In Genesis 48:15-16, the Torah records Jacob’s blessings to his grandsons, Ephraim and Menashe, וַיְבָרֶךְ אֶת יוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמַר, הָאֱ־לֹקִים אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלְּכוּ אֲבֹתַי לְפָנָיו אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק, הָאֱ־לֹקִים הָרֹעֶה אֹתִי מֵעוֹדִי עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה. הַמַּלְאָךְ הַגֹּאֵל אֹתִי מִכָּל רָע יְבָרֵךְ אֶת הַנְּעָרִים, וְיִקָּרֵא בָהֶם שְׁמִי וְשֵׁם אֲבֹתַי אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק, וְיִדְגּוּ לָרֹב בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ , And he [Jacob] blessed Joseph, and he said, “God before Whom my forefather Abraham and Isaac walked–-God Who shepherds me from my inception until this day: May the angel who redeems me from all evil, bless the lads, and may my name be declared upon them, and the names of my forefathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they proliferate abundantly like fish within the land.”
Although the verse states that Jacob blessed “Joseph,” the blessing is actually directed at Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Menashe. After all, what could be a greater blessing for a parent, than to have children who are blessed.
In Genesis 48:20, Jacob concludes his blessing to his grandchildren, saying, בְּךָ יְבָרֵךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר, יְשִׂמְךָ אֱ־לֹקִים כְּאֶפְרַיִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת אֶפְרַיִם לִפְנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה , “By you shall Israel bless saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and like Menashe’”–-and he put Ephraim before Menashe.
The Yalkut Yehuda also notes that a child at his circumcision is also blessed to be like Ephraim and Menashe. The blessing effectively declares that this new child should remain strong in his convictions like Ephraim and Menashe, and not break the Brit, the covenant, between him and the God of Israel.
Throughout the millennia of Jewish history, the words, “May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe” have become the powerful standard blessing for male Jewish children. It is customary for parents to bless their sons on Friday night with these words, which express the hope that every Jewish son will follow the path of Joseph’s two sons.
What was it that distinguished Ephraim and Menashe from all the others?
Unfortunately, it is very common for members of each generation to decline in spirituality from the previous generation as they become increasingly distant from the source of spirituality. Because of the powerful blandishments of assimilation and the environment, it is difficult for children to maintain the level of spirituality of their parents and grandparents.
However, this was not the case with Ephraim and Menashe. Even though they were born in an environment that was extremely seductive and entirely inimical to the values of their fathers and forefathers, Ephraim and Menashe remained loyal to the faith of their ancestors.
In fact, they were of such great stature that they were accorded the honor and distinction of being blessed by their grandfather as if they were his own sons. In Genesis 48:5,Jacob confirms their special status by declaring,אֶפְרַיִם וּמְנַשֶּׁה, כִּרְאוּבֵן וְשִׁמְעוֹן יִהְיוּ לִי , Ephraim and Menashe shall be mine like Reuben and Simeon.
The monumental achievement of Ephraim and Menashe was that not only did they not decline in their commitment and spirituality they maintained the stature of the greats of the previous generation. Shabbat Shalom