Ramblings of an Old Man?
In the beginning of Bereshit 48, Yaakov speaks to Yosef privately for the final time. In these last words to his beloved son, Yaakov mentions several disparate points that at first glance have nothing to do with each other:
(ג) וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל יוֹסֵף אֵל שַׁדַּי נִרְאָה אֵלַי בְּלוּז בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתִי. (ד) וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי הִנְנִי מַפְרְךָ וְהִרְבִּיתִךָ וּנְתַתִּיךָ לִקְהַל עַמִּים וְנָתַתִּי אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת לְזַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ אֲחֻזַּת עוֹלָם. (ה) וְעַתָּה שְׁנֵי בָנֶיךָ הַנּוֹלָדִים לְךָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם עַד בֹּאִי אֵלֶיךָ מִצְרַיְמָה לִי הֵם אֶפְרַיִם וּמְנַשֶּׁה כִּרְאוּבֵן וְשִׁמְעוֹן יִהְיוּ לִי...
(ז) וַאֲנִי בְּבֹאִי מִפַּדָּן מֵתָה עָלַי רָחֵל בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּעוֹד כִּבְרַת אֶרֶץ לָבֹא אֶפְרָתָה וָאֶקְבְּרֶהָ שָּׁם בְּדֶרֶךְ אֶפְרָת הִוא בֵּית לָחֶם.
(3) And Yaakov said to Yosef, "El Shaddai appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me." (4) And he said to me, "I will make you fertile and make you many, and I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land to your offspring after you as an everlasting possession." (5) And now, your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Menashe like Reuven and Shimon, will be mine…
(7) And I when I came from Paddan, Rachel died on me, in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still a stretch of land left to come to Efrat, and I buried her there on the way to Efrat, which is Beit Lechem.
What do these different memories have in common? What relevance does Rachel's burial have to the prophecy in Beit El or to the choice of Ephraim and Menashe? Are Yaakov's words just the stream of consciousness of an elderly man whose thoughts flow from past to present and back, or are they a well crafted speech with an important final message for Yosef? Assuming the latter, what is it that Yaakov intends to impart?
In equating Ephraim and Menashe with Reuven and Shimon, Yaakov apparently grants Yosef's sons tribal status. Unlike Yaakov's other sons who will each get but one portion in the land, Yosef is to receive a double inheritance, through both of his elder sons. What is prompting this gift and what is its practical significance? Is Yaakov once again motivated by favoritism towards the oldest son of his first love, Rachel, or does the choice have more to do with the individual characters of Menashe and Ephraim? Moreover, what gives Yaakov the authority to make this decision?
"Who are They?"
While the first section of the chapter might lead one to believe that Yaakov had such a close bond with Ephraim and Menashe that he viewed them as if they were his own sons, the continuation makes one wonder whether he had any relationship with them at all. In verse 8, when Yaakov notices Ephraim and Menashe, he turns to Yosef and says "מִי אֵלֶּה?" ("Who are they?"), to which Yosef dutifully responds "בָּנַי הֵם" ("They are my sons"). Why does Yaakov not recognize his grandsons? Is it due to old age or failing eyesight, or is it possible that he rarely, if ever, saw them? What light might this shed on the religious character of Yosef's family?