Friday, December 28, 2012

May God make us like...we hope to be remembered - D'var Torah - December 29, 2012

Jacob sat
with his grandsons in front of him,
the eldest, Manasseh, to his right,
so he could place his right hand, the hand of strength,
at least in biblical terms,
on the head of Joseph’s oldest son.
To his left was Ephraim, the youngest of Joseph’s sons,
Put there by his father so that he could receive
The blessing of the so-called “weaker hand” of Jacob, his father,
Also known as Israel, the struggler with God.
Joseph had forgotten that he had once been
the youngest son and the favorite of Jacob,
as was Benjamin, both of them the sons of Rachel.
With his grandsons before him,
Jacob extended his right hand across his body and put it on the head of Ephraim,
and his left hand rested on the head of the eldest, Manasseh.
Jacob’s crossed hands demonstrated that
there was blessing enough for both.
In ancient times, and even later,
the oldest son almost automatically received the greatest blessing.
Jacob reminded Joseph that the rule in his family was that any child,
an oldest, a youngest, or one somewhere in the middle, could achieve greatness.
What was even more important was that Jacob was blessing his grandchildren at all.
Jacob and Joseph had many obstacles put in their way that could have prevented them
From being a family again.
Yet, as Joseph explained to his brothers when they reconciled, God had a plan for them to reunite in a way that seemed miraculous.
So Jacob said to his son Joseph, now regaled in likely colorful Egyptian garb,
“I didn’t expect to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children as well!”
When families come together for celebration and
when we take part in reunions
that recall the care and presence of loved ones
no longer with us,
we still see them in our mind’s eye, in the warmth of memory.
The blessing that Jacob gave his grandsons was his legacy for the future. It is now traditionally recited before Shabbat dinner.  
For sons, we say, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.”
For daughters, we declare, “May God make you like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah.
It is not just these names of our ancestors that become legacies. 
Our deeds, especially acts of kindness and compassion that build a community and improve the world, offer inspiration to generations to come.
When Jacob/Israel blessed his grandsons, he also offered a blessing, by extension, to the future generations of his family and people.
And, as we join together as a community in the here and now,
we bless each other when we engage in prayer and study,
when we offer support at challenging times,
when we share moments of celebration,
when we explore beliefs and life’s meaning through prayer and song,
and when we do good works for our community and for the world. 
But these acts are not only our blessings for one another.
They establish a foundation for a bright future in which
the best of our values can endure.
So may God make us like Ephraim and Manasseh,
Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah.
May God make us like the loved ones that preceded us.
And may the generations of family and community that follow us
look to our lives, our deeds and our character
as a source of strength, hope and blessing.

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