Dear Cyber Rav,
One specific issue that came up today was about the Blessing of the Children and who Ephraim and Menashe were, why we bless our children to be like them, and why separate blessings for boys and girls. The girls, as you know, are blessed by stating that they be like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah. I’m stumped.
Suffering from Blessing Block
Dear Suffering from Blessing Block,
I'm not sure if we can ever answer the question, "Why Ephraim and Menashe?" as opposed to some other upstanding Jews, but first let’s clarify who they were—Jospeh’s kids. He had two boys. When it comes to the girls, we naturally think of female role models and the four matriarchs certainly fill the bill. But then why wouldn’t we bless the boys by praying that they become like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Hmmm… I once heard a very wonderful explanation for why using Ephraim and Menashe which was pretty powerful. It went like this: Ephraim and Menashe are the first two brothers recorded in the Torah who didn't either hate or kill each other. Think of their forebears
Cain and Able Cain killed Able
Isaac and Ishmael The couldn’t get along
Ya'akov and Esau Esau wanted to kill Ya’akov
Joseph and Brothers The brothers sold Joseph into slavery
Whew—makes you appreciate your own family—yes? But Ephraim and Menashe--these two get along. So when we say, May God make you like these two, we are saying that you are a child who should be accepting of others, loving, not jealous or envious, etc.
And as for the little girls, they get to be like the four matriarchs, who are all pretty impressive in their own right, particularly Rebecca, a real power house. So we wish our children both power and menschlichkeit (being decent).
Ken yirbu—And may we give birth to lots of Jewish babies for as you know, the Jewish people in North America suffer from negative population growth.
Rabbi Rafi Rank
The Cyber Rav