This week we welcome guest writer, Guila Franklin Siegel, JCRC's Associate Director.
“So he blessed them on that day, saying, "With you, Israel will bless, saying, 'May God make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh,' " and he placed Ephraim before Manasseh.”
In recognition of this blessing and of the elevated status given to Ephraim and Menashe, it is their names that are invoked when Jewish parents bless their sons on Friday night at Shabbat dinner. We quote Jacob directly: “May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.”
Why does our tradition recognize these two grandsons in such exalted fashion? Why not pray that our sons emulate our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as we do with our daughters, who we pray become like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah?
The most well-known explanation offered by commentators for Ephraim and Menashe’s iconic status are that they were the first brothers in the Torah to not be recorded as having fought. Another interpretation focuses on the duo having been born and raised in the Egyptian Diaspora, which is specifically noted in the text. Ephraim and Menashe, we are told, lived upstanding, righteous lives and retained and honored their identities as Sons of Jacob, in the midst of a society that was foreign and less virtuous.
The ethos ascribed to Ephraim and Menashe was on full display this past Sunday in New York, as 25,000 people, most but not all Jewish, marched in solidarity to decry recent violent antisemitic attacks in that region and a general upsurge in antisemitism nationwide. While the victims of the New York-based attacks have been largely members of the Chassidic and Orthodox communities, the marchers themselves came from nearly all corners of the Jewish community, Reform to Orthodox, politically left to politically right, and everything in between.
As a Diaspora Jewish community living in the greatest melting pot in the world, at a time of enormous cultural assimilation and religious estrangement among many Americans, those of us who marched reaffirmed our pride in our Jewish identities and in the defiantly iconoclastic heritage we inherit, wrestle with and ultimately embrace. At least for one day, we collectively invoked the virtues of Ephraim and Menashe.
These are challenging times for the Jewish people, to say the least. If we are to effectively confront those challenges, we must strive to embody Ephraim and Menashe as much as possible. Let us remember and honor our inextricable ties as Jewish brothers and sisters even when we at times feel completely estranged from one another, and strive to live out our Jewish faith and traditions faithfully, knowledgeably, and proudly.