Like Ephraim and Manasseh

Jacob laid his hands on Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and bestowed a blessing upon them. He declared that the children of Israel would henceforth bless their own children, saying, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!” In Jewish families, on Friday nights, while the family is gathering around the Sabbath table, the father lays his hands on his children and blesses them. To his sons he says, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.” To his daughters he says, “May God make you like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah.” He blesses each of the children with the words of the priestly benediction and, as he feels led, other words of encouragement and blessing.

Why would a father, on the one hand, bless his sons to be like Ephraim and Manasseh, while on the other hand, blessing his daughters to be like the matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah? Why not also ask that his sons be like the noble patriarchs?

The answer is in the Torah. Just before Jacob declared that Israel would bless their sons to be like Ephraim and Manasseh, he himself finished bestowing a blessing upon Ephraim and Manasseh. If we look more closely at the blessing he gave them, we discover that through this blessing he transfered the Abrahamic covenant and promises to Joseph’s sons. Just as Jacob had received the blessing from his father, Isaac, who received it from Abraham, he passes it on now to Ephraim and Manasseh:

The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and may my name live on in them, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth. (Genesis 48:15-16)

When Jacob asks that his name and the names of his fathers may live on in the boys, he is asking that they will walk in the same blessings and covenant relationship that God bestowed upon the patriarchs. So essentially, this blessing is equivalent to saying, “May God make you (Ephraim and Manasseh) like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” When we bless our sons, saying, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh,” the actual blessing in view is the blessing Jacob spoke over the boys. It’s not that Ephraim and Manasseh were so wonderful that we want our boys to be just like them. Instead, we want our boys to blessed with the same blessing they received from Jacob. We want them to be reckoned part of the covenant and blessings God bestowed on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When we bless our sons to be like Ephraim and Manasseh, we are asking for their inclusion in the Abrahamic legacy of covenant and blessing, a perfect symmetry with the matriarchal blessing over our daughters.

Vayechiויחי : “And he lived”
Torah : Genesis 47:28-50:26
Haftarah : 1 Kings 2:1-12
Gospel : Matthew 26-28

Source: Torah Portion