This week we read Parshas Vayechi. In the parsha, Jacob gives a most famous blessing to two of Joseph’s sons. “And he blessed them on that day saying, with you the Jews will bless their children saying ‘May Hashem make you like Ephraim and Menashe.’” (Genesis 48:20) This is the source for the universal custom among Jews, when a father blesses his sons on Friday night, he says these words – “May Hashem make you like Ephraim and Menashe.” Why do we use Epraim and Menashe as the examples with which to bless our sons with? Why not bless them to be like Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob? Why not bless them to be like any of the other tribes?
There are various thoughts offered about what made Ephraim and Menashe so special.
1. From the time of creation, the Torah recounts to us story after story of strife between brothers. First we are taught about Cain and Abel. Then we learn about Ishmael and Isaac. Then we have the story of Essau and Jacob, followed by the brothers against Joseph. Ephraim and Menashe, on the other hand, are examples of love among brothers in spite of causes for contention. When Jacob blessed Menashe and Efraim, instead of putting his right hand on Menashe, who was the older son, he crossed his hands, laying the right one on Ephraim, the younger one, and the left hand on Menashe, the older one. Joseph was distressed, and tried to move the hands of Jacob. Jacob told him that his actions were deliberate, for Ephraim, the younger one, would be the greater one. (Genesis 48:17-19) Yet, no record is made of any resentment or hatred from Menashe to Ephraim. This is certainly remarkable. This ability to look beyond small arguments and to get along is a beautiful trait that we always bless our children with.
2. Another idea suggested is based on the fact that unlike all the tribes, Menashem and Efraim didn’t grow up in the house of Jacob. They grew up in a strange land, where there were certainly many influences surrounding them that were not conducive to spiritual growth. Egypt was know for its low moral standards. Yet, they emerged as two righteous boys, fit to be counted as tribes of Israel. This is the blessing that we give to our sons: We don’t know where Hashem will bring you. May He give you the strength and courage that no matter what, wherever you are, you should emerge righteous and loyal servants of His.