Blessing: The Gift That Keeps On Giving (Vayechi)

By Rabbi Shohama

Dedicated to the memory of Philip L. Feinberg, lifeguard and teacher extraordinaire, beloved of Lucy Mancello and longtime member of our Congregation.

In this season of gift giving, it’s good to remember that one of the best gifts we can give doesn’t cost money or come wrapped with ribbons. It is the gift of a blessing — a prayer for well being.

In this week’s Torah portion (Vayechi), Jacob — now called Israel — blesses Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Menasheh, with these words: 

“The God in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, God 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” (Gen. 48:15-16).

250px-Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_062This blessing is so significant that it appears in several parts of the Jewish liturgy. In traditional prayer books, it appears as part of the series of prayers called “The Bedtime Shema,” invoked for protection as we release our physical consciousness into sleep. This blessing also was chosen as the traditional one parents bestow on their sons on Friday night as part of the Shabbat table prayers (“May God make you as Ephraim and Menasheh”). Additionally, these words have been made popular as a blessing for children at night, and at baby namings. One of my favorite renditions (HaMelech HaGoel Oti / The Angel that Redeemed Me, music by Stephen Levey) has been popularized in this online performance by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and his daughter, Talia.

This blessing reminds us of our God who has taught us ways of righteousness since Abraham and Isaac, and who has led us with kindness like a shepherd. Strikingly, this blessing provides the textual foundation for our belief in a Guardian Angel, a spirit that guides and protects.

It has an additional message. It asks that our own teachings live on after us in the next generation — whether through our biological progeny, our students, or the people we touch in countless ways. It asks that our blessings be not just for the next generation, but for generations to come. Our beloved Phil Feinberg’s life and legacy are enduring tributes to that principle.

May the God who blessed our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah) bless each of us to be vessels of blessing for the Jewish people and all who dwell on earth.

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