Parshat Vayechi – פרשת ויחיוַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף, אֶל-אָבִיו, בָּנַי הֵם, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַן-לִי אֱלֹהִים בָּזֶה; וַיֹּאמַר, קָחֶם-נָא אֵלַי וַאֲבָרְכֵם –
And Yoseph said unto his father: ‘They are my sons, whom God has given me here.’ And he said: ‘Bring them to me, please, and I will bless them.’
Although I have read this passage previously, and heard it discussed during my fifteen-years-plus of education in a Jewish environment, when I read this passage again today, I saw a question that I can’t believe I didn’t know the answer to.
The event described in the Pasuk above is that of Yaakov, Yoseph’s father, blessing Yoseph’s sons; Ephraim and Menashe. Intriguingly and famously, Yaakov crosses over his hands so that his right-hand falls on Ephraim’s head, even though he is the younger son. Noteworthy as this detail is, a lot of “commentary inches” are spent on interpretations as to the meaning behind Yaakov’s actions.
That, however, is not what I want to focus on. The most obvious question that may be asked here is why were Ephraim and Menashe blessed before all the other tribes? Indeed, they hardly seem like they should join the rest of the tribes, as they are all brothers, whereas Ephraim and Menashe are only the descendants of one of the brothers. So, we can ask, why are they blessed first, and why do they merit their place as equals amongst their uncles?
Rabbi Shmuel Hominer, in his work, “עבד המלך, Servant of the King,” explains exactly why these two young men deserved to join the rest of the tribes. He points out that from all the tribes, only Ephraim and Menashe were born outside of Israel. These two were born in Egypt, as Yaakov notes when he says: “וְעַתָּה שְׁנֵי-בָנֶיךָ הַנּוֹלָדִים לְךָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם – And now your two sons, who were born unto you in the land of Egypt.”
The significance of the brothers’ birthplace cannot be understated. Yaakov realized that the blessing he was to give the thirteen brothers were not just for them as people, but for them as heads of tribes, for them as the heads of a future nation. Yaakov chose Ephraim and Menashe because those two knew what it was like to be in exile; away from the holy land. His blessing for them forms a well-known Jewish song, Hamalach Hagoel. The words at the end are particularly noteworthy: “וְיִדְגּוּ לָרֹב, בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ – and let them grow into a multitude, in the midst of the earth.” Yaakov blesses these two brothers, the brothers of exile, that despite all that surrounds them, they (but read we, as all Am Yisrael,) should only grow into a strong and populous nation.
From Yerushalayim, Shabbat Shalom!
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