Jews have said that we should remove the doctrine of the messiah from our liturgy, and instead speak of a messianic age. For example, the Reform movement has changed the word goel, redeemer, in the prayerbook to geula, redemption. Is this an appropriate change? Is there a value to hoping and praying for a time when the messiah will come?

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