21/22 Dec : Vayechi : Shabbat comes in 3:38 pm, ends 4:48 pm
Yaakov is the first person to be recorded in the Torah as interacting with his grandchildren on any level. Not only does he interact with them, he actually gives each of them a blessing. The blessing is so powerful it becomes the standardised blessing of parents to children every Friday night. Placing our hands on our children, we say, “may God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.” (Genesis 48:20)
Yosef (Joseph) takes his sons Ephraim and Menashe to see their grandfather. As they enter, Yaakov proclaims “mi eileh?” “Who are these?” (Genesis 48:8) Having already been in Egypt for 17 years, is it possible that Yaakov didn’t know the identity of his grandsons? Bearing in mind that Yaakov could no longer see, he might not recognise his grandsons even as they stand before him. However, some commentators insist that Yaakov asked “who are these?” to precipitate a “nachas report” from Yosef about the moral, spiritual and religious progress of Ephraim and Menashe. (Genesis 48:9)
On the other hand, maybe Yaakov did not recognise his grandchildren because he has little relationship with them (maybe Yosef rarely brought them to visit). Another suggestion: Maybe “mi eileh,” is an existential question. Having grown up in Egypt, Ephraim and Menashe must have, on some level, assimilated into Egyptian society. Standing before Yaakov as Jews living in Egypt, Yaakov asks, “Who are these?” What he is really asking is do my grandchildren identify themselves as Egyptians or Jews?
If allowed to develop, a grandparent’s relationship to a child is deep. Unencumbered by parental responsibility, a grandparent, blessed with the wisdom and maturity of life can powerfully bestow blessings upon their children.
In a brief instant, a grandparent asks, “mi eileh,” who are these, not so much as a question but as an expression of thanksgiving to God for having been blessed with such glorious grandchildren.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman