A Father's Blessing
It is an intensely Jewish and awe-inspiring spectacle. The father lifts
his hands, and the child bows his head. The father places his hands on the
child’s head, closes his eyes and begins to whisper his blessing. It
matters not if the father is a great sage or a simple man, the blessing
draws its power from the sincerity of the father.
Come, let us move a little closer and listen to the words he is
saying. “May the Lord establish you like Ephraim and Menashe! May Hashem
bless you and protect you . . .” These are the words our Sages, based on
Jacob’s instructions, have instituted as the formula for the paternal
blessing. But why Ephraim and Menashe? What was so special about Joseph’s
sons that they have become the paragons to which all Jewish children
In this week’s parshah, we witness the emotional scene of Jacob blessing
his grandsons Ephraim and Menashe from his deathbed. As Jacob reaches out
to place his hands on their heads, he sees that Joseph has positioned the
older Menashe to receive his grandfather’s right hand, which is considered
predominant, and the younger Ephraim to receive the left. But Jacob sees
greater things in Ephraim’s future, and he “maneuvers his hands,” crossing
over with the right hand to place it on Ephraim’s head and the left on
We would not have been surprised had the elder Menashe resented the
preeminence accorded to his younger brother, but there is not the
slightest hint of such a reaction in the Torah. Nor do we find any hint of
Ephraim feeling suddenly superior. On the contrary, Menashe and Ephraim
were both perfectly content with the roles they had been assigned to play
in the destiny of the Jewish people. There was absolutely no discord
between these two brothers, only a desire to fulfill their own individual
destinies to the best of their abilities and a selfless dedication to
their common goal of doing what was best for the Jewish people as a whole.
This, the commentators explain, is the perfect blessing a father can give
his son. The most blessed state a person can achieve is to reach his own
full potential while maintaining a sense of equilibrium - or in our
contemporary parlance, to be a “contented overachiever.” This is quite an
accomplishment, but we can attain it if we rise above the pettiness of
coveting what Heaven has chosen to grant someone else. If we look inward
at what we ourselves can be, we can focus on our growth and, at the same
time, relate to other people in a positive, giving and compassionate way.
If, however, we look outward at what others have been given, we will never
find contentment and the growth that it fosters. Ephraim and Menashe found
that rare harmony of achievement and contentment, and we bless our
children that they should find it as well.
A weary traveler was returning home after a long journey. As he trudged
along the road, he tried not to think of the blisters on his feet.
Instead, he thought only about his younger brother’s wedding, which was to
take place the following day. One day’s march more, and he would be home.
Suddenly, he heard the clatter of hooves, and he turned and saw a
beautiful coach. “My good man,” he called out to the coachman. “Can I
catch a ride with you for a ways? I’ll sit beside you on the bench, and
I’ll tell you where I have to get off.”
“Today’s your lucky day,” said the coachman. “No one’s using the coach.
You can ride inside.”
The traveler couldn’t believe his good fortune as he sank into the plush
upholstery. Within moments, he was fast asleep.
He slept for hours while the coach followed a bewildering course of
highways and roads. Finally, the coach pulled to a halt, and the traveler
awoke. The sun was sinking in the sky as he rubbed his eyes and looked
“Where are we?” he asked.
The coachman mentioned the name of a town.
“What!” the traveler cried out in anguish. “I’ll never get to my
destination in time. We’ve been riding in the opposite direction!”
“Well, look at the bright side,” said the coachman. “At least your ride
A comfortable ride is not much consolation when one is going in the wrong
direction. And if we devote too much of our energy to comfort and status,
we may very well lose sight of the true destination in our journey through
life,. Especially in our own times, when there is such peer pressure to
focus on the accumulation of comforts, we would do better to focus on the
activities that help us reach our destination. And when we sit down to
define the goals of our lives, we will surely find that we care more about
who and what we are than about what we have accumulated. Of one thing we
can be sure - we have all been given the tools we need to fulfill our
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.