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A Father’s Blessing

by | Feb 19, 2004

Before Jacob’s death in this week’s Torah portion, he decides to give a blessing to each of his children. He also gives a special blessing to Joseph’s two sons, Menashe and Ephraim. Strangely, in the middle of the passage describing that blessing, the Torah says, “Jacob blessed Joseph saying. . .” (Genesis 48:15), and then continues to discuss Menashe and Ephraim’s blessing. We are therefore left to ponder what was the blessing given to Joseph to which the Torah refers?

Rabbi Samuel Baruch Schulman, a contemporary rabbi in Israel, explains that by blessing Joseph’s sons, Jacob was also blessing Joseph, for it is truly a blessing to a father when his children are blessed to be good and righteous.

A further question arises regarding the blessing that Jacob gave Joseph’s sons. Jacob tells them, “Through you shall the Jewish people bless saying, ‘May Hashem make you like Ephraim and Menashe'” (ibid. 48:20). Indeed, throughout the generations this has been the blessing given to every Jewish boy, conferred by many every Friday night on their sons. Why is so much emphasis placed upon Ephraim and Menashe when so little is known about them? It would seemingly make more sense to say, “May Hashem make you like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”, parallel to the blessing given to girls, “May Hashem make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.” Just like we bless our daughters to be like the Matriarchs, why don’t we bless our sons to be like the Patriarchs?

Ephraim and Menashe grew up in the lap of Egyptian royalty. Their father, Joseph, was second in command of the greatest empire at that time. Their lives were drowned in Egyptian culture, making it very easy for them to assimilate. It is for this reason, explains Rabbi Yehudah Leib Ginzberg, the late rabbi of Denver, Colorado, that we bless our children to be like Ephraim and Menashe. Although they were raised in the foreign, hostile environment of Egypt, they did not assimilate. They remained true to their faith, even in a society filled with so many temptations. Jacob knew that in the future, his children, the Jewish people, would be spread around the world, often in difficult surroundings. Therefore, Jacob prayed that regardless of their situation, Jewish children should remain loyal to the Torah, just as Ephraim and Menashe did in Egypt.

Yoel Feiler, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, writes from New York.