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Vayechi 5773

By: Rav Avigdor Meyerowitz

The minhag in many homes on Shabbat evening is to bless the children before the Shabbat meal. The sons are Blessed with the pasuk 'May Hashem make you like Ephraim and like Menashe,' (Breishit 48;20), whereas the daughters are blessed with the phrase May Hashem make you like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. Why is it that the bracha for the sons is the pasuk regarding Ephraim and Menashe? Why don't we bless them to be like the Avot Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov. Throughout sefer Bereishit there have been many berachot and further on in the Parsha Yaakov blesses all of the tribes with their particular berachot too, so what is it about Ephraim and Menashe that merited them the honour of being the paradigm of blessing for our sons? Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch and others have explained that the reason Ephraim and Menashe were chosen is because unlike all the other tribes that grew up and lived their lives in the company of each other and Ya'akov Avinu, they grew up amongst the Mitzrim in an environment and culture that was foreign to the legacy of Bet Yisrael. Yet despite that, Yosef succeeded in bringing up his children in the environment of Mitzrayim in a way that remained faithful to that of the Avot. In the words of Rav Hirsch: "In Mitzrayim there was only one Jew, whose wife was the daughter of the high-priest of idol-worship; if despite this he merited to educate his children so well that they became the exemplar of blessings for future generations, this is surely extremely worthy of special note." Over the long-lasting and difficult period of galut this theme obviously had a meaningful and pertinent message for parents and children struggling to maintain their Jewish identity and loyalty in the midst of foreign and sometimes alien cultures. The message is possibly still so important to remember in the society we live in both in Eretz Yisrael and in galut where it cannot be taken for granted that our children will remain attached to their Jewish heritage. (See Beit Halevi on Yaakovs fear of Eisav "Hatzileini na miyad ahi miyad Eisav). The Netziv has an interesting understanding of why we bless our children to be like Ephraim and Menashe. The pasuk says: "So he blessed them on that day, saying, "With you, Israel will bless, saying, 'May Hashem make you like Ephraim and like Menashe,' and he placed Ephraim before Menashe." (Breishit 48;20) What is meant by the term: "on that day"? The Netziv says that it is that day when people will bless their children. This idea is also suggested by the Targum Yonatan who adds in his translation that it is referring to the day that a father does Brit Milah to his son that he will bless him with this Bracha. However who were Ephraim and Menashe that we are blessing our sons to be like? The Netziv, based on Chazal in the Midrash, explains that Menashe and Ephraim were very different. Menashe excelled in the management and success of worldly issues. He was the one who studied languages and aided his father in the running of Mitzrayim. Ephraim, on the other hand, was the spiritual figure who learned Torah with his grandfather, Ya'akov. The Netziv explains that the nature of a Bracha is not to bestow upon one something that one does not have, but rather to arouse in a person an appreciation of one's potential. How is it then that we bless our children to be like Ephraim and Menashe who were so different one from the other? The Netziv explains that we are blessing as follows: If you are talented in the same way as Menashe, may you be successful in that way to the fullest. However if you are talented in the same way as Ephraim may you be then blessed to realize your potential in that way. It's basically an "either/or" situation. That is why originally (and still in many Sephardic communities) this Bracha is said at the Brit before we know the nature and qualities of the child. The message though, that both parents and children should learn to recognize their talents and abilities and work towards their realization, remains relevant even at an older age. One of the favourite explanations regarding the nature of this Bracha is that it should be appreciated in contrast to the rest of Sefer Bereishit. One of the main themes (if notthe main one) of Sefer Bereishit is the sibling rivalry. This rivalry starts with Kayin and Hevel, a rivalry that resulted in Kayin killing Hevel. It is quite astonishing when we consider that these two people were the only people in the world besides their parents, yet it resulted in a brother killing his brother. Next there was the rivalry between Yitzchak and Yishmael, which eventually resulted in the expulsion of Yishmael from the house of Avraham (possibly before Yishmael would kill Yitzchak, see Rashi Bereishit 21;9). Next there was the conflict between Ya'akov and Eisav which resulted in the treachery between the two over the Bechora and the Beracha, and which eventually caused Ya'akov to flee for his life to escape the sword of Eisav. Finally, of course, there is the rivalry between Yosef and his brothers which takes up the vast majority of the last Parshiyot and includes thoughts of murder, selling as a slave and abandoning in a foreign land without bother. Contrary to the initial thought we have about sibling relations and love for each other, at least from Sefer Bereishit it seems that for brothers to hate each other is quite normal and even natural. After all they are competing over the same thing, the inheritance (sometimes the love?) of their parents. The more valuable and meaningful the inheritance, the deeper the rivalry becomes. How much more so when one sibling is favored by a parent over others, especially when he is not the first in line! In light of all this what makes Ephraim and Menashe so special is the way they react to the Bracha of Ya'akov. Despite the fact that Ya'akov puts his right hand on Ephraim and mentions him first in the Bracha, they remain silent. No fighting, no quarrelling, no animosity, not a word. There is acceptance. In merit of this unique reaction, the humility and modesty of their behavior, do we therefore bless all our generations to come that they will adopt this middot as well - a blessing of peace and harmony for our children. In conclusion I would like to add that, notwithstanding the above explanations, I personally feel that the question I asked at the beginning of the article is stronger than the answers mentioned here. What bothers me most is that when saying these words to our sons, that they should be "like Ephraim and Menashe", what do we mean? Who were Ephraim and Menashe? From the simple peshat of the pesukim we know nothing about them. True the midrashim and Chazal are laden with stories and information about them, but why is it not even hinted at in the pesukim? (see Ha'amek Davar, Bereishit 11) Why also would the blessing for our sons be based primarily on thoughts of assimilation and sibling rivalry. Shouldn't the starting point be something more positive? What about our daughters? Don't these issues apply to them as well? What if there is only one child where there is no sibling rivalry? As mentioned above, there is much to be learnt from the explanations previously explained, however I would be grateful to those who would like to share their thoughts on this issue' "lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah". Shabbat Shalom Rav Avigdor avig68@gmail.com

 

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