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Vayechi

"The Angel redeeming me from all evil, shall bless the lads… and let them increase fish-like in the midst of the earth" Genesis 48:16

    Sleep is an act of faith – "a 60th of death" (Talmud Berachot 57b) or more poetically "little slices of death", according to Edgar Allen Poe - and the miracle of waking up the next morning is acknowledged with Modeh Ani, some of the first words a child learns. The litany of bedtime prayers include the verse "The Angel redeeming me from all evil" - Jacob's blessing to Ephraim and Menashe - said with children as they drift off to sleep.

    On the night before a baby's brit, it is customary for young children to gather around the newborn's crib and recite the Shema and the verse "The Angel", due to their supposed protective powers. Apparently, in times when circumcision was forbidden, this gathering deceived the authorities into thinking this was the extent of the intended celebrations.

    The Maggid of Bergenfield, a contemporary story-teller, notes that Jacob says "the angel who redeems me from trouble" rather than "the angel who prevents me from getting into trouble". It is an insightful comment for those of us who struggle with the notion of free will - we all make choices and applaud ourselves when everything goes well, but if those choices turn sour, are quick to squabble with God.

    This poignant sidrah is replete with the consequences of choices made by our forefathers. As Jacob's final sleep approaches, he feels the need to articulate the significance of each of his sons' names, their choices and individual contribution to the spiritual landscape of the Jewish people.

    It is a sobering lesson: the names we give our children are a significant starting point. However, it is our choice to enable and encourage our children to take an active part in Jewish life within our communities. Failure to make that choice could lead to nights of disturbed sleep.

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