by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – January 5, 2012

In the Torah reading of VaYechi, we read (Bereshit 49:20): “And Jacob blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you shall [the people of] Israel bless saying, “May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Menashe”’ and he put Ephraim before Menashe.”

In fact, religious Jews to this day bless their children to be like Ephraim and Menashe.  Nevertheless, the question arises as to what makes Ephraim and Menashe so special to warrant our desire that our children should be like them.

There is an explanation attributed to mussar (ethics) teachers of Navardhok, cited by R. Yissocher Frand (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 2, pp. 94-96).

While the human race, especially the younger members, are given to complaining about the inequity and unfairness that they see and experience, Ephraim and Menashe were very different.  When Menashe saw that his grandfather Jacob was giving precedence to his younger brother Ephraim, he could have cried foul.  When Ephraim, in turn, perceived his father Joseph attempting to correct the situation, he could have contested the switch.  Yet there were no complaints.

Despite the apparent inequality and unfairness, there was no demonstration of conceit on the part of Ephraim nor jealousy on the part of Menashe.  The two brothers got along despite the seeming unfairness.  They trusted the judgment of their father and grandfather.  Seeing this wonderful display of perfect harmony between the two brothers, Jacob was inspired to say about all our offspring, “’May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Menashe’ and he put Ephraim before Menashe.”  Jacob hoped that just as he gave precedence to Ephraim before Menashe and it caused no jealousy or ill will, may all his descendents learn to do the same.

May we all live in perfect harmony and not jump to complain about the seeming inequitable practices of parents and others, and may we learn to rely on the judgment of those older and wiser than we, for our sakes and the sake of the greater good of humanity at large.