Parashat Vay’ehi 5778
“May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe”
In this week’s parashah, the last parashah of the Book of Genesis, you may find the blessings Jacob gave to each of his sons before he passed away. Before that, he had specifically called his grandsons, Ephraim and Menashe, who were Joseph’s sons, in order to give them a blessing, too.
It is written in the Torah: “On that day Jacob blessed them, saying, “By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: God make you like Ephraim and Menashe’.” (Genesis 48:20)
Why is Jacob saying that we should bless our children, to be like Ephraim and Menashe? Why not like our patriarchs or other important figures of the Torah? What was special about them?
One explanation is that Ephraim and Menashe were the first brothers among our forefathers who lived without rivalry. Before them came Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and, of course, Joseph and Joseph’s brothers—all relationships fraught with conflicts and competition. Ephraim and Menashe were brothers who had a good relationship and lived in harmony. By blessing our children to be like Ephraim and Menashe, we seek to bestow upon our children the legacy of peace and harmony between siblings.
Another explanation is that Ephraim and Menashe were the first children who were born and grew up outside of the Land of Israel. Ephraim and Menashe maintained their identity as Israelites, even though they lived in a place where they were surrounded by the Egyptians and their gods. The ability to remain faithful to Judaism, even when it is a struggle, is a legacy that we want to pass on to our children.
Based on the blessing Jacob gave to his grandsons Ephraim and Menashe, we have the custom that parents bless their sons during Shabbat eve, usually before Shalom Aleichem or Kiddush, saying “May God make you as Ephraim and Menashe.” We say, “May God make you as Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah” to the daughters and then we say the priestly blessing to all the children:
“May God bless you and watch over you.
May God shine His face toward you and show you favor.
May God be favorably disposed toward you and grant you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
The custom is for the parents to put their hands on the child’s head and recite the blessings.
I believe it is a beautiful custom we have every Shabbat. During the week we are very busy, running from place to place, nervous, tired, etc. However, Shabbat gives us a time to be relaxed, in peace, with the possibility to be close to our children.
This custom of bestowing a blessing on our children during Shabbat gives us the possibility to show our children our love and our wishes for them. Likewise, it expresses how proud we are of them and how happy and privileged we feel having them in our lives.
So, let’s enjoy blessing our children every Shabbat, as our patriarch Jacob did to his grandsons Ephraim and Menashe.
Let’s pray that our children and/or grandchildren may be like Ephraim and Menashe, who were siblings that had a good relationship and lived in harmony and who maintained their Jewish identity despite the challenges they experienced around them.