Sefer Bereishit, the sefer during which we traced the lives of our ancestors, from the creation of the world until the descent of Yaakov´s family to Egypt, culminates in a thick, dreary darkness. Benei Yisrael arrive in Egypt where they would spend a long, difficult exile, an exile characterized by their harsh enslavement to the Egyptians, and from which only one-fifth of the nation will earn redemption. So dreadful was this exile, that when Yaakov wanted to disclose to his children information concerning its ultimate end, to give them a glimmer of hope for them to keep in their hearts and fuel the flame of faith in the redemption and Exodus from Egypt, the Almighty prevents him from doing so; the eyes and hearts of Yisrael are closed shut throughout the darkness of exile. The single consolation that Yaakov manages to give his children is the berachot that he bestows upon each of them. Efrayim and Menashe, Yosef´s two sons, also come before Yaakov Avinu to have the privilege of receiving his blessing. “The angel who has redeemed me from all evil shall bless the youths, and my name, and the names of my fathers, Avraham and Yitzchak, shall be called upon them” (Bereishit 48:16). By what merit did they, unlike all of Yaakov´s other grandchildren, earn this special beracha? Moreover, it is specifically this beracha that has remained until today: “He blessed them on that day saying: By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying, ´May Hashem make you like Efrayim and Menashe´” (Bereishit 48:20). What message did Yaakov Avinu consider so significant that warranted establishing that to this very day we give this beracha to our children?
In order to answer this question, let us delve a little into the lifestyle of Yaakov and his family after their arrival in Egypt. In the final pasuk of the previous parasha, the Torah tells us that the tribes did not settle in the middle of Egypt. Rather, “Israel dwelled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen; they acquired holdings in it and were fertile and increased greatly” (Bereishit 47:27). In order to avoid coming under the foreign influences of Egyptian culture, Yaakov and his children choose to live in their own territory within Egypt. Only Yosef and his family – recall that Yosef was the second-in-command in Egypt – do not live in Goshen. Yosef´s job and political position required him to live in the capital city and governmental quarters, an area that posed considerable dangers with respect to his children´s education, as the stimulation of Egyptian culture existed all around them and everywhere they went. Nevertheless, Yaakov Avinu sees that his grandchildren grow beautifully, and amidst their mundane pursuits they also occupy themselves in Torah learning, as Rashi comments (48:1), “Efrayim regularly came to learn with Yaakov.” Specifically Efrayim and Menashe, to whom all the universities and academic institutions were open, would come every day to study with their aged grandfather in Goshen. It is specifically they who most accurately represent the fusion between worldly needs and science on the one hand, and the world of Torah on the other. Yaakov, who sees what will soon come upon his children in exile, decided to bestow his blessing specifically on Yosef´s children. He blesses them that even throughout the exile and oppression, this thread, which brings together the two worlds, will continue and will become the defining characteristic of every generation. Only through this combination can the darkness and gloom of Egypt and all subsequent exiles suffered by Am Yisrael transform into a great, brilliant light. The easy way is to live in Goshen, to dissociate oneself. The more difficult approach is to work from within the secular world to cultivate the tree of Torah and climb it one step at a time, where the trunk is the strong, firm trunk of Judaism.