In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Vay’chi, Jacob prepares to die. He asks Joseph to bring him his two sons so that he can bless them as his own. Jacob blessed these two grandsons and added the words, “With you, Israel will bless, saying, ‘May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Menasheh.’” And so this has become the traditional formula for parents’ blessing their sons throughout the generations.
Why, you might ask, would we bless our sons by these names, rather than by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Ephraim and Menasheh were born and raised outside of the land of Israel. They were fully immersed into the highest echelons of Egyptian society. Deeply entrenched, they were in grave danger of losing their sense of their Jewish identity and their moral foundation. Tradition teaches that, despite the temptations of Egypt, they remained true to Jacob’s Judaism as transmitted through Joseph.
Perhaps we bless our children in the name of Ephraim and Menasheh because we wish them to have the inner strength to hold on to their Judaism in the midst of a secular society. There are times in everyone’s lives where faith is challenged, but we wish for our children to be able to hold on to the faith and traditions of their ancestors.
In my family of origin, we did not do a blessing every Friday night, but rather only once a year on the High Holy Days. I remember the strange and wonderful feeling of my father taking my head in his hands and offering a blessing that I no longer remember. I don’t remember the words to the blessing, but I remember the feeling of being blessed. It is not the words that matter, but the tradition, the sentiment, the holy moment passing between parent and child.
With what words would you wish to bless your children?
With what words would you wish to bless yourself?
Cantor Sally Neff