YOSEPH IS INFORMED THAT HIS FATHER Yaakov is ill, so he drops everything and takes his two sons Menashe and Ephraim to see their grandfather for what might be the last time. Yaakov promises that Hashems blessing to give the land of Israel to his children will apply equally to Yosephs sons: And now, your two sons who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you to Egypt are mine; Ephraim and Menashe will be like Reuven and Shimon for me (Bereishit 48:5).
AND YISRAEL SAW THE SONS OF YOSEPH and he said Who are these? And Yoseph said to his father, They are my sons, whom G-d has given me here. And he said, Bring them now to me and I will bless them. (48: 8-9).
AND YISRAEL SAID TO YOSEPH I thought I would never see your face, and behold G-d has even shown me your children (48:11).
IF WE READ THE DIALOGUE between Yaakov and Yoseph carefully, a puzzling question arises: Why doesnt Yaakov recognize his own grandchildren? From the outset, it is clear that he knows he has two grandsons named Menashe and Ephraim, yet he asks, Who are these? He has lived in Egypt for 17 years; have they never visited him before?
SOME COMMENTARIES attribute Yaakovs inability to discern that the two figures before him are his grandsons to his failing eyesight: And Yisraels eyes were weak with age; he was not able to see (48:10). However, this fact is stated after the exchange between Yaakov and Yoseph that establishes the identity of Menashe and Ephraim; if blindness were the reason, it should have been mentioned earlier.
KEHILLAT YITZCHAK (R. Yitzchak ben Nissan of Vilna, 18th century) suggests that in order to function in Egyptian society as the sons of the vizier, Menashe and Ephraim had to attend Egyptian schools, and so they dressed in Egyptian school uniforms. However, upon returning home, they changed into the clothing of their heritage. In this way, they would be equipped to represent their people effectively before the Egyptian court, without relinquishing their attachment to their family origins, (not to mention their aspirations to return to Canaan).
THEREFORE, WHENEVER MENASHE and Ephraim came to visit their grandfather to care for him and learn Torah with him they would be dressed as Yaakov was. This time, however, the news of Yaakovs illness caught Yoseph unprepared, and he brought his sons to their grandfather while they were still wearing their Egyptian school uniforms. Yaakov asks, Who are these? I see they are Menashe and Ephraim, but I have never seen them dressed this way, apparently assimilated into the Egyptian royal court. Yaakov is understandably worried.
YOSEPH REASSURES HIM (v.9): These are my sons whom G-d has given me here just as I have remained loyal to the values of Torah while living in Egypt, so have they, and they certainly know about Hashem. However, in these circumstances we must behave a certain way. Do not worry though, despite these outward signs, they know who they are. It is evident then that Yoseph is forced by circumstances to reveal his familys fractured existence to his father.
DOUBTLESS THIS REVELATION resonated with Yaakov who himself had to spend twenty years in the foreign and antagonistic environment of Lavan. He, too, declares (see Rashi, 32:5) I have lived with Lavan and kept the 613 commandments.
YAAKOV NOW UNDERSTANDS the pressing need to bless his grandsons: G-d, before Whom my fathers Avraham and Yitzchak walked; G-d, who cared for me from my beginning until this day; the angel who redeemed me from every evil; may He bless the young men and may my name and the name of my fathers Avraham and Yitzchak be called upon them; and may they multiply greatly in the midst of the land (48:15-16). Yaakovs blessing emphasizes the connection to Hashem and continuity with the Patriarchs, in order to ensure Menashes and Ephraims success in the midst of the land of Egypt.
YAAKOV UNDERSTANDS that his grandchildren will have to maintain their names and ideals and protect them even more carefully than he had to in Lavans house. Their challenges, the challenges of public life, are even greater and more difficult than those faced in Lavans house and thus they need Hashems special blessing.
THERE ARE MANY TENSIONS for the Jew living within a secular society. The problems are legion and the solutions are complex and elusive. Among the questions that must be asked are: How can I best serve Hashem and help the Jewish people? What preparations must be made in order to ensure that I achieve my goals? How shall I maintain my identity? Will my behavior increase or diminish anti-Semitism? Have I strayed so far from my ideals that those who imparted them to me my parents, grandparents, and teachers would not recognize me? Or can I assure them that I am one of Yosephs children, functioning in the world, while staying true to Torah?
YAAKOV AND YOSEPH provide a solution by their own examples. Before venturing out into the world where Lavan was dominant, Yaakov learned in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever for 14 years (Rashi, 28:11). Yoseph was able do resist the advances of his master Potiphars wife only because the image of his father appeared to him (Rashi, 39:11); and even in Pharaoh's palace, Yoseph never stops invoking Hashems name. Only by strengthening their ties with their Torah values could the Children of Israel survive.
WE, TOO, MUST GUARD and constantly work on the sanctity of our
Jewish identity: to establish times for Torah study, to improve our mitzvah performance, and suffuse our homes with Jewish ideals. And we need a blessing like that of Yaakov to his grandchildren, a blessing that preserves a connection to our ancestry and an awareness of Hashems presence.