Vayechi – Shlishi

A Perpetual Blessing

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

When Yoseif saw how his father had positioned his hands, he tried to correct what he thought was a mistake. He went to move Yaakov’s right hand from Ephraim’s head to Menashe’s. “The other one is the first-born,” he told his father. “I know,” Yaakov replied. “He will also be a great nation, but the younger brother will be greater.” (Sure enough, the Northern Kingdom of the Ten Tribes is often referred to as Ephraim throughout the Bible.)

Yaakov blessed them and said that they would be a perpetual blessing for the Jewish nation. To this day, we use the blessing that sons should be like Ephraim and Menashe. (Why Ephraim and Menashe? Why not Shimon and Levi? Or Reuven and Yehuda? The answer is that the founders of the other Tribes were raised in the Holy Land, in Yaakov’s own home, so it’s not very surprising that they excelled. But Ephraim and Menashe were the first Jews born in exile. Despite the fact that they were raised in Egypt, they reached the same level as Yaakov’s own sons. The blessing wishes similar success in the face of spiritual adversity, which we all face in some form or another.)

Yaakov told Yoseif that, though they were in Egypt for the foreseeable future, G-d would ultimately restore the Jews to the land of Israel. Yaakov gave Yoseif an additional portion in the land, the city of Shechem, which was acquired through the ordeal of Dina, recorded in chapter 34. (A number of prominent commentators, including Rashi, Onkelos, and others, cite the Talmudic interpretation from Baba Basra 123a that the “sword” and “bow” of Yaakov refer to forms of prayer. See there for more.)

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