Parashat Vayechi – ‘May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menasheh’ (Who are those guys anyway?)

Posted on December 15, 2021

Rabbi Alex Freedman

On Friday nights, Jewish parents bless their girls that they should be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. OK, that makes sense because these are our Matriarchs.But what’s the story with the boys?We would expect to invoke the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But that’s notwhat we say. Instead we speak about two men we don’t know much about at all – Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Menasheh. What do these two – who were born and raised in Egypt – have that the illustrious Avot (Patriarchs) do not? The Etz Hayim Humash commentary offers two possibilities.

1. They were the first children to maintain their Jewish identity in a foreign land, as the earlier generations all lived in Israel. These two spent their life in Egypt, but nonethelessfelt a connection to being Jewish and continued the traditions onward. For diaspora communities throughout history, this was an inspiring model. If Ephraim and Menasheh could do it, we can do it too.

2. These were the first brothers to get along peacefully. Most unfortunately, it took many generations to see siblings who were not rivals. Cain and Abel’s relationship ended in murder. Isaac and Ishmael’s ended in banishment. While Jacob and Esau reconciled as adults, for many years Esau wanted his brother dead for stealing his father’s blessing. Joseph’s brothers left him to die in a pit before making a shekel while selling him down to Egypt. By contrast, since Ephraim and Menasheh had no strife between them, this was great progress! Even when Jacob switched the birth order and gave preference to the younger over the older, they still did not go after each other.

For our children and ourselves, let’s not aim for fame or notoriety, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Instead, let’s aim for peace and harmony within our families and our world. Let’s aim to be like Ephraim and Menasheh.