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The blessing in the Torah “may G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe” really means “may you not only meet, but may you also exceed your potential and expectations.”

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Vayechi” (Genesis 47:28–50:26) and with it we conclude the book of Genesis.

One of the highlights of this week’s reading is the blessing that Jacob gives to his grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe, the sons of Joseph. Jacob says to them: “By your name the Jewish people will bless their children by saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and like Menashe’” (Gen 48:20)

And indeed, this is the blessing given by fathers to sons every Friday night in most Orthodox Jewish homes. In other families, this blessing is only given on the eve of Yom Kippur. Girls are blessed with “May God make you like Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah,” a topic for another time.

The question has been asked many times: Why is it that from among all the great biblical personalities, from among all the great leaders of the Jewish people, from among all the prophets and sages that have lived, Ephraim and Menashe were specifically chosen as the focus of the blessing for our sons? Why not bless our sons that they should be like Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob? Why not Moses and Aaron?

It is explained that every parent’s natural hope is to see their children reach their full potential in life and to accomplish everything that they can. But Ephraim and Menashe did even more than that….they exceeded their potential!

They accomplished more than was expected of them.

We see this from the fact that they were awarded a status equal to the 12 children of Jacob. They became the patriarchs of their own tribes. In effect, they were “elevated” by a generation and was considered equal to all their uncles.

This is what Jacob was hinting at when he blessed Ephraim and Menashe. He told them that they were equal to Jacob’s own sons. And this is why Jacob told them that the Jewish people throughout history would bless their sons that they should be like them. Hence the meaning of the blessing “May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menasheh” is “may you not only meet, but may you also exceed your potential and expectations.”

Unfortunately, most of us don’t put in enough effort to achieve our own goals, to realize our potential, to lead lives the way we should, and to accomplish all that we truly could accomplish, let alone exceed what could be expected of us.

Instead, we waste so much time on empty distractions.

The sages tell us that after our lifetime down here on earth, when we go up to the “pearly gates,” so to speak, we will not be asked: “Why weren’t you like Abraham, why weren’t you like Moses, why weren’t you like David?”

No. We are simply going to be asked, “Were you as good as YOU could have been? Did you reach YOUR potential? Did you give this lifetime YOUR best shot?”

Let’s make sure that we’re able to answer “yes!” to these questions!

For more on this week’s Torah portion from Rabbi Ari Enkin, click below.