Jacob’s Blessing in a Time of Antisemitism

I was talking with my brother-in-law last weekend while we watched our kids play. We just heard the news about the attack on a Monsey Chanukah party. What can be done? Is this new or very old antisemitism? How do we keep our children safe?

This week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, concludes Jacob’s life, in which he gives blessings to his sons. But in a few short verses at the beginning of Exodus next week, we flip from a family story of relative safety to a dangerous time for the Jews of Egypt. A dramatic turn: Joseph practically commands Egypt and then, upon his death, the Jews of Egypt are swiftly suspected and enslaved.

This year has felt swift and disorienting to me. I’m searching for inspiration to ground me. This week, I’m looking to Jacob’s blessing to Ephraim and Menasheh. Jacob says this: “May the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths” (Genesis 48:16).

Jacob’s life was, to be honest, tragic. He had a terrible relationship with his brother Esau. His marital life was rough, tricked into marrying a woman he didn’t love (Leah) and then losing the wife he did love (Rachel) in childbirth. For 20 years of his later adult life, he mourned the death of his favorite son Joseph, whom he thought was killed by a wild beast. Upon learning his son was alive, he also learned that Joseph’s own brothers sold him into slavery. Yet, Jacob summarizes his life as being redeemed and protected from all harm.

A witness to the Monsey attack spoke of a “Chanukah miracle” that most guests had already left the party. And the next morning, the community dedicated a new Torah, dancing in a street processional. Because that is what we can do.

May we be redeemed from all harm.

Originally published in the Canadian Jewish News.


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