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Like Ephraim and Menshe

12/19/2018 08:12:15 AM


Beth Schafer

To our boys we say, “May you be like Ephraim and Menashe,” and to our girls we say, “May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.” These are the traditional blessings we give our children on Shabbat. Why Ephraim and Menashe? Why not Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? In this week’s Torah portion we read about the end of Jacob’s life and how he blesses his children and even his grandchildren, Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Menashe. Curiously, when he blesses them, he does an odd thing-he crosses his hands so that his right hand is on the head of the child on the left and his left hand is on the head of the child on the right. In Torah, the right hand is the dominant one with which you would take an oath or give a blessing, so why the crossing of hands?

The book of Genesis exhibits generation after generation of dysfunction due to siblings feeling a sense of entitlement over the other(s) having been “specially blessed” in some way. Even Jacob who once favored his precocious but bratty son, Joseph, realizes that this practice does nothing but create strife. And so, in this last gesture of his life, he creates a new model by crossing his hands when he blesses the boys; sending a clear message that there should be no preferential treatment. When we bless our sons and hope that they are like Ephraim and Menashe we are saying to them that we hope they see themselves as special, but equal; as an individual, but accountable to others. It is a good model for both families and communities.

After blessing our sons and daughters we offer the Priestly Benediction which ends with a hope for peace. May all siblings, familial and communal be blessed like Ephraim and Menashe, and on their journey find peace.

Shabbat Shalom,


Tue, February 18 2020 23 Sh'vat 5780