Yoseph’s Greatest Success: Ephraim and Menashe
Do you bless your sons on Friday night? Were you blessed by your father on Friday nights? For the past few hundred years, Jewish fathers have blessed their sons to be like Ephraim and Menashe, “Yesimekha Elokim keEphraim vekhiMnashe.” The practice may be recent , but the fact that we bless ourselves through Ephraim and Menashe goes back to Ya’aqob’s original blessing: “And he blessed them that day, saying: ‘By thee shall Israel bless, saying: God make thee as Ephraim and as Menashe….” What is unique about Ephraim and Menashe that we would want our children to be like them?
Ephraim and Menashe grew up away from Ya’aqob’s home, steeped in Egyptian culture, yet were considered to be as connected with the legacy of Abraham as Reuben and Shimon. Ephraim and Menashe’s father, Yoseph, had an Egyptian name, dressed Egyptian, spoke Egyptian, was engaged in Egyptian politics, and was the high priest of Pharaoh . Their mother, Asenat, was the daughter of one of the prominent pagan priests . How were these boys able to continue the family heritage as if they grew up with Ya’aqob?
This is a question which numerous papers and international conferences have addressed. The topic essentially is Jewish continuity–how do we ensure that our children remain committed to Judaism? For the answer we should look to Yoseph’s success with his children and let that be our paradigm for how we bring up our own children.
Yoseph could have forgotten about God, about his father’s legacy, and anything concerning his upbringing. He was alone, away from home, with no connection to his family. There was no one forcing him or watching his behavior. Moreover, his brothers rejected him and literally ‘sold him down the river.’ Finally, one should note all of the troubles he encountered, and that during each of his tribulations he referenced God as either his reason for not transgressing, as when he said during the incident with his slave masters wife: “how can I do this evil thing and sin before God?!”  or as the source of his ability to interpret dreams .
Yoseph’s experiences at home with his father Ya’aqob were unshakable. Yoseph grew up as a caretaker for his elderly father, spending many hours each day with him . What he learned from these experiences changed him, developed him into a person who expressed his father’s values . His children saw their father dressed in Egyptian clothing, but experienced their father as someone with a different mindset and values. Yoseph would consistently mention God and his family tradition, and would show his children that although they were externally Egyptian, they were internally Benei Yisrael.
When we are blessed or bless our children on Friday nights to be like Ephraim uMnashe, we are praying that our children will continue the legacy of their forefathers even when they are away from home, just like Ephraim uMnashe. The secret is simple–spend time with the previous generation. Honor, respect, and take care of them as Yoseph did for his father. The only way to ensure that our youth continue in our path is if we ourselves deeply embody the values of our forefathers and express these values to our children: “Yesimekha Elokim keEphraim uMenashe.”