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So he blessed them that day saying, “By you shall Israel bless saying, ‘May Hashem make you like Ephraim and like Menasheh’ and he put Ephraim before Menasheh (Bereishis 48:20).
In this week’s parsha we learn that Yaakov blessed Yosef and his two children Ephraim and Menasheh. Furthermore, Yaakov blessed Yosef that his children serve as models for all future Jewish children. Every parent will bless their children that they too be like Ephraim and Menasheh. The commentators ask why specifically Ephraim and Menasheh?
A popular answer given is that Ephraim and Menasheh were the first children to grow up in galus and yet develop into true yarei shamayim. Living in galus, we are similarly surrounded by secular influences that are at odds with Torah values. We wish that our children emulate Ephraim and Menasheh and not be enticed by the trappings of the galus environment.
The author of the sefer Beis Ephraim poses a number of difficulties with this answer. We are aware that this blessing was recited even during the era of the Beis Hamikdash when there was no danger of a galus environment. Furthermore, when Moshiach will come, we will continue to recite this blessing even though there will no longer exist the danger of a galus environment.
Let us suggest a new answer. First, let us understand the deeper meaning behind the names Efraim and Menasheh. The Torah tells us the reason why Yosef named his first child Menasheh. “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my fathers household.” (Bereishis 41:51) The simple understanding is that when Yosef was elevated to a position of authority in Egypt he forgot his past. He named his some Menasheh, a name related to the word “forget” in order to celebrate his new life in Egypt. However, it is very difficult to suggest that the righteous Yosef would want to forget his father, family and heritage. Rather, he realized that the conditions were such that it would be very easy for him to forget his past. In order to prevent this from happening he named his son Menasheh as a constant reminder not to forget his father and family.
With regard to the name Ephraim the posuk says “And the name of the second he called Ephraim, for God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Bereishis 41:52). The name Ephraim is related to the word piruh which means fruitful.
The Da’as Zekainim explains that Yosef specifically chose the name Ephraim to connote fruitfulness, rather than other words because this name also refers to Avraham and Yitzchak. The first three letters of the name Ephraim are aleph pei and reish which spell the Hebrew word eifer, translated, “ash.” The last two letters of the name Ephraim are yud and mem. These two letters are commonly added to a singular noun to convert it to plural. Thus, Ephraim may be translated as “a double portion of ash.” This alludes to Avraham and Yitzchak who were both described as ash. When Avraham pleaded on behalf of Sedom he said to Hashem, “I am but dust and ash” (Bereishis 41:52). Chazal explain that the reference of ash refers to the time when Nimrod threw him into the furnace as punishment for refusing to bow down to an idol. Avraham mentioned that if not for Hashem’s mercy he would have been burned to ash. Similarly after Yitzchak was removed from the altar at the akeidah he was replaced with a ram. The ram was completely burned to ash. Chazal tell us that this pile of ash serves as a constant reminder for Hashem of the selflessness of Yitzchak who was willing to allow himself to be sacrificed to Hashem.
Thus the name Menasheh was given as a reminder not to forget Yaakov and the name Ephraim was given in memory of both Avraham and Yitzchak. We now understand why every Jewish male child is blessed to be like Ephraim and Menasheh. Ephraim and Menasheh were the first Jewish children named after our forefathers. The traditional blessing for every Jewish child is that they too succeed in emulating the ways of our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as did Ephraim and Menasheh.
We note that the parallel blessing for every Jewish female child is to emulate our Matriarchs, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. Indeed, when we define the nature of the blessing of Ephraim and Menasheh as relating to the Patriarchs the natural parallel blessing with regard to daughters would be one relating to the Matriarchs.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2003