Torah Insights for Shabbat
Parshat Vayechi 5758
January 10, 1998
Before his death, Yaakov blessed his grandsons, the two sons of
Yosef. "Becha," he told them, "By you will Israel bless [its children],
saying, 'May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe.'"
In his sefer, Be'er Yosef, Rav Yosef Tzvi Salant asks why Becha, the singular tense, is used when the subjects of the blessing seem to be the two grandsons. Shouldn't the plural tense, Bachem, be used?
Rav Salant explains that Ephraim and Menashe, as sons of a powerful leader, had opportunities not available to the general public. Menashe became managing director of the Viceroy's household, while Ephraim studied Torah at the highest levels. Who could ask for a better package of Yiddishe nachas?
How is it possible, therefore, for people who are poor and downtrodden or who are far from the halls of Torah to conceptualize the blessing of Ephraim and Menashe? How might it apply to them? Even someone of modest means may feel that the fulfillment of these blessings is far beyond his reach. Why has this blessing become so essential that we utilize it every Friday evening to bless our children?
The answer, Rav Salant notes, becomes clear when we come to appreciate all that transpired to Yosef. He rose to great heights despite everything he went through--the horror and degradation of being sold as a slave, the accusation of sexual harassment, the prison sentence.
From these dismal depths of despair did he rise to greatness. He became Viceroy of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh--a model for his people and for all times. Yes, it is possible to reach great heights, even from the lowliest of circumstances.
This is what Yaakov meant when he blessed Yosef's children. Becha, through you, because of you, Yosef, will all the children of Israel, even those in adverse circumstance, be comfortable in reciting this blessing. The grandfather blesses his grandchildren through his son. The chut hameshulash, the cord of continuity, will never be torn asunder.
If we reach for the highest goals and apply ourselves with diligence we can attain a level far beyond those who are satisfied with less. In every generation, our blessing is appropriate: "May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe."
Rabbi Jacob J. Greenberg
Rabbi Greenberg is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Tikvah Knesseth Israel in Brooklyn, New York.
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