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Home » Family Life, Vayechi

Vayechi: Rejoice for Others

Submitted by on December 23, 2017 – 10:37 pmNo Comment | 474 views

To rejoice for others, when they receive the something that you coveted, is difficult. To rejoice for others despite personal disappointment, or loss, displays character, humility, and refinement. It is rare, but every parent hopes to see such virtue in their child.

As the sun sets on Friday and the weekday turns to Shabbat, Jewish parents bless their children with the following blessing: May G-d make you like Ephraim and Manasseh. This blessing originates with the patriarch Jacob, who placed his right hand on the head of the younger Ephraim and his left hand on the head of the older Manasseh and said, “With you Israel will bless saying: ‘May G-d make you like Ephraim and Manasseh,’ and he placed Ephraim before Manasseh.”[1]

It is a creative way to bless grandchildren. May you be so virtuous that others will wish that their children will grow up to be like you. However, it leaves us with several questions. A, how does this blessing benefit Ephraim and Manasseh? B, why was there such emphasis on the placement of Ephraim ahead of Manasseh?

A Tale of Two Brothers

Let’s explore the respective lives of the two brothers, princes of Egypt. They certainly had similarities. They were born in the home of Egypt’s most powerful man. They were raised in the lap of luxury and prestige. They were both righteous and pious.[2] But that is where their similarities ended.

Manasseh was a powerful warrior, who was placed in charge of Egypt’s army. Manasseh, an accomplished linguist, served as a statesman for Egypt and as his father’s right-hand man. Manasseh served as Joseph’s secretary, and interpreter. It was Manasseh who subdued and arrested his uncle Simon and, when Judah threatened to make war against Egypt, it was Manasseh, who subdued his powerful uncle Judah. Manasseh was also the one who planted and discovered the goblet in Benjamin’s pack. After Joseph’s passing, Manasseh’s children were among the fiercest warriors of Pharaoh’s army.[3]

Ephraim, on the other hand, was a quiet scholar. A humble and studious man, content to occupy himself with his studies. When his grandfather Jacob moved to Egypt, Ephraim moved in with Jacob and studied Torah. After Joseph’s passing, Ephraim was appointed dean of the Torah academy in Egypt.[4]

The brothers could not be more different. Manasseh was the acclaimed warrior and statesman, Ephraim was the quiet and refined scholar. Ephraim eschewed palace intrigue, Manasseh thrived on it. Ephraim disdained the accoutrements of power. Manasseh was a paragon of power, fame, and statesmanship.

The Hand Switch

When Jacob fell ill and was on his death bed, Joseph was unaware, occupied as he was with the business of running the country. Ephraim traveled to the palace to inform his father of Jacob’s condition. Joseph and Manasseh quickly came to Jacob’s bedside and Jacob asked to see his grandchildren.

Joseph brought Manasseh and Ephraim forward placing the prestigious and older Manasseh to Jacob’s right and the quiet and younger Ephraim to Jacob’s left. Jacob crossed his hands to place his right hand on Ephraim’s head and his left hand on Manasseh’s head and blessed them.

Joseph protested and attempted to correct his father’s hand placement. Not this way father, said Joseph, Manasseh should be on the right, he is the older, more prestigious and accomplished one. Jacob replied, I know my son I know, the older one is great, however, the younger one will be greater.

On the surface, it would seem that Jacob was playing favorites with his favorite grandson – The one who had lived with him and emulated his passion for Torah study. On the surface it sounded like a subtle reproof to both Joseph and Manasseh to their ostentatious lifestyle.

But this was not a dig against Manasseh, for if it were Jacob would not have included him when he prayed that all Jewish parents should bless their children to emulate Ephraim and Manasseh. Jacob seconded Manasseh to Ephraim because he foresaw that Ephraim would be greater, not because he was displeased with Manasseh.

Rejoice for Others

At this point, Jacob had a sudden insight. He noticed that despite being seconded to his younger brother, Manasseh did not seem offended. He noticed that Manasseh was genuinely able to rejoice for others even when he was surely disappointed about being passed over. Jacob then turned to see how Ephraim was handling his sudden promotion and saw no gloating or grandstanding on Ephraim’s part. Ephraim had remained as unassuming and humble as he had been before despite his sudden triumph over his famous, well heeled and accomplished brother.

Nothing makes a parent or grandparent happier than knowing that their children love each other and are genuinely happy for one another. Seeing a child truly rejoice with others even when they are at a personal loss, is a source of great happiness and pride. On the other hand, seeing a child remain loving, respectful and unassuming even when they triumph over their siblings is also a special treat.

Jacob, the patriarch of all Jews, was so moved by these qualities that he immediately expressed the wish that all his descendants, all Jewish parents, merit seeing such qualities in their children. He therefore said, “With you Israel will bless saying: ‘May G-d make you like Ephraim and Manasseh,’ and he placed Ephraim before Manasseh.”

This was not a blessing to Ephraim and Manasseh. They had already received their personal blessing before their father Joseph had intervened to reverse their position. This was a blessing to all of Israel and it was prompted by the way the brothers responded to the information that the younger, less assuming, brother would pre-empt the older, more accomplished, brother.

So now you know what we mean when we bless our children to emulate Ephraim and Manasseh. And you know why it is that of all the people that we want our children to emulate, we choose Ephraim and Manasseh. And you understand why we place Ephraim ahead of Manasseh when we invoke this blessing.[5]

[1][1] Genesis 48:20.

[2] See Abarbanel to Genesis 48:11.

[3] See Bereshis Rabbah 84:20, 91:4, 91:6, 91:8, 93:6, Pesichtah Rabbah, 3:93, and Midrash Shocer Tov, 81:7.

[4] See Bereshis Rabbah 6:4, Midrash Tanchumah, Vayechi 6, Rashi to Genesis 48:1 and vayikrah Rabbah 2:3.

[5] This explanation is cited by Sefer Devar Yom Beyomo, in his entry for 18 Teves.

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