Rabbi Oury Cherki
Vayechi - Moving from One Generation to the Next
Translated from Hebrew. Published at the Noahide World Center website and in Shabbat B'Shabbato.
"And he called for his son, Joseph" [Genesis 47:29]. Rashi notes, "He was the one who could accomplish the task." At first glance, this seems to be superfluous. What does this statement add that we did not know before? Everybody should understand, without any commentary, that if Jacob turned specifically to Joseph and not to the other brothers, it was because he had the power as viceroy of the land of Egypt to fulfill Jacob's request.
If we look at the matter in detail, we will see that the cantillation note on the word "vayikra" – he called – is a "munach," a note which in this case marks a brief pause in the reading. That is, Jacob turned first to the Holy One, Blessed be He, because He has the real power to do something. As an extension of this request, Jacob turned to his son Joseph to fulfill the will of G-d. This incident is an indication that the era when Jacob was the "Chariot of the Shechina" was over and that the time had come for Joseph to take over the role of the "Chariot."
Based on this reasoning we can explain the apparent contradiction in the words of Rashi in a later verse. "'And Israel bowed down' – When the time comes for the fox to rule, bow down to him" [47:31]. This implies that Jacob bowed to Joseph, and it was the proper thing to do. But the verse continues, "'At the head of the bed' – He turned his head to the Shechina" [ibid]. This implies that Jacob should not have bowed down to Joseph. According to the idea noted above, the real meaning of bowing "to the Shechina" is that Jacob bowed down to Joseph, since the Shechina manifested itself through him during the exile in Egypt.
It is true that Joseph was not privileged to become a fourth patriarch of the nation of Israel, since after the time of Jacob the whole community is holy since it includes all the sons of Jacob, whose "bed was complete." But Joseph has some of the traits of a patriarch in that his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, are considered separate tribes. In this way Joseph achieves the status of a firstborn son, who receives a heritage that is double that of the other sons.
What is the essence of the dispute between Joseph and his father Jacob about whether Ephraim or Manasseh should come first? It would seem that Jacob is making an attempt to correct the path that Joseph has taken. Manasseh's name is symbolic of Joseph's estrangement from his father's house: "G-d has caused me to forget... all of my father's house" [Genesis 41:51]. With this separation as a background, Ephraim appears as a symbol of Joseph's success which follows in the wake of his separation. "G-d made me fruitful in the land of my suffering." [41:52]. But once the family of Jacob is rebuilt and all the tribes are linked together by bonds of love and reconciliation, the sequence must be changed – Ephraim should appear before Manasseh. This shows that success is achieved by renewing the links with Yaacov and not by being separated from him.
Manasseh thus becomes the one who has the responsibility not for forgetting but for enhancing the memories. This will happen in the future when the tribes of Reuben and Gad ask to dwell on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Then half of the tribe of Manasseh is sent to maintain the unity and the collective memory that is shared by all the tribes of Israel.