“When the time drew near for Israel [Jacob] to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, ‘… promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.’” (Genesis 47:29–30)
In last week’s Torah portion, Yehuda (Judah) pleaded with Yosef (Joseph) to take him as a slave instead of his youngest brother, Benjamin. Joseph was so moved that he revealed his identity to his brothers and brought his father Jacob and all his family to Egypt.
This week, the Torah and Haftarah portions share the somber thread of endings—the end of Jacob’s life, the end of Joseph’s life, and the last words of King David before his death.
Jacob prepares for the end of his life by securing Joseph’s promise that he would not be buried in Egypt, but that his bones would be carried back to the Land of Israel.
Even though he and his family thrived in Egypt, Jacob had not forgotten God’s covenant promise to give the Land to him and his descendants forever. Despite all the bounty with which God had blessed Jacob in Egypt, he had treasured God’s covenant promises in his heart.
As the end of his life drew near, he made sure that even the very burial of his bones would be a statement of the promises and trustworthiness of God for the generations to come.
“Then Israel [Jacob] said to Joseph, ‘I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers. And to you, as one who is over your brothers, I give the ridge of land I took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow.’” (Genesis 48:21–22)
Jacob Imparts the Blessings to Ephraim
“I never even expected to see your face again, Joseph, and now God has even allowed me to see your offspring.” (Genesis 48:11)
In this Parasha, Yaacov (Jacob) imparts his blessings to his sons, pronouncing the patriarchal blessings over Yosef’s sons first.
As powerful as Yosef is, he can’t control his father Jacob’s blessings. When he presents his sons before Jacob (Israel) to receive the blessing, Jacob surprises him by crossing his hands to place his right one on Ephraim’s head and his left on Manasseh’s.
This was the reverse of Yosef’s expectation, since Manasseh was the firstborn and therefore, the rightful heir of the blessing of the firstborn.
“When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to him, ‘No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.’” (Genesis 48:17–18)
Joseph thought his father had simply made a mistake, perhaps due to his old age, but Jacob (Israel) purposefully put Ephraim before Manasseh.
This is something of a parallel to Jacob’s life, since Jacob was given the blessing of the firstborn even though his brother Esau was his elder brother.
Furthermore, Jacob’s father Isaac also received the blessing over his elder brother, Ishmael.
We don’t know why Jacob bestowed the blessing of the firstborn upon Ephraim. Perhaps God had spoken to Jacob, as He had spoken to his mother Rebecca saying, “The elder shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)
Since that word was spoken while the children were yet in her womb, before they were even born, it’s evident that God made this choice on the basis of divine election, and not on the basis of merit.
The father’s blessing is so important and powerful! Even today, every Friday evening, observant Jews bless their sons with the same blessing Jacob spoke over Ephraim and Manasseh.
There seems to be a connection between the name Ephraim, which comes from the word pri, meaning fruit, and the blessing he receives. The destined fruit of Ephraim is to be m’loh hagoyim, which can be translated as a multitude of nations or Gentiles. (Genesis 48:19)
Likewise, Avraham (Abraham) also received a promise that he would be the father of many nations besides Israel. (Genesis 17:5)
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)
Against all natural reason, Jacob (Israel), being divinely led, blesses the younger son, Ephraim, with his right hand.
May we also be led by the Spirit in all our decisions and be radically obedient, even when it goes against our natural understanding, since the word of God tells us to trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding.
There are other places in Scripture where the younger child is blessed over the elder ones.
Moses was the second born and yet was called to lead Israel.
David was so young and insignificant in his father Jesse’s eyes that he was not even considered worthy of election. Jesse didn’t even call him in from the fields when Samuel came calling to see which of Jesse’s sons would become the next king of Israel after Saul.
God’s blessing is on all His children, but certain ones have distinct destinies and callings.
There is so much the Word has to say about God’s destiny on specific children, even before they are born—even before they are formed in the womb!
For instance, God said to Jeremiah, “Before you were formed in the womb, I chose you; I set you apart before you were born, I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
God may choose our children before they are ever born and appoint them to do great and mighty exploits for Him and for the sake of His Kingdom.
Jacob Blesses His Sons
“Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.” (Genesis 49:1)
Although Jacob blesses each of his sons, this aging father still holds past issues, even on his deathbed, against some of them.
Jacob recalls his firstborn, Reuven’s sin of defiling his father’s bed by lying with his concubine.
Because of his lack of character, Reuven forfeited the rights of the firstborn. Even though he possesses dignity and excellence, his instability becomes his undoing.