“From Asher, rich is his bread, and he will provide kingly delicacies.” (Bereshis/Genesis 49:20). Can you hear Asher’s thoughts? “Gee, thanks dad, I guess I get to be the king’s chef.” What kind of blessing is this from the soon to die Jacob?
The parsha for this Sabbath is the last of the book of Bereishis, Vayechi. It begins with Jacob becoming ill. Realizing his death is imminent, Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons Manassah and Ephraim, elevating them to the status of his sons. Then he blesses his sons, though some of the blessings sound more like rebukes. Jacob’s final request is that he not be buried in Egypt, but that he be taken back to Canaan and buried with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, and Leah in the cave of Machpelah.
All of Egypt mourns him, a testament to his greatness. His burial procession was so large it impressed and scared the Canaanites. After his father’s death, Joseph assures his brothers that all is forgiven. He lives to see his great-grandchildren. Before he dies, Joseph appeals to his brothers to bring his bones with them when G-d brings them out of Egypt.
The stage is now set for the enslavement of the Children of Israel and its redemption.
There is an interesting parallel between the blessings that Jacob gives and those that Moses gives to the Twelve Tribes at the end of the Torah.
Rashi, commenting on the Asher’s blessing that he will provide kingly delicacies, says that his land will be so rich in olive groves that olive oil will flow as if from a fountain. When Moses blesses Asher he says, “. . . he will dip his feet in oil.” Clearly, olive oil, especially an abundance of it, is something wonderful to have. Why?
Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, points out from a spiritual perspective olive oil symbolizes wisdom. Thus both Jacob and Moses were blessing the tribe of Asher with abundant wisdom, keen development of the intellect.
But Moses adds another dimension to his blessing: the feet. The parts of the body that connect us to the ground have their own spiritual significance: feet represent the direction we take in life, and perhaps more importantly our commitment to strive toward that direction.
Many people believe that a life committed to obtaining wisdom means one is automatically headed in a good direction and that the accumulation of knowledge will make a person ipso facto righteous. But among the lessons of the Holocaust is that intelligence, even wisdom, do not necessarily lead to goodness. Many Nazis were highly intelligent and yet irredeemably evil.
Less dramatically, Judaism holds that one of the highest values is humility. Yet you have probably met someone who is very intelligent and wise but is equally conceited. Surely a person whose wisdom leads to the abrogation of such an important value cannot be said to be going in a good direction.
The prayer recited on awakening is: “the beginning of wisdom is fear of G-d,” meaning that your direction must be clear before you strive for wisdom.
Remembering the Chanukah lamps that so recently burned brightly, may you have the blessing of abundant olive oil, preceded by a deep, abiding commitment to learn G-d’s values, striving to embed them ever deeper in yourself.
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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.
What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!