We are concluding the first book of the Torah, Genesis.
If we take a step back and look in perspective, after the surprising and wonderful description of Creation in the first chapters, our book is busy warning us about our miseries over and over again. About those mistakes that can lead us to have miserable lives. It shows us the human condition reflected in interpersonal relationships, but especially in family relationships that are always conflictive.
Throughout 12 weeks we have delved into stories that display a powerful drama. Among their key points of tension are sibling rivalry, jealousy, deceit—the clear reference that emerges in most cases that one sibling is preferred to another. And how sometimes parents help little to smooth out those conflicts.
How does this constant tension end?
It ends on a very high note of reconciliation. It ends with a renewal of the ties between Yosef and his brothers. It ends in our parashah.
In it, after constant complicated and disruptive sibling relationships, the Torah, in a scene as what happens at the end of an epic film, shows the whole family gathered around Yaakov. Joined. But remembering each one of the errors that we have been recognizing in each of his sons. The different blessings express all of them, charged with the tension that Yaakov prints on the legacy that they deserve according to their actions.
One of the most beautiful customs of Jewish life is that parents bless their children at the beginning of the Shabbat dinner and on festivities. Rashi points out that the blessing for sons is based on Bereshit 48:20 in this week’s Parsha, when Yaakov blesses his grandsons, the sons of Yosef: “May God inspire you to live like Ephraim and Menashe.”
It is as if the text told us “love for children can be tinged with the different reactions and experiences that all education and growth entails, but the love between grandparents and grandchildren is exactly that... pure love.”
But even with that short explanation, it is worth asking ourselves: What happened to the patriarchs Abraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov? Why were Efraim and Menashe chosen instead of them as the main inspirers of this important tradition?
Ephraim and Menashe were the first brothers in the Bereshit text about whom there are no accounts of fighting. Abraham’s two sons, Yitzhak and Ishmael, did not get along at all, and there are those who see their disagreements as the basis of the Arab-Israeli conflict to this day. In the following generation, the animosity and rivalry between the twins Yaakov and Esav are recounted in detail, and then Yaakov’s sons sold Yosef as a slave in Egypt.
Efraim and Menashe represent the breaking of this pattern. The family pathology that unfolds in the Book of Genesis, in which brothers fight each other, finally comes to an end. This is what we transmit to our children, through this brachah we express that there is no greater blessing than peace between brothers.
However, we must remember that Jacob did not have 12 children. They were 13. The text or tradition or some extremist revision excluded Dinah from any memory, blessing or inheritance. Dinah is not invited to inherit the legacy of her ancestors, nor the promises for the future offered to her siblings at this powerful time.
Like Dinah, who, according to the text, was not summoned to participate in this important moment in the life of her family, countless girls and women around the world are made invisible, mistreated, discriminated against, used and discarded. They clearly do not receive the same treatment, the same inheritance, blessings and opportunities that their male peers gain.
We definitely have to incorporate Dinah into our stories, blessings, and memories.
We do not find in the Torah blessings equivalent to that of sons or sons for our daughters. But there is one in the Book of Ruth (4:11) that is inspiring: “God willing that the woman who comes to your house [Ruth] be like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the House of Israel.” And so, in many Jewish homes today, both parents bless their daughters like this: “May God inspire you to live like Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah.”
The Torah does not imply that there is anything easy about making and sustaining a family. The patriarchs and matriarchs—Sarah, Rivkah and Rachel especially—know the agony of infertility. They know what it is to wait in hope and wait again.
Genesis ends on these three important resolutions: first, that grandparents are part of the family and their blessing is important. Second, Yaakov shows it is possible to bless all your children, even if you have a fractured relationship with some of them. Third, Yosef shows it is possible to forgive your family, even if they have done you great harm.
That, surprisingly, is what Genesis is about. Not about the creation of the world, which occupies only one chapter, but about how to handle family conflict. Once Avraham’s descendants can create strong families, they can move from Genesis to Exodus and their birth as a nation.
Let us bless our children and grandchildren on every Shabbat, on every Chag, on every occasion that we can. Let us bless our girls and women so that they are makers and heirs of a future of respect, rectitude and justice, so that they are shapers of their destiny and always visualize themselves with a sense of empowerment and possibility. But, above all, of total equality in this unequal world that we have recreated and try to correct.
Rabbi Gustavo Geier