One of the most beautiful and moving weekly occurrences in the Jewish home is
when, after the father of the family returns from synagogue on Friday evening –
the eve of Shabbat – and before he makes Kiddush on a glass of wine, his sons
and daughters gather around him and he blesses them.
Besides the personal
blessings the father bestows, he uses ancient Jewish words: He blesses his girls
with “May G-d make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah,” the mothers of the
Jewish nation; and he blesses his boys with “May G-d make you like Ephraim and
Menashe.” The father recites this blessing with even greater potency on the eve
of Yom Kippur, before the Kol Nidrei prayer.
Who were Ephraim and
Menashe, who merited entering the lexicon of Jewish blessings? They were the
sons of Joseph, born to him in Egypt. The text of this blessing was determined
by our forefather Jacob in his old age, prior to his passing from this world,
when he met the grandchildren he had never seen; they had been in Egypt while he
lived in the Land of Israel, then called the Land of Canaan. He conveyed his
appreciation of them with the following words: “By thee shall Israel bless,
saying: G-d make you as Ephraim and as Menashe” (Genesis 48:20).
question that arises every time we read Jacob’s blessing to his grandsons is,
“Why wouldn’t a father bless his sons ‘G-d make you as Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob,’ who are the forefathers of the Jewish nation?” Why are Ephraim and
Menashe the role models a father chooses for his sons? We find the answer to
these questions in the verses preceding this one, which reveal that before
giving this blessing, Jacob ran a little test on his two
Joseph positioned his sons in front of his father, with
Menashe, the eldest, standing across from Jacob’s right hand, and the younger
Ephraim standing across from Jacob’s left hand. This position was set up on
purpose so Jacob would place his right hand, symbolizing strength and courage,
on the head of the elder son during the blessing.
But Jacob surprised
everyone, placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head and his left hand on
Joseph, noticing the change, did not understand why his
father was doing this and tried to return Jacob’s hands to the natural order, in
which the eldest son is the one who continues the family heritage, but Jacob
insisted on his change. In the text of the blessing as well, he reversed the
order: He did not say, “G-d make you as Menashe and Ephraim,” but mentioned the
younger before the elder.
Why did Jacob do this? He was testing his
grandsons to see if they were worthy of his blessing. Was there equality between
them? Was there unity between them? Was the older one able to concede his
position to his younger brother? When Jacob saw that indeed, no dispute erupted
between them, he recognized the value of these grandsons whom he had not met
from the day of their birth, and he used their names in the text of the fathers’
blessing for their children.
SINCE THE dawn of humanity, brothers have
been high on the list of risk factors for disputes and conflict. Brothers, who
are the closest to one another biologically, tend to develop competitiveness and
jealousy toward each other, and consequently hatred. This is human nature, and
we see it around us every day. Family quarrels are the worst kind, since the
closeness and similarity serve as the basis for animosity and
The father about to bless his sons thinks about what the
most suitable blessing is.
What wish will serve the children best and
contribute to their future in the most efficient way? Jacob taught us that the
best thing with which we can bless our children is unity, peace and concession.
These are the values we wish to pass on to the next generation and with which we
express our love for our children.
Thus it is said in the prayer that
Rabbi Yeshayahu Halevi Horowitz – known as the Shla – wrote for fathers and
mothers to recite for their children: “Therefore, I have come to ask and beg
before You that my children and my children’s children shall be, eternally,
worthy. Only peace and truth, goodness and justice in the eyes of G-d and in the
eyes of man.... Give them health, honor and strength, give them stature, beauty,
grace and kindness. May there be love, brotherhood and peace between
May peace and brotherhood reside in our homes and our nation, so
that no enemy can harm us.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and
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