Menashe and Ephraim: Tying up Loose Ends
by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, author of Unlocking the Torah Text
Upon hearing that Yaakov has fallen ill, Yosef gathers his sons, Menashe and Ephraim, and rushes to his father’s bedside.
During the ensuing conversation Yaakov takes two dramatic steps that carry powerful practical implications for the future.
1. Yaakov proclaims that Menashe and Ephraim will be considered on par with his own children in the determination of his legacy. Through this statement, Yaakov creates the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe in place of the single tribe of Yosef.
2. The patriarch blesses his grandchildren as follows: “Through you will Israel bless, by saying: ‘May God make you like Ephraim and like Menashe…’” To this day, Jewish parents bless their sons with the formula “May God make you like Ephraim and like Menashe,” while daughters are blessed with the prayer “May God make you like Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.”
Why are Ephraim and Menashe counted among the tribes of Israel? No other grandchild of Yaakov is accorded this singular honor.
Why are Ephraim and Menashe chosen as the paradigms for our sons to emulate rather than the patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov? Do the oldest sons of Yosef possess specific character traits that we wish upon our own children or are we arbitrarily fulfilling Yaakov’s prophetic prediction: “Through you [Ephraim and Menashe] will Israel bless…”?
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Adapted from one of the multiple essays on this parsha in Unlocking the Torah Text by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin.
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