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Moses appointed twelve emissaries to scout out the Holy Land and return with a report. The representative for the tribe of Ephraim was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. Until this time, the lad’s name was Oshua. But Moses added a letter to his name and called him Joshua.
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Home » Free Choice, Vayechi

Vayechi: What Are Your Life Goals?

Submitted by on December 19, 2015 – 7:08 pmNo Comment | 3,226 views

Life Goals

We all have life goals. For some, it’s the building of family. To others it’s learning and discovery. To some, it’s building wealth. To others, it’s helping others. What are your soul’s life goals?

The soul made a long journey from heaven to earth. We don’t suppose it made its trek for career or treasure. It didn’t even come to build a family. In heaven, the soul was close to G-d. Its journey to earth was painful because it lost its closeness to G-d. What can possibly make up for such a deep loss? Not wealth, not family, not even helping others. What then are the soul’s life goals?

The soul has two life goals. The first is to remain true to G-d even here on earth. The second is to gain material success here on earth. The second is an important part of the soul’s journey. If it was just about remaining true to G-d, it would have been easier for the soul to simply remain in heaven. The purpose of the trek is to find material success, but not at the expense of its relationship with G-d.

Which comes first? Naturally, the first goal is loyalty to G-d. That must be in place before the soul can dabble in materialism. Otherwise, such dabbling might cost the soul its spiritual integrity. But once this is in place, the soul is free to pursue its second goal, material success.

Two Sons

This gives us a new perspective on the biblical tale of Joseph’s sons. Our forefather Jacob was in Egypt, when he fell ill. Joseph heard of his father’s illness and brought his sons to Jacob’s bedside for a final blessing. Jacob sat up in bed as Joseph approached, his older son Menashe to Jacob’s right and his younger son Ephraim to Jacob’s left.

Jacob crossed his hands, placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head and his left hand on Menashe’s head. Joseph protested, explaining that Menashe was first-born. Jacob replied that he knew which son was first, but ultimately Ephraim would be greater than his older brother and deserved the first blessing.[1]

Let’s look at the names of these sons to gain insight into this story.

And Joseph named the firstborn Menashe, for G-d has caused me to forget all my suffering and all [the pain of leaving] my father’s house. And the second one he named Ephraim, for G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.[2]

Menashe represents Joseph’s sentiment about being away from his father’s home. He was in Egypt, far from home, unable to transcend his loss until G-d eased his pain and helped him persevere. Ephraim, represents the blessing of material success that Joseph found in Egypt despite his distance from home.

As we discussed, Joseph placed Menashe first because the soul must first secure its connection with G-d before it can turn to material success. He insisted to his father that Menashe was first-born. I made certain to secure my link to my father’s home before I turned my attention to being successful in Egypt.

Jacob replied that he knew very well who was first-born. He knew that Joseph had prioritized correctly and took care of the important things first to ensure his spiritual integrity. Nevertheless, Jacob would place Ephraim first.

Means and End

Whenever you have two things, one a means, the other an end, the means comes first. To provide for the end, you must invest in the means first. But just because the means came first, doesn’t render it more important. It is first in order, but second in priority. To Joseph, Menashe was first because his link to his father’s home had to come first. But to Jacob, Ephraim was more important because succeeding in Egypt was the reason for Joseph’s journey to Egypt.

One can only imagine how shocking such news was to Joseph. I came to Egypt for material success? I delighted much more in studying Torah at home with my father, than I ever enjoyed my rise to power in Egypt.

But Jacob revealed a deeper perspective. Material success isn’t about luxury and power. It‘s about making G-d’s world holier. The more power we have, the more we can achieve for G-d. The more wealth we own, the wider the circle of light that we can cast upon G-d’s world. The soul doesn’t come from heaven to enjoy earthly success. The soul comes from heaven to make the earth a little more like heaven.

Joseph came to Egypt to bring some holiness to Egypt. In the process he saved the region from famine, but that was an outer accoutrement to his inner objective. On the outside, he gathered wealth and power for Egypt. On the inside he gathered sparks of holiness for G-d.

Ephraim, which represents success in the material realm, distant from heaven, distant from our father’s home, is the reason the soul came to the world. Menashe, which represents our spiritual integrity, is the first-born, he must come first lest we fail our mission. Without preserving our spiritual integrity we will not only fail to make the world holier, we will corrupt our own soul. Menashe must come first.

But once Menashe is in place, our spiritual integrity is intact, we must turn to Ephraim. We must marshal our energy to achieve material success in order to channel our materialism into holiness. To make the world a better, holier, more ethical, just and G-dly place.

This is the ultimate objective. It deserves all our attention. It deserved Jacob’s right hand and requires Jacob’s greatest blessing. In Jacob’s words, “I know my son, I know [that Menashe came first] he too will become a people, he too will be great. But his older brother will be greater than he.”


In real terms it means this. We must devote the first hour of our day to prayer and Torah study. That’s the Menashe hour and that must come first. But its purpose is to lead into the Ephraim phase. It fortifies us for the important part of our day. To go out into the world and to engage.

Be a big success, as big as you can possibly be, but do it G-d’s way. Make the world a better and holier place.[3]

[1] Genesis 48: 13-19.

[2] Genesis 41: 51-52.

[3] This essay is based on Likutei Sichos v. 15 432 and Noam Eliemech on Genesis 48: 13.

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