With פרשת ויחי, we reach the end of the first of the five חומשים. In the entire תורה, there are two פרשיות that stand out as portions of blessing.
The first is in פרשת ויחי, when יעקב אבינו blesses his sons, the fathers of the twelve tribes; and the second is in פרשת וזאת הברכה, when משה רבנו blesses the twelve tribes as they grew and developed into an entire nation.
What is the nature of these final blessings that יעקב אבינו wants to impart to his children? (We are all his children!)
In Rav Twersky’s commentary on the חומש, he notes that in the פסוקים that introduce the blessings of יעקב, the תורה refers to him by his two names: יעקב and ישראל. Interestingly, the name יעקב – the name given to him at birth – represents the inborn natural talents and potential each person possesses. ישראל is the name he earned after he wrestled and overcame the angel. He had wrestled with human and spiritual foes and vanquished them, building resilience and determination, both of which stood to his advantage.
“וזאת אשר דבר להם אביהם ויברך אותם איש אשר כברכתו” (בראשית מ״ט: כ״ח)
“And this is what their father said to them, and he blessed them each according to his appropriate blessing.”
Rav Twersky comments that יעקב אבינו does not bless his children with material wealth. Rather, he describes his children’s traits and blesses them with continued growth, and to fulfill the potential each has been gifted to become the best they can be.
Rav Ashkenazi from ארץ ישראל came to a similar conclusion from a different angle onיעקב אבינו’s blessings. As the Jewish nation is in its infancy and about to embark on a treacherous exile and redemption, יעקב אבינו shares with us the salient quality that will help us thrive until the final redemption. He specifically names two individuals as role models, אפרים and מנשה.
What did these two brothers exemplify that the אבות did not? There were many great people who lived before אפרים ומנשה, so what was so special about them?
The answer is that they achieved this status because they were the first set of siblings in history (since the creation of the world) who did not exhibit any jealousy. They did not taunt one another. They did not complain about what the other received. When יעקב אבינו placed his right hand on the head of the younger brother (מנשה), and his left hand on the head of the older (אפרים), neither brother had a word of complaint. They both internalized the message that they received all the abilities they needed to fulfill the tasks for which they had been sent to this world. They knew that no one else could replace them in doing what they were born to accomplish.
This is the essence of the blessing we give our own children.
“ישימך אלוקים כאפרים וכמנשה”
May ה׳ make you like Ephraim and Menashe – the essential message for all times.
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos!
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