Be Like Ephraim and Manasseh

Yael Eckstein  |  December 24, 2023

Painting of a man blessing two children

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

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Vayechi, which means “and he lived,” from Genesis 47:28–50:26.

In accordance with Jewish tradition, my husband and I bless our children with the priestly blessing from Numbers 6:23-27 every Friday night before the Sabbath meal. We preface this blessing with another one. 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.”

Understandably, we bless our girls to be like the matriarchs. However, instead of blessing our boys to be like the patriarchs, we bless them to be like the children of Joseph, because Ephraim and Manasseh accomplished something unique—something we would like our own sons to achieve.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read that Joseph brought Ephraim and Manasseh to be blessed by Jacob. He placed Manasseh under Jacob’s right hand. The right hand signifies strength, and as the eldest, Manasseh was deserving of the stronger blessing. Ephraim was placed under Jacob’s left hand.

Follow Ephraim and Manasseh

However, much to Joseph’s surprise, Jacob crossed his hands, placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head and the left one on Manasseh. He saw prophetically that while great men would descend from both sons, Ephraim’s offspring had a greater destiny to fulfill and needed the stronger blessing.

Amazingly, Manasseh didn’t protest. He was not jealous or resentful of his brother. Ephraim and Manasseh were the first brothers in the covenantal family who loved each other unconditionally and did not fight.

This is why we bless our sons to be like Ephraim and Manasseh. Because, as important as it is to be righteous and holy like the patriarchs, it is critical to live in harmony with our brethren. As it says in Psalms, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (133:1 KJV). Few things make the Lord happier then when there is unity among His children. And as parents, we all know how good and pleasant it is when our children get along.

In truth, we should all aspire to be like Ephraim and Manasseh and follow their example. We need to be happy for others when they receive blessings and encourage each other to succeed. We need to let go of jealousy, judgment, and strife. When we help each other and support one another, we will all lead better lives.

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