Here Come the Sons: Vayehi 2020

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you ever have trouble recognizing people you’ve met before? What tricks do you use to aid your memory, if any?

On his deathbed, Jacob appears to be unable to recognize Joseph’s two sons:

The Pitch: “Noticing Joseph’s sons, Israel asked, ‘Who are these?’” – Genesis 48:8

Swing #1: “After seventeen years of living together in Egypt, [Jacob] seems not to recognize his grandsons. Two verses later, his failing vision is offered as a possible explanation … but if blindness is responsible for his question, the Torah should have prefaced the story by telling of his failing vision; instead, it emphasizes that he saw Joseph’s sons.” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious

Swing #2: “He recognized them as human beings, but did not recognize them for who they were.” – Sforno

Swing #3: “And Israel looked at the sons of Joseph and said, ‘From whom are these born to thee?’” – Targum Jonathan

Late-Inning Questions: Why do our commentators believe that Jacob seems puzzled about his grandsons’ identity? What, if anything, does this reveal about Jacob’s state of mind at that moment? Does it say anything about his relationship with his family? How do we best dignify loved ones whose memory and/or recognition has worsened?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We encourage all of our congregants to vote for the Mercaz (Conservative/Masorti) slate in the upcoming World Zionist Congress elections so that pluralistic voices can be heard loud and clear in Israel. Please visit to learn more.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of being unable to remember someone’s identity, Casey Stengel’s term as manager of the New York Mets was marked by such moments, most famously when he is finally able to recall one of his players, Gus Bell, because he says that his name “rings a bell”.

Shabbat Shalom!