Parshat Mikketz: Genesis 41:1-44:17; I Kings 3:15-4:1.
Friday evening Shabbat dinners overflow with blessings. It’s a wonderful once-a-week opportunity to step back from our busy lives, express gratitude and count our blessings.
We bless candles, our children, spouses, wine and challah. When we bless our children, we ask that our girls grow up to be like the matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and that our boys grow up to be like Ephraim and Menashe. We can understand why we would look to the matriarchs as strong role models for our daughters; however, by what merits were Ephraim and Menashe chosen to be the role models for our sons?
In this week’s parshah we meet Ephraim and Menashe, Joseph’s two sons, born shortly after Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s second-in-command. We are given four reasons why Ephraim and Menashe are chosen for the Friday night blessing.
• Ephraim and Menashe are the first siblings in the Torah narrative who do not see each other as rivals. Even when Jacob, their grandfather, provides the preferential blessing to the younger Ephraim over the older Menashe, there is no jealousy and the brothers remain friends.
• Though Ephraim and Menashe grew up in a world surrounded by foreign cultural and religious beliefs, values and practices, they were strong enough to maintain and hold onto their own unique identity. They didn’t give in to peer pressure just to fit in and be like everyone else.
• Ephraim and Menashe represent continuity of family heritage and values. On Jacob’s death bed, when he offers blessings to his sons, he elevates his two grandsons Ephraim and Menashe to the same level as their uncles, the literal children of Israel. From dor l’dor, from generation to generation, the family legacy continues.
• Ephraim and Menashe represent two very positive, yet different types of personalities. Ephraim is perceived as being spiritual and a Torah scholar. On the other hand, Menashe is described as more of a man of the world who cared for and took care of his community. Scholarship, spirituality, worldliness, compassion and active disposition of caring for others, all attributes we would wish for our children.
As parents, we raise up our children with the hope that they will grow up not only as siblings, but as lifelong friends. In a world of peer pressures to conform, we hope to raise children who have the strength to be their best, unique selves. We model values and family traditions for our children with the hope that they are inculcated and passed down to future generations.
When we envision the adults our children will grow up to be, we hope that they will be wise, spiritual, worldly and compassionate for others. This is the heritage, the characteristics of Ephraim and Menashe, with which we bless our sons.
Jeffrey Lasday is the COO of the Jewish Community Center of Metro Detroit and the acting COO of Farber Hebrew Day School.