Sefer B’reishit, the book of Genesis, has always been my favorite. It is a narrative of creation and while a piece of a larger story, it is itself a cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth—much like the natural cycles of the earth. There are two specific parshiot which have always fascinated me: parashat Ha’yei Sarah, “life of Sarah,” in which we read of Sarah’s death and burial; the other is this week’s Torah portion, parashat V’yehi, “and he lived,” in which we read of the death of Jacob and Joseph, and their embalming in Egypt to be brought up to the Land of Israel. Each year as the cycle of Torah readings repeats itself, for generations and generations, we recall and reflect on the death of our ancestors by remembering their lives. “Life of Sarah,” “and he lived.” It is only fitting to close the narrative of the book of Genesis reflecting on life which began with creation.
In the story of creation, God offers a blessing at the end of each step in the process. Since the narrative of the book is one of the cycles of life and death, it is fitting to close the book of creation with a series of blessings. Upon Jacob’s death, he blesses each of the tribal heads, starting with Ephraim and Menasheh. Many parents have the custom of reciting the traditional blessing Friday night’s over their children, “may God make you like Ephraim and Menasheh.” (Genesis 48:20).
This time of year especially, as the seasonal cycle progresses towards winter, blessings over candles and the season abound in Jewish homes while so many light their menorahs. On the first night of Hannukah, in addition to the two blessings we say each of the eight nights, we say a third blessing. It is a somewhat unique blessing in the Jewish tradition, because unlike rituals like lighting candles to mark holidays and Shabbat, or uttering different blessings for different foods, this blessing can be said for just about any occasion.