It’s so convenient and we so overlook it. Joseph brings Ephraim and Menashe before Jacob for his final blessing, and Jacob offers the familiar and beautiful words:
Vay’variekh et Yoseif vayomar: HaElohim asher avotai l’fanaiv Avraham v’Yitzkhak; HaElohim Ha-ro’eh oti m’odi ad hayom hazeh; HaMalakh HaGoel oti m’kol rav, y’variekh et hana’arimv’yilarei vahem sh’mi v’shem avotai Avraham, Yitzkhak v’yid’gu larov b’kerev ha’aretz
And he blessed Joseph, saying: The G”d in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked; The G”d who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day; The Angel who has redeemed me from all harm-Bless the lads, In them may my name be recalled, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth. (JPS Gen. 48:15-16)
I’ve written previously about the Hamalakh HaGoel prayer, and I commend those thoughts to you, however today I am taking a somewhat different slant.
It’s important to recall the recipients of this blessing – Ephraim and Menashe, Yosef’s sons by his Egyptian wife. Now, Jacob’s blessing here doubtless confers upon these two sons membership in the tribe, and eligibility to be part of the continuing lineage of the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob clan. Even with this blessing, and from my modern lens, I still have trouble as seeing the “half-tribes” of Ephraim and Menashe as legitimate given how later Jewish tradition so twisted the concept of “who is a Jew?” How, on the one hand, can traditional Judaism still cling to the idea of matriarchal descent, cling to its strong opposition to inter-marriage, and overlook the fact that at least a goodly number of those who stood at Sinai were descended from an Egyptian mother?
Oh, I’ve heard all the arguments. It’s a pre-Sinai event. The advent of matriarchal descent became normative later. Jacob’s status as one of the patriarchs is alone enough to confer upon him the right to forever include these two children of an inter-marriage in the tribe, circumstances be damned. It was all part of G”d’s plan.
All of it is thin ice, a house a cards. In our post-Shoah world as we rail against assimilation and inter-marriage, we seem to have little trouble overlooking the fact that at least two of the twelve tribes had parents of mixed lineage. (Actually, chances are there was quite a bit of mixed lineage among the tribes.)
It’s time for us to get off our high horses and get realistic about Jewish survival. The Jewish world is replete with “gerim toshvim",” with strangers who live among us and practice our ways. It is full of children who have only one Jewish parent. It is full of many children whose Jewish parent is not their mother.
For the sake of Jewish continuity, Jacob was able to overlook the mixed parentage of Ephraim and Menashe. Who are we to do any less?
In my other musing about Hamalakh HaGoel I wondered why Jacob invokes G”d in three ways- as the G”d of his father and grandfather; as the G”d who has been his shepherd from birth; and as the Angel who redeemed him from harm. I suggested that mention of the Angel recalls Jacob’s struggle. It occurs to me now that it might also reference Jacob’s internal struggle to bring himself to bless Ephraim and Menashe, knowing as he did that their mother was an Egyptian.
Like Jacob, we too are Israel, and we struggle. May we have the wisdom to learn from Yaakov and embrace all children and their parents who seek and strive to be part of Am Yisrael, regardless of their parentage and lineage. May we bless them. Then, perhaps, we will again be worthy to become teeming multitudes upon the earth.
Hazak, hazak, v’nitkhazeik.
©2012 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Vayekhi 5771-Trading Places (Redux & Updated from 5759)
Vayekhi 5770 - Musing Block?
Vayekhi 5769 - Enough With the Hereditary Payback Already!
Vayekhi 5767-HaMalakh HaGoel
Vayechi 5766-Thresholds (Redux 5764 with Reflections
Vayechi 5761/5-Unethical Wills
Vayechi 5763 - I Got it Good and That Ain't Bad (Redux 5760)
Vayechi 5759-Trading Places
Vayechi 5762-The Wrong Good