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How do we Bless Children?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

When Joseph was informed that his father (Jacob) was ill, he brought his two sons with him to visit his father. The Torah concludes the section dealing with Jacob’s blessing with the following verse:

“So he blessed them on that day, saying, ‘With you, Israel will bless, saying, “May God make you like Ephraim and like Menasheh,”’ and he placed Ephraim before Menasheh.” (Genesis 18:20)

Rashi quotes our sages and explains the words “With you, Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and like Menasheh,'” as follows: “Whoever wishes to bless his sons, will bless them with their blessing, and a man will say to his son, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and like Menasheh.’” This is the source for the universal custom on Friday night of blessing one’s sons using this very expression: “May God make you like Ephraim and like Menasheh.”

Jacob had many righteous grandchildren. Why do we specifically bless our children to be like Ephraim and Menasheh? The Netziv explains that Ephraim and Menasheh had distinctly different strengths and personalities. Ephraim was a great Torah scholar who cleaved (clung) to God. Menasheh was a worldly person, involved in assisting his family with their needs. We do not bless our children to make them fit into a certain mold. We bless our children so that they use their God-given personalities and strengths to serve God and help others. We declare that we value the contributions of both Ephraim and Menasheh.

I once heard another beautiful explanation. Jacob’s grandchildren grew up in a sheltered, spiritual environment in the Land of Israel. Menasheh and Ephraim were the exception—they grew up with their father in Egypt, under the strong influence of Egyptian culture. Despite the challenges they faced, they remained upright, righteous individuals, servants of God, and dedicated to Jacob’s values and traditions. Therefore, we bless our children to be like Ephraim and Menasheh – to have the strength to withstand negative environmental influences and, thus, remain dedicated to Torah values and traditions.

May we and all our children be blessed with the strength to overcome negative influences and to use our unique talents and personalities in the service of God, the Jewish people, and all mankind.