In our parasha we read that Yaakov, sensing that his days are near, assembles his children to bless them and perhaps also show them their direction in life, according to his assessment of the soul and character of each of his sons. Before this takes place, however, he asks to meet specifically with two of his grandsons and bestow upon them a special blessing. This is very difficult to understand. Would it not be more appropriate to begin first with his sons, and only thereafter proceed to bless his grandsons? An additional question arises from this story, as well: why does Yaakov bless specifically these two grandsons – Menashe and Efrayim – and determine that they shall serve as the source for anyone among Benei Yisrael who wishes to bless his sons (“God shall make you like Efrayim and Menashe”)?
The answer lies in the past history of these two grandsons.
The Almighty Himself emphasized one particular quality of Avraham Avinu: “For I have singled him out, because he will command his children… that they shall observe the path of Hashem.” This quality has earned its place with every mother and father among the Jewish people – the concern for their children’s education. Many generations have passed from then until our current generation, and we still place very heavy emphasis on providing our children with a Jewish education. Each generation has its own problems; times change and new circumstances develop in the world. The paved road treaded upon by our patriarchs is not necessarily suitable for the children. Therefore, each generation requires its own beracha for the success of its children’s education and the ongoing continuation of our tradition – even under changing conditions and new situations that arise.
All of Yaakov’s sons, all the tribes, grew up within the family cell, they were all educated under the guidance of their father, the “dweller of tents” (the tents of Torah study), who transmitted to them all he had absorbed from his grandfather, and all that he learned during his fourteen years of study in the Beit Midrash of Ever. They were raised in a Jewish environment, and their children found themselves part of a large family with grandfathers and grandmothers, uncles and aunts, an entire world living its life in its own particular path.
This was not the case regarding Yosef’s sons. They were the first among Yaakov’s offspring who could not seclude themselves within their home, in their own corner. Because of their father’s royal position, they had no choice but to participate in society together with the children of the royal palace, within an aristocratic, but far from Jewish, environment. They are the first grandsons who did not know their grandfather, who did not know who their great-grandfather was, who did not have the privilege of hearing the stories of their grandmothers or enjoying the affection of uncles and aunts. They had no personal example from whom to learn about the path of avodat Hashem and Jewish life.
We can now understand Yosef’s concern for his children, his fears whether he could transmit to them and implant within them Hashem’s Torah, and we appreciate the difficult educational work he invested in Efrayim and Menashe each and every day. That which Yaakov’s sons and grandsons absorbed simply and naturally required tremendous effort on Yosef’s part for his children to absorb. In addition, they faced the many lures of the upper class in which they lived, the challenges increased, and they needed a very strong means of protection so as not to be swept away by the lifestyle of the other families in the royal court.
Sure enough, Yosef succeeded in this formidable task far more than one might have expected. He was privileged to educate children who could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their cousins, and the greatest reward Yosef could have received from his father was the declaration, “Efrayim and Menashe shall be for me like Reuven and Shimon!” followed by the blessing, “The angel who redeemed me from all evil shall bless the lads, and my name, and the name of my fathers, Avraham and Yitzchak, shall be called upon them.”
From here, we derive the use of this beracha by those who wish to educate their children along the path of their forefathers despite the vast gaps that continue to grow with every passing generation.
May it be His will that despite the constantly changing circumstances and differences that develop between one generation and the next, we will find the appropriate means of reaching this goal.