VAYECHI (Genesis, 47:28-50:26) — “A Grandfather’s Blessing”

G-d has sent a bundle of blessing to our family.  My daughter, Chaya Miriam Goldenberg, just gave birth to a little boy.  We have now been blessed with two grandsons, בלי עין הרע  . 

                     Baby Boy Goldenberg                           Moshe Dov




“Baby Boy” Goldenberg         His “big” cousin, Moshe Dov Rudin

What words of praise can I offer to G-d for His precious gifts?  What blessings can I offer to my two grandsons?  I am, I’m afraid, painfully inadequate to the task.

Therefore, I will let Father Jacob, from this week’s Torah Portion, do the talking. 

Two of Jacob’s grandsons, the sons of Joseph, were brought to him for a blessing: 

“… O G-d, before Whom my forefathers Abraham and Isaac walked,– G-d Who shepherds me from my inception until this day:  May the angel who redeems me from all evil bless the lads, and may my name be declared upon them, and the names of my forefathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they proliferate abundantly like fish…”  (Genesis, 48:15-16) 

What does that blessing mean?  What is the significance of applying the names of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to their grandchildren?  And what’s with the fish??? 

The Ksav Sofer analyzes Jacob’s words: 

   “…may my name be declared upon them…”  G-d changed Jacob’s name to Yisrael—Israel.  That name implies holiness and closeness to G-d.  (See “Name that Angel”)  Jacob was praying that his grandsons should achieve the level of being worthy of being called the well-regarded name Israel. 

“…and the names of my forefathers Abraham…”  The name Abraham, or Avraham, is a combination of the words, Av Hamon (Goyim)—Father of many (nations).”  Abraham was known and respected as a leader.  Jacob prayed that his grandsons will reach the level of being leaders like Abraham.  He wanted the world to see the greatness of his offspring, through whom the Name of G-d would be sanctified.  

However, when one achieves greatness, that can cause envy and resentment.  (As we have seen all too often in Jewish history, when our enemies resented our accomplishments, and used it as an excuse to persecute us.)  Therefore,… 

“…and Isaac…”  Isaac was named “Yitzchak” from the word “Tzachak—to laugh.”  Sarah said, “G-d has made laughter for me; whoever hears will laugh for me!”  (Ibid, 21:5)  People were happy for her good fortune; there was no jealousy. 

And therefore, … 

“…may they proliferate abundantly like fish…”  Fish, we are told by the Talmud, are not subject to “Ayin Hara—The Evil Eye.”  (The most understandable definition of “Evil Eye” that I have heard is quoted in the name of Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler.  When people are recipients of good fortune and act in a way that shows off that good fortune, it sometimes causes jealousy and pain to those who are less fortunate.  When G-d sees that this person’s blessings are a source of anguish to others, He may re-evaluate the issue of whether the recipient is entitled to those blessings.  As a result, the blessings COULD BE retracted.)  Since fish live calmly beneath the surface of the sea, unseen by man, they are not subject to the Evil Eye. 

IN OTHER WORDS, Jacob’s blessing to his two grandsons was, “May you be a Yisrael, one who is holy and close to G-d.  May you be an Avraham, a leader and inspiration to those around you.  And may you be a Yitzchak, one who is loved and admired; one whose success is appreciated by those around him; one about whom no one is jealous, because everyone recognizes that he is deserving of greatness. 

Has a greater blessing ever been given by a grandfather to his grandchildren? 

Well spoken, Father Jacob.  Amen.  May my grandchildren–no, may OUR grandchildren, be so blessed.  Mazel Tov. 

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz


From the Archives

“Any Maccabees Around Here?” or, “Father Knows Best” (2008) 

We recently completed our celebration of Chanukah. The heroes of the Chanukah story are the Maccabees.  Have you ever met a Maccabee? Actually, a more accurate question is, have you ever met a Hasmonean? … 

The Hasmoneans were a family of Kohanim – Priests who overthrew the Syrian Greeks who had defiled the Temple and tried to destroy Torah Judaism.  Nachmanides writes that the Hasmoneans were “pious and lofty men, without whom the Torah and Commandments would have been forgotten from Israel.” (Nachmanides’ Commentary to Genesis 49:10) 

No, you have never met a Hasmonean.  And you never will.  The family is extinct… 

Read more.


“Forgotten but Not Forgiven?”  (2006) 

Someone I know was attending Services in a crowded synagogue in Jerusalem.  While taking the required three steps back at the end of the prayer, a fellow accidentally stepped on his toes. 

Slichah!,” (literally, “forgiveness,” in other words “I’m sorry”), said the toe-stepper. 

Since it was during a part of the Service when it is preferred not to speak, the fellow simply nodded in a way that indicated, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.” 

Well, it WASN’T okay, and he DID worry about it. “Tagid ‘Salachti!’” (“Say, ‘I forgive you!’”) 

Only after the “aggrieved party” officially forgave the toe-stepper did he relent.  “Salachti,” he said, and the incident was over… 

… all’s well that ends well, right?  Everyone recognizes that the sale of Joseph was part of G-d’s divine plan to provide for the People of Israel during the famine.  Yes, they did something wrong, but it was G-d’s will, and Joseph wasn’t angry.  Everything’s okay, right? 

Well, not exactly.  There is one thing missing.  As the rabbi in Jerusalem told my friend, “Tagid ‘Salachti!’”  — “Say, ‘I forgive you!’”…


Read more.


“Mama’s Tears” (2005) 

… For twenty years, Israel was a memory from my past, and a some-day hope for my future.  Finally, about five years ago, when my daughter was studying there, I had cause to go back for a short visit… One of my stops was Rachel’s Tomb, in Bethlehem… I wasn’t prepared for what met me inside…                   

Now, I am not what you would call a particularly emotional person.  What was it that caused me to react in that way?  There was nothing in my particular prayers that would normally have led me to cry.  So what was it? 

It was Rachel… 

Read more .


“Payback Time” (2004) 

Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. 

… Joseph had been very patient.  His brothers, who had sold him as a slave nearly four decades ago, were now under his control…  in the presence of their father Jacob, Joseph had treated his brothers well.  But now, Jacob was dead.  It was payback time.  

Joseph’s brothers … had reason to be concerned.  Joseph just wasn’t acting the same….  Clearly, Joseph was not happy with his brothers.  What could he be planning?  Had he taken his cue from their Uncle Esau, who had designated the anticipated demise of his father as an opportune moment to kill his brother? 

The brothers felt that they had to do some damage control… 

Read more.


“Put on a Happy  🙂 Face!” (2003) 

… The days of Jacob’s life were 147 years.  The time drew near for Israel to die… (Genesis, 47:27-28) 

 …Jacob … lived a shorter life than his father did.  Isaac lived until the age of 180, while his son Jacob only reached 147… the Pharaoh was taken aback by Jacob’s appearance.  While the early chapters of the Torah describe people living for several centuries, this phenomenon was no longer common at that time.  The king had never seen anyone who looked so old!  Jacob explained that he wasn’t as old as he looked… 

Read more.


“When Angels Came Early To Monsey” (2002) 

… As I sang “Shalom Aleichem,” I looked across the room at Miriam. She was mouthing the words as I sang … I felt like crying. Could it be, I wondered, that the angels came early today?!… 

Read more.


“Promises, Promises” (2001) 

… Jacob had lived a long life, and it was time to pre-arrange his funeral. The Egyptians held Jacob in high esteem, and the last thing he wanted was to end up under a pyramid…

Read more.


“Kindness and Truth” (2000) 

… If I visit you when you are not feeling well or help you jump start your car when the battery dies, I know that there is a possibility that when the tables are turned, you will be there for me. This does not apply in the case of the dead. If you put yourself out to attend someone’s funeral, you can be sure that he won’t come to yours!… 

Read more.


This is the weekly message at   Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel ( and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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His "big" cousin, Moshe Dov Rudin

His “big” cousin, Moshe Dov Rudin


Published on December 31, 2009 at 12:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

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