Vayechi “He Lived.”
“So Israel set out with all that he had, and when he came to Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father, Isaac. And that night God spoke to Israel in a vision: “Jacob, Jacob!” He said.
“Here I am,” replied Jacob.
“I am God,” He said, “the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will surely bring you back. And Joseph’s own hands will close your eyes.” (Genesis 46:1-4).
The stars light up the night sky and remind Jacob of his younger days when he pulled back the flap of his tent, and the Father said, Jacob, look up at the sky and count the stars if indeed you can count them because your offspring will be like those stars. Jacob drinks in the memory as silent tears stream down his aged, lined face. The darkness envelops him, and he feels the presence of the Ruach swirling in waves of glory. The presence is so sweet Jacob doesn’t want to sleep or move. He replays the surround sound of the Voice that is still echoing through his chest,
“Joseph’s own hands will close your eyes.”
How can it be? My son, once dead, but now alive. My son’s bloody coat once haunted me daily, but now Joseph is seated on the right hand of the throne. Jacob realizes that his emotions are bubbling forth with such wondrous joy and sorrow, he contemplates how the two mix together like water. He wipes the tears from his face and in a crackling voice says,
“Abba, Oh, the joy that fills my heart, “Oh, Father, all this time you could have appeared and told me my son Yoseph was alive, but Your ways and plans are unsearchable. I will praise You all my days—yes until I take my last breath. You already know the number of my days for you have recorded them in Your Book. I implore You, oh, Father, that many of the years I missed with Yoseph are given back to me, but not my will, but Yours be done. My son, Yoseph, left at 17. Abba, may I have 17 years with him? Not my will, Father, but Yours be done.
Israel lay in bed and took a shallow breath. He could not believe he was 146 years old. His father had lived to be a ripe old age, but Israel had a knowing that his life was drawing to an end. The 17 years he had prayed to have with Joseph were coming to a close. He remembered the day he arrived in Egypt and the sight of Joseph, weeping and holding him–kissing his face. Israel rubbed his eyes that were failing him and glanced at what looked like a loving dove perched atop his windowpane. The pigeon seemed to be cooing to him as sunbeams danced across the room. Israel smiled and blessed the God of his fathers and thought of the ladder he had seen with angels reaching the heavens. Soon he would get a closer view of the angelic host.
Jacob called for his servant and asked for Joseph.
“Please send my son for I am departing this place soon, he said in a soft voice.”
Not long afterward, Joseph, the joy of his old age, entered the room. The sight of him caused Israel to stir inside. Although his eyes were a bit blurred, the sound of Yoseph’s voice and the man he had become made Israel come alive.
“Son, if I have found favor in your eyes, please promise me you will not bury me here in Egypt, for I long to lie down next to my fathers, Abraham and Isaac.
Joseph approached the bed and placed his right hand atop his father’s thigh. I promise to do all you say, father.”
“Swear to me,” Israel said, raising in the bed.
“I said, I promise.”
His father looked at him sternly.
“Abba, I promise. I will carry you out of here myself and with joyful shouts, and all your sons will be gathered to you.”
Delight filled the aging eyes of Joseph’s father and he felt peace fall over him. Joseph touched Israel’s shoulder and situated him back atop the linen sheet. Rest, Abba, rest. “If you need anything at all, let me know. Everything will be as you have asked. Yoseph was finally able to call him by the enduring title he used as a boy–“Abba.”
Yoseph sat at his desk and looked over his papers. He was trying to calculate how long it had been since his father had come to Egypt. Back then, he had kept records of everything because the famine was so grave. After a thorough search, he realized today made 17 years since he first hugged his father’s neck. Earlier that morning, he had received notice that his father had grown ill, and Joseph was heavy hearted. They had been able to spend much time together and now, Joseph would see his father and be present as his spirit was gathered to his fathers, Abraham, and Isaac. He called for his sons Manasseh and Ephraim, and they set out to Rameses.
Joseph looked over at his sons who had now become grown men and remembered holding his first-born in his arms. Manasseh. “To forget.” His lovely wife had not liked the name and had asked him why he would do such a thing. Language barriers and customs often led to arguments. She thought Joseph wanted to forget their son. This argument ended in a chuckle after he explained. It wasn’t that Joseph wanted to forget his family or that he had forgotten them. Asenath, “Manasseh comes from נשה (Nasha), “to forget but forgetting due to “evaporation” of memory the way water evaporates.” “My son will help me forget the intense grief of losing my family.”
Many nights in the prison, Joseph had tried to remember the face of his father and the sound of his voice. Many times, he was longing to weep over all the sorrow that filled his soul but feared the prisoners would overhear him and consider him weak. The day Joseph held his first-born son, he belted through trembling lips, “Yahweh has made me forget all my toil and all of my father’s house!” The truth was he had never forgotten them. He had memories of delight mixed with heartache. The rejection from his brothers had left him devastated, and yet, Joseph had been so overcome with joy to see their faces years ago and hug Benjamin and kiss each one of them. He could never forget his family, but he could forget the pain their actions had caused him. Yes, the only thing Joseph had forgotten was the grief of his past. The Holy One had made all things new. Joseph realized he was lost in thought. A lifetime of memories.
“Father will we be present when our grandfather passes?”
“I am not sure, Manasah. We will see what the Holy One has planned. This is a sacred time, and we must gather every word from my father and every moment given to us as he is a great prophet, and indeed we are blessed to sit with him and drink in his wisdom and to hear his voice before he departs.”
As Joseph and his sons entered the foyer, the servant assigned to his father, Israel, greeted them, bowing to him and his sons before speaking to his father.
“Your son Joseph has come to you.”
Israel gathered his strength and with the servant’s help hoisted his body up in the bed.
Joseph and his sons enter the room and look at Israel with endearment.
“Shalom, Abba, it is Joseph.”
“But, Joseph, who are those two figures by you? Israel said, twisting his beard and trying to focus on the young men standing silently behind their father.
“Father, these are the sons Yahweh has given me in Egypt. You remember them. Jacob squinted his aging eyes and tried to make out their facial features.
“Shalom, Saba, said Ephraim and Manasseh in almost unison. Ephraim chuckled, “you remember your handsome grandson, Ephraim, right?” Manasseh elbowed him in the rib lightly.
“Of course, he does, both of you,” said Joseph smiling.
The air had a charged feeling about it, and Joseph could feel the weight of sorrow and also a joy that seemed to electrify the room. It feels bittersweet, he thought.
“Shalom, now come closer,” Israel said, waving a frail hand. Come round my bed.”
As the three moved forward, Jacob took a sip of water, cleared his throat, and said, “Yahweh Almighty, the Holy One appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there He blessed me. He told me that he would make me fruitful and multiply my seed. I heard him speak in my ear, a multitude of peoples would come from my loins, and he swore to give me the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession.’
“Now bring me your sons, that I may bless them.”
“Now, Joseph, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. Any children born to you after them, they will be yours.”
Joseph prays he will never forget the words his father is speaking because they are scented with a sweet-smelling fragrance, but how can Ephraim and Manasseh be the sons of Israel? He weighs the spiritual context of his father’s words and how adopting them would allow the blessing to be passed down from Israel.
“Now, please come sit next to me on the bed Manasseh and Ephraim, I want to speak blessings over you, my sons.” As the young men walk towards his bed and rest upon it, Jacob suddenly has a moment of DeJa’Vu. he is traveling back in time when he too is a young man standing before his aging father, Isaac, whose eyes are cloudy. Even in Jacob’s feebleness, he still remembered the animal skins and the scent of his brother Esau. Oh, the fear in his heart that day approaching his father’s bed. He had pleaded with his mother hours before. “Mother, what if he touches me? I am smooth-skinned, and my brother is hairy. If father learns of my deceit, I will be cursed and not blessed, Eema. He remembered how his Eema said, “Your curse be on me, my son.” Jacob had approached his father’s side that day and said, “I am Esau.” The scent of fear-like smoke rose up in him. His father was not an easy one to be tricked. “Please come closer so I can touch you, my son. Are you really my son Esau, or not?” “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” Jacob lingers over the years that have passed since that moment.
“Joseph, I have spent most of my life running. I ran from home for fear of my brother killing me. I ran from father due to my trickery. I ran from Laban, and later fled from Shechem due to my son’s rage. I ran and I ran. I even ran away from my other sons by checking out emotionally over thinking you but dead, but these last 17 years have been a blessing upon blessing.”
“For me too, father, for me too.”
Israel turned to each of Joseph’s son and kissed them.
“I never expected to see your face again,” Israel said to Joseph, “but now God has let me see your children as well.”
Then, Joseph removed his sons from his father’s knees and bowed facedown.
And Joseph took both of them—with Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand—and brought them closer to him. But Israel stretched out his right hand and put it on the head of Ephraim, the younger, and crossing his hands, he put his left on Manasseh’s head, although Manasseh was the firstborn. Then he blessed Joseph and said:
“May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,
the angel who has redeemed me from all harm—may He bless these boys.
And may they be called by my name
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they grow into a multitude upon the earth.”
When Joseph saw that his father had placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head, he was displeased and took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s. “Not so, my father!” Joseph said. “This one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”
But his father refused. “I know, my son, I know!” he said. “He too shall become a people, and he too shall be great; nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.”
So that day, Jacob blessed them and said:
“By you shall Israel pronounce this blessing:
‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”
So he put Ephraim before Manasseh. (Genesis 48:11-20).
All name definitions come from Abarim Publications.