Yaakov Avinu was preparing for his final journey. As his life was coming to an end, he took the opportunity to speak to each of his sons, conveying to them personal and necessary messages and inspiration to guide them in the generations and millennia ahead. He began with his grandsons. He summoned Yosef, together with his sons, Menashe and Ephraim, and announced that these two grandsons will be counted amongst the tribes. And then, something peculiar occurred.
“And Joseph saw that his father was placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head, and it displeased him. So, he held up his father’s hand to remove it from upon Ephraim’s head [to place it] on Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, ‘Not so, Father, for this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.’ But his father refused, and he said, ‘I know, my son, I know; he too will become a people, and he too will be great. But his younger brother will be greater than he, and his children’s fame will fill the nations.’ So, he blessed them on that day, saying, ‘With you, Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh,” and he placed Ephraim before Manasseh.” (Genesis 48:17-20)
Yaakov gave dominance to the younger son, Ephraim over the older son, Menashe. Both sons would have great and righteous descendants, but Ephraim’s offspring would be greater than Menashe’s. This “change” was the byproduct of Yaakov’s prophetic vision but why declare that we should bless our children to be like Menashe and Ephraim? To this very day, when we bless our sons on Friday night, we use the exact verbiage mentioned above, “yi’simcha Elokim k’Ephraim u’k’Menashe.” Why? There are so many great men to chose from as role models for our sons. Why not bless our sons that they should be like Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov? Furthermore, we know very little about Menashe and Ephraim outside of this episode. What is the meaning of this sacred blessing we convey to our children every week?
Rav Tzvi Elimelech Shapira of Dinov (1785-1841) in his work, Igra D’Kallah, provides a beautiful insight. In that very moment when Yaakov switched his hands, he switched the familial hierarchy. In one moment, Menashe the firstborn was relegated to a “lower” position and Ephraim, the younger son was elevated to a more prominent one. One would have thought that this would cause strife and animosity between the brothers. One would have thought that Menashe would be resentful, and Ephraim would become arrogant. Yet, the brothers maintained a sense of love and respect for one another. Ephraim still maintained the proper reverence one has for an older sibling and Menashe was happy for the honor and greatness bestowed upon his younger brother. They respected and were truly happy for one another. When Yaakov saw this, he was overwhelmed. He had witnessed animosity between his own sons and viewed this as the inability for brothers to coexist and respect one another. And now as these two boys saw their respective destinies changed in a moment, they still loved and accepted one another. It was in this moment that Yaakov said, for all generations when parents comes to bless their sons, let them say, “yi’simcha Elokim k’Ephraim u’k’Menashe.”
Every parent has dreams and aspirations for their children. We want our children to be successful spiritually and materially. We want our children to be happy, content, well-adjusted and thrive. But there is one thing that every parent values more than anything – the ability for siblings to get along. This need to “get along” is not limited to our biological brothers and sisters, it applies to our national siblings, our Am Yisroel brothers and sisters as well. What is the secret to getting along with brothers and sisters? It is quite simple – be happy for the other if he succeeds, even if you don’t. Too often we are jealous and envious of the successes of the other. God gives us each what we need to grow and thrive. Someone else’s success could have never been mine. As such, one must find it in their heart to rejoice for the successes of the other. And if you are the successful one, never look down on your brother, love and respect him just the same. Having more success than someone else doesn’t make us better or superior. In order to convey this blessing to our children, we must first inculcate it within ourselves and then model it. May we bless and be blessed with the emotional strength of Ephraim and Menashe.