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Reflection Title: 
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The ancient stories in the Bible are full of reversals, inverting the cultural order of the day. These are trickster tales, with new meaning pulled forth when things are turned upside down. Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s sons, born of an Egyptian mother—born of “the Other,” is radical enough. But in this poignant moment, memory floods in on the dying grandfather. When Jacob was a young man, a few years older than the two grandsons standing before him, he had sought the deathbed blessing from his own father, Isaac. He was the younger son, and the only way to get this blessing was to deceive his father and pretend he was the elder brother, Esau. And, later, he was tricked into marrying the elder sister before the beloved younger Rachael. Sons were born of the first wed. But it was Joseph, the first-born of the first loved who got his blessing.  So Jacob once again reverses the normal order, crosses his arms, places the right hand on the younger son and the left on the elder son. A reminder, a recognition, that even a blessing born of deception is a blessing nevertheless. In his case, a blessing that led to this day, when his son Joseph—his beloved son whom he had considered long since dead—stands before him alive and well with his own two sons.

Story Title: 
Who Are These?
Story Content: 

The time came when Joseph was told that his father was ill, so he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. . . . 
When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” Joseph replied, to his father, “They are my sons who God has given me here.” Israel said, “Bring them to me, I beg you, so that I may take them on my knees.” Now Israel’s eyes were dim with age, and he could not see; so Joseph brought the boys close to his father, and he kissed them and embraced them. He said to Joseph, “I had not expected to see your face again, and now God has granted me to see your sons also.” Joseph took them from his father’s knees and bowed to the ground. Then he took the two of them, Ephraim on his right at Israel’s left and Manasseh on his left at Israel’s right, and brought them close to him. Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, although he was the younger, and, crossing his hands, laid his left hand on Manasseh’s head; but Manasseh was the elder. He blessed Joseph and said:

“The God in whose presence my forefathers lived,
my forefathers Abraham and Isaac,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life until this day,
the angel who ransomed me from all misfortune,
may he bless these boys;
they shall  be called by my name,
and by that of my forefathers, Abraham and Isaac;
may they grow into a great people on earth.”

When Joseph saw that his father was laying his right hand on Ephraim’s head, he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s. He said, “That is not right, my father. This is the elder; lay your right hand on his head.” But his father refused; he said, “I know, my son, I know. He too shall become a people; he too shall become great, but his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall be a whole nation in themselves.” That day he blessed them and said:

“When a blessing is pronounced in Israel,
men shall use your names and say,
God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh,”

thus settling Ephraim before Manasseh. Then Israel said to Joseph, “I am dying. God will be with you and will bring you back to the land of your fathers.”

—Genesis 48:1, 8–21

Contemporary Story Title: 
You Are Important
Contemporary Story Content: 

Howard Thurman, (1899–1981) was an influential African-American author, philosopher, theologian, and civil rights leader. He was the first dean of Rankin Chapel, Howard University. Thurman recounts walking in his hometown along Daytona Beach, Florida, with his two daughters, Anne and Olive. It was the 1950’s. 

“On one of our visits to Daytona Beach I was eager to show my daughters some of my early haunts.  We sauntered down the long street from the church to the riverfront.  This had been the path of the procession to the baptismal ceremony in the Halifax River, which I had often described to them.  We stopped here and there as I noted the changes that had taken place since that far-off time.  At length we passed the playground of one of the white public schools.  As soon as Olive and Anne saw the swings, they jumped for joy.  ‘Look Daddy, let’s go over and swing!’  This was the inescapable moment of truth that every black parent in America must face sooner or later.  What do you say to your child at the crucial moment of primary encounter?

‘You can’t go on those swings.’
‘When we get home and have some cold lemonade I will tell you.’
When we were home again, and had had our lemonade, Anne pressed for the answer.  ‘We are home now, Daddy.  Tell us.’
I said, ‘It is against the law for us to use those swings, even though it is a public school.  At present, only white children can play there.  But it takes the state legislature, the courts, the sheriffs and the policemen, the white churches, the mayors, the banks and the businesses, and the majority of white people in the state of Florida—it takes all these to keep two little black girls from swinging on those swings.  That is how important you are!  Never forget, the estimate of your own importance and self-worth can be judged by how many weapons and how much power people are willing to use to control you and keep you in the place they have assigned you.  You are two very important little girls.  Your presence can threaten the entire state of Florida.’”

Artwork Title: 
Crossed Hands
Artwork Content: 

The Ashburnham Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is one of the oldest surviving manuscripts. This Vulgate Latin illuminated manuscript originally had sixty-eight full page images. The origin of the book, which served as a teaching tool, is ambiguous, although it contains midrashic iconographical elements, a fact which signals that it could be modeled on Jewish sources. A distinctive feature of manuscript is a panoramic pictorial explanation of the biblical plots that offer new aspects for interpretation. This illumination shows Jacob blessing Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Jacob is portrayed sitting on his bed and stretching his hands crisscross on the heads of his grandchildren. Above children’s heads, the medieval illuminator wrote inscriptions as if pronouncing their names. Jacob laid his right hand not on the head of Joseph’s firstborn son Manasseh, but on his younger brother Ephraim thereby declaring that “his descendants will become a group of nations” (Genesis 48:19). The artist depicts the astonishment in the eyes of Joseph and his brothers at the reversal of the normal order of blessing. They are reminded of Jacob’s blessing of his younger son, Joseph. 

Question Title: 
May the other be mine?
Question Content: 

To meet the Other is to have the idea of Infinity.

—Emmanuel Levinas, (1906-1995)

The Heart’s Touch

Has a grandparent enfolded you an in embrace, holding you for a moment or two, perhaps without words? A kind of blessing. Your name, there even in the wordless silence of the moment. Have hands been placed tenderly on your head and words of blessing, welling up from the heart, washed over you? From a mother or father, perhaps, or a lover? Have you had a moment of realization that you are so blessed yourself that a flood of gratitude washed over you for being in the world, a blessing you wanted to pass to others? Or is such a moment of recognition difficult? Does it remind you of just how fragile life is, a finitude a bit too hard to bear? 

Music Content: 

Yemeni Shema (Israel) 

“Yemeni Shema (Israel).” traditional, Life of the Worlds: Journeys in Jewish Sacred Music, Richard Kaplan, Five souls Music, 2003. Track 17.


Sabbath Prayer 

“Sabbath Prayer.” Jerry Bock with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Fiddler on the Roof, Robert Merrill, baritone, Decca 1968. Track 3. 


Where Is It Written?

“Where is it Written? Michel Legrand, Yentl, Barbara Streisand, vocalist, Columbia 1963. Track 1.

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Image Summary: 

Jacob blessing Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, 6th–7th Century. 

Story Audio: 
Contemporary Story Audio: 

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