Vayechi – Eternal Paradigm for Blessings
Jewish custom is for parents to bless their children every Friday night at the time of Kiddush. When blessing our daughters the names of the matriarchs are invoked. When blessing our sons we recite the words, yesim’cha elokim k’Ephraim vchi’Menashe, May the Lord make you as Ephraim and Menashe. Calling upon the names of Joseph’s sons when blessing our own comes from Jacob’s blessing to Joseph and his sons. “And he blessed them on that day, saying, ‘By you Israel shall bless saying, May God make you as Ephraim and Menashe’ and he placed Ephraim before Menashe.” (Gen 48:20)
It makes perfect sense that we bless our daughters to be as our matriarchs. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah are role models for a Jewish woman, and we express this in the context of our blessing. Similarly, the forefathers are role models for Jewish men. One would expect that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be incorporated into the blessing for Jewish boys, but Jacob interfered, dictating that instead the names of Ephraim and Menashe should be invoked. Why is this so?
Before dictating this blessing Jacob told Joseph that his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe, would take their place among the tribes of Israel. They would be numbered among Jacob’s sons. “And now, your two sons who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you to Egypt shall be mine. Ephraim and Menashe shall be to me as Reuven and Shimon.” (Gen 48:5)
In addition to replacing the forefathers in the context of blessings Joseph’s sons are elevated over the status of all of Jacob’s other grandchildren, becoming equal to Jacob’s sons as tribes of Israel. What great value is found in Joseph’s sons which justify this?