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Rabbi Barry Gelman's Blog

01/01/2021 01:55:17 PM

Jan1

Rabbi Barry Gelman

Face To Face

01/01/2021 09:48:49 AM

Rabbi Barry Gelman

Everything is about to change. Yaakov is dying.

וַיְהִ֗י אַחֲרֵי֙ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לְיוֹסֵ֔ף הִנֵּ֥ה אָבִ֖יךָ חֹלֶ֑ה וַיִּקַּ֞ח אֶת־שְׁנֵ֤י בָנָיו֙ עִמּ֔וֹ אֶת־מְנַשֶּׁ֖ה וְאֶת־אֶפְרָֽיִם׃

And it came to pass, Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch notes that the use of the word אַחֲרֵי֙ - “and it came to pass”, “always introduces a turning point. 

In their last conversation, Yaakov tells Yosef that God blessed him that he would become fertile and numerous and that he would inherit the land of Canaan. Yaakov also assures Yosef that his sons, Ephraim and Menashe, would be counted as children of Yaakov and receive a portion of the land God promised him.

Yaakov uses the words  לִי־הֵ֑ם - shall be mine, meanings, according to Rashi: בְּחֶשְׁבּוֹן שְׁאָר בָּנַי הֵם, לִטֹּל חֵלֶק בָּאָרֶץ אִישׁ כְּנֶגְדּוֹ - “they shall be counted amongst my other sons, to receive a portion in the Land each for himself.” 

After Yaakov’s monologue, the Torah records a strange occurrence.

וַיַּ֥רְא יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יוֹסֵ֑ף וַיֹּ֖אמֶר מִי־אֵֽלֶּה׃

Noticing Joseph’s sons, Israel asked, “Who are these?”

This question has raised the curiosity of many commentators on the Torah.

The Midrash puts the question into context:

אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוּדָה בַּר שַׁלּוּם, וְכִי לֹא הָיָה מַכִּירָן, וַהֲלֹא בְּכָל יוֹם וָיוֹם יוֹשְׁבִין וְעוֹסְקִין בַּתּוֹרָה לְפָנָיו, וְעַכְשָׁו הוּא אוֹמֵר מִי אֵלֶּה. לְאַחַר שֶׁשִּׁמְּשׁוּ אוֹתוֹ שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה שֶׁעָמַד בְּמִצְרַיִם, לֹא הִכִּירָן. 

Rabbi Yehuda Bar Shalom said: Did he not recognize them? After all, they (Ephraim and Menashe) studies Torah before him every day and now he asks: “Who are these?” After they served him for seventeen years since arriving in Egypt, he did not recognize them?

One school of thought (Midrash Tanchuma, Rashi, Rabbeinu Bahya, ) suggests that as Yaakov was about to bless Ephraim and Menashe, his Ruach Hakodesh (Divine inspiration) was removed. Recognizing that something was amiss, Yaakov asked: ``Who are these?”, meaning, do they deserve a Bracha. 

Others (Rashbam, Rav Yosef Kara, Ibn Ezra, Radak) teach that Yaakov simply did not recognize them. Perhaps they were standing far away or perhaps, as we learn two verses later, וְעֵינֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ כָּבְד֣וּ מִזֹּ֔קֶן לֹ֥א יוּכַ֖ל לִרְא֑וֹת - Now Israel’s eyes were dim with age; he could not see”, Yaakov did not recognize them as his eyesight was failing.

These approaches offer technical explanations as to why Yaakov asked “who are these?” Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehua Berlin (known as the Netziv) offers a spiritual / emotional answer to this question.

He begins his comments by rejecting the notion that Yaakov did not know who they were and declaring forcefully - בלא ספק הכירם וידע שהמה בני יוסף - “there is no doubt that he recognized them and knew that they were Yosef’s children!”

So why did Yaakov ask that strange question? The Netziv writes that in order to arouse Ruach Hakodesh and love for one to be blessed, there are certain practices that one can perform. One of them is to look at the person you are blessing face to face. The other one is to call them by their name. 

In the Netziv’s own words: ולכן כשרצה יעקב להעיר אהבה ביקש שיזכיר יוסף אותם בשמם -  “So when Jacob wanted to awaken love (for Ephraim and Menashe) he asked Joseph to mention them by name.”

Now, we are not blessed with Ruach HaKodesh like Yaakov was, but, we can love and so the words of the Netziv, offer us beautiful lessons on interpersonal relationships.

Of course, many realize that when people fail to make eye contact that it can be a sign of dishonesty. There are more subtle reasons why looking at a loved one face to face is important.

So much of what we communicate is non verbal. Even if two people are talking, a lot gets lost in the absence of eye contact. Having a conversation with a partner when one is making dinner and the other is setting the table is better than not talking at all, but loads of meaning are missed or miscommunicated.

The cues we send with our eyes and facial expressions exhibit real connectedness. 

"It can communicate, 'I'm here,' 'I'm listening,' 'I'm available,' and 'You are important,'" 

This can also explain why Yakkov asked Yosef to bring Ephraim and Menashe close to him.

קָֽחֶם־נָ֥א אֵלַ֖י וַאֲבָרְכֵֽם

bring them to me, and I will bless them.

Yaakov wanted to look them in the eye to demonstrate his love for them. This was especially important since they had been born and grown up in Egypt. Yaakov wanted to make clear that they were still dear to him. 

Using people’s names in conversation also signals care and concern. When meeting someone new, it is customary to ask them their name. That is the easy part. The test comes when you meet them again. Do you remember their name? Doing so tells the person that they are important enough to you to remember. This message is so empowering to the other person.  It is a sign of courtesy and makes the person feel respected. It also leaves a positive impression about you. 

Think about how we feel when people know or remember our name. Our name is probably one of the first words we heard our parents speak and each time it is used it reminds that someone knows us, wants our attention and is focusing their attention on us. 

Notice that when Yaakov blesses his sons before he dies, these same themese, of gathering close so that eye contact can be made and the callingof each by name are present.

 וַיִּקְרָ֥א יַעֲקֹ֖ב אֶל־בָּנָ֑יו וַיֹּ֗אמֶר הֵאָֽסְפוּ֙ וְאַגִּ֣ידָה לָכֶ֔ם אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־יִקְרָ֥א אֶתְכֶ֖ם בְּאַחֲרִ֥ית הַיָּמִֽים׃

Jacob called to his sons, and said: “Gather yourselves, that I may tell you that which will happen to you in the days to come. (Gen. 49:1)

הִקָּבְצ֥וּ וְשִׁמְע֖וּ בְּנֵ֣י יַעֲקֹ֑ב וְשִׁמְע֖וּ אֶל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֥ל אֲבִיכֶֽם׃

Assemble yourselves, and hear, you sons of Jacob. Listen to Israel, your father (Gen. 49:2)

Yaakov brings them close to him and then begins to bless his sons by declaring each name at the outset of the blessing.  

Our relationships have been tested this year. In many cases, face to face contact has not been possible. Perhaps we will have to relearn how to engage people in “live settings”. However and whenever we “get back to normal” Yakkov's lessons of how to channel Ruach Hakodesh and love can help. 

In many ways, Sefer Berishit is the book of relationships of the Jewish people. In it we find marriage, love, hate, sibling rivalry, marital missteps, parental disappointment and more.

As the book of Genesis comes to an end, Yaakov the last Patriarch, and the only one to see all of his children living in harmony with each other, offers us a hint as to how to preserve and enhance our love and relationships.

Tue, May 18 2021 7 Sivan 5781