Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bless You - Parshat Vayechi

Did you miss me last week? Sorry about that - with Chanukah celebrations, a trip to visit family in Florida and adjusting to the new job (which is going very well!) I didn't make it over to Double Portion. But I'm back for the final portion in the Book of Genesis, Parshat Vayechi.

We loose two of our trusty Biblical characters in this portion and learn of the legacy they leave behind. At the age of 147 Jacob passes away surrounded by his family and at the end of the portion his son Joseph passes at 110. But before either of them expire Jacob leaves Joseph with a double portion of inheritance for his two sons Ephrayim and Menasheh.

These two boys are the first Jacob wishes to bless when he is ailing. He announces that these grandsons will be like actual children to him. "Ephrayim and Menasheh shall be mine no less than Reuven and Shimon." Grief and a feeling of loss are what motivates him - since his beloved wife Rachel was taken before she was able to have more children. We know that her two children we're Jacob's favorite, and the fact that they have healthy children of their own is a blessing to Jacob "I never expected to see you again Joseph, and here God has let me see your children as well."

These words must have made Joseph swell with pride, but a moment later he is confused by his father's actions. As Jacob stretches out his hands to bless his grandchildren, he puts his right hand on the younger Ephrayim. However, the right hand is typically used to bless the older child and Joseph tries to correct his father. But it becomes clear that Jacob wasn't experiencing any confusion himself. He explains that though the older son Menasheh will become a great people, the younger one will be even greater.

The blessing that he gives them are now lyrics to the children's lullaby "Hamalach Hagoel" (which translates to the redeeming angel) -
The God in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked
The God who has been my Shepard from birth till today
The angel who has redeemed me from harm, bless these boys.
In them may my name be recalled and the names of my fathers Abraham and Issac and may they be teeming nations upon the earth.

Jacob concludes the blessing by stating that all parents of Israel will bless their children to be like Ephrayim and Menasheh and indeed, to this day parents bless their sons before Shabbat Dinner with "May God make you like Ephrayim and Menasheh. May God bless you and guard you ..." (daughters get blessed to be like Sara, Rivkah, Rachel and Lea). Sam's father calls each week before Shabbat to give him this blessing over the phone lines, and my father does the same for me and my brother when we aren't together for Shabbat. But in our families we are strict about giving these blessings in birth order - I get mine before my brother gets his. However, Jacob does just the opposite with his grandchildren and succeeds in switching the status of Ephrayim to that of the older and Menasheh to the younger. This flip flop reminds me of the way Jacob stole the rite of the first born from his brother Esav and got his blessing from his dad. I guess that old habits die hard for Jacob.

To remember this Ephrayim and Menasheh switch we're going to take an item that appears at the beginning of the meal and bring it back at the end - to serve challah for dessert. I've found a bread pudding recipe that you can make in a crock pot! Now I love to cook in the crock pot, but I have never ventured into the realm of slow cooker desserts. I got the idea from a cookbook that I recently added to my collection - Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes by Laura Frankel. So far I have only tried one recipe from her book because I'm finding that the recipes call for a bit too much hands on attention for a cooking method that is praise for the fact that one can throw a bunch of things in and come back eight hours later to a savory dish with well developed flavors. But I guess I should trust this kosher chef who worked for Wolfgang Puck.

I can't share pics because my plan it to put it in the crock pot about an hour before Shabbat and then keep it on warm until dessert time - which is sounding like a perfect idea after seeing that the temperature is going to drop to 22 degrees here in Cambridge!

Slow Cooker Bread Pudding
Adapted from Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes by Laura Frankel

2 tbsp shortening (like buttery sticks, see image below)
1 lb challah loaf
4 eggs
4 cups full fat soy milk
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 sugar
1/4 maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/ cup chopped toasted pecans
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Optional Sauce
1.5 cups maple syrup
1/2 cup honey
1 tbsp cinnamon

Grease the bottom of the slow cooker insert with some shortening. Slice the challah into 1.5 inch slices and lay them in the bottom of the insert.

In a bowl whisk the eggs, soy milk, sugars, syrup, vanilla, pecans, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour this mixture over the bread and cook on high for 3 hours. Keep on warm until ready to serve.

If you would like to make the sauce, bring the syrup, honey and cinnamon to a boil in a small saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve this drizzled over your plated dessert.


  1. Elisha, my sister bought me this cookbook for my bday back in April and we use it alllll the time! We've made a bunch of dishes from it (mostly dinner food) and everything's come out amazing! It's definitely more work than your average slow cooker recipe, but the payoff is more than worth it :-) Let me know what else you make from this book! Glad the new job is going well!

  2. Hey Alexis! I have made one savory dish from the cookbook so far - preserved lemon chicken which was pretty cool - I know have a whole bunch of preserved lemons to us. Thanks for the encouragement to keep on trying.