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Like Ephraim and Manasseh

Man with hands on sons for priestly blessing at the Western Walll.

He blessed them that day and said,
        “In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing:
        ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”

 So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.”—Genesis 48:20

This Torah portion for this week is Vayechi, which means “and he lived,” from Genesis 47:28–50:26, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 2:1–12.

Every Friday night, when Jewish families gather around the table to celebrate the Sabbath festive meal, parents bless their children. To the girls we say, “May God make you like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah.” To the boys we say, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.” It’s easy to understand why we choose to bless our girls to be like the great matriarchs. But why don’t we bless our sons to be like the holy patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Why do we choose Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, instead?

Ephraim and Manasseh accomplished something that no one else in the covenantal family had. Isaac and Ishmael were brothers, but they weren’t able to live together. Ishmael was banned from Abraham’s home. Jacob and Esau were twins, and they, too, had their share of sibling rivalry. At one point, Esau wanted to kill his brother. Next came the twelve sons of Jacob, and as we know, their relationship with Joseph wasn’t perfect either. Their jealousy of Jacob’s favorite led them to sell their brother into slavery.

Finally, Ephraim and Manasseh arrived on the scene. Joseph placed the older son, Manasseh, under Jacob’s right hand. The right hand is considered the stronger of the two, both physically and spiritually. Manasseh, the older brother, was deserving of that privilege. Ephraim, the younger brother, was placed under Jacob’s left hand, the weaker hand. But to Joseph’s surprise, Jacob switched his hands by crossing them over and placing his right hand on the younger brother’s head and the left one on the older brother. Was this a mistake?

Jacob explained that he had seen in prophecy that great men will come from Ephraim, the younger brother, and so he needed the greater blessing to help those descendants. Amazingly, Manasseh doesn’t protest. He was not jealous, and he was not resentful. Ephraim and Manasseh were the first brothers who loved each other unconditionally and did not fight.

This is why parents bless their sons to be like Ephraim and Manasseh. Because, as great as it is to be righteous and holy like the patriarchs, it is so critical to be able to live in harmony with others. As it says in the Psalms: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (133:1). Few things make the Lord happier then when there is unity among His children. It is this principle upon which I founded The Fellowship, building bridges of understanding and harmony between Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters.

Let Ephraim and Manasseh be our example in our daily life. Let us be happy for the successes of our friends and support them in their times of difficulty. When we are spiteful or jealous, we end up hurting ourselves and each other. We are all our best when living in unity together.

 

 

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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