Why Like Efraim and Menasheh? – Parshas Vayigash

Every Jewish person blesses his sons that they should be like Efraim and Menasheh. We do this because Yaakov Aveinu so instructed (see Berieshis 48:20). The Jewish girls on the other hand are blessed that they should be like Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah (see Rus 4:11), the Matriarchs. Why do we specifically use Efraim and Menasheh as the male blessing of choice?

The Midrash (Tanchumah Vayigash 5) tells us that as Yosef HaTzaddik was speaking to his brothers after they brought Binyomin down to him in Egypt, he was overcome with emotion. Yosef felt that he could not keep his brothers in suspense any longer and he needed to reveal the true identity of Tzafnas Pane’ach to them. Yehuda and all of the brothers were highly riled up and were ready to destroy the entire Egypt in order to save Binyomin. Yosef was unable to contain himself further. He sent out all of the Egyptians and his guards and had a private talk with his eleven brothers. “I am Yosef!! Is my father still alive?!” It was an earth-shattering revelation. The Midrash states that Yosef gambled his life at that moment by sending out his guards and remaining alone with the brothers as they could have killed him on the spot and no one would have even known! So why did he do this? “Yosef said, ‘It is worth it for me to risk my life (to send out the guards) rather than to causing my brothers embarrassment when I reveal myself’!”

If we think about what is being said here it is quite awesome and unbelievable. Yosef was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers. For 22 years he missed his dear father, brother, homeland and freedom. He could have harbored bad feelings and allowed his internal resentments and hatred towards his brother who sold him to snowball into a ferocious loathing of them. Yet at this very moment of truth, he was willing to put his life on the line in order to save them from embarrassment. How was this possible?

I have noted the fascinating advent of the naming of Yosef’s two sons who were born to him in Egypt. “Yosef called his firstborn ‘Menasheh’ for Hashem has helped me forget (Nashani) my sorrows and the pain that my brothers caused me. He called the second one Efraim, for Hashem has made me productive (Hifrani) in this land of affliction” (Bereishis 41:51-2). Yosef could have spent the day wallowing in self-pity and victimhood. He could have used his troubles as an excuse as to why he was not capable of moving on and living a healthy, happy and productive life. But he did not. Yosef realized that the only person that he would be hurting by holding onto resentments was he himself. He would not accomplish or grow that way. And so he worked deeply and hard to let go. He put himself fully in Hashem’s hand and recognized that Hashem would help him forget his sorrows and pain. After he did this he experienced a deep inner freedom and empowerment. He would be a healthy and productive person. He would work to make that happen. This is signified by his two son’s names.Menasheh connotes that Yosef forgot and let go of his resentments. Efraim connotes that he thereby became a successful and productive person.

Yosef broke away from the role of victim that he easily could have fallen into and instead he choose the path of greatness. Yosef so strongly worked on himself to forgive and forget the pain caused by his brothers to the point that when he faced them, he looked at them with great love and respect. He was sensitive to their needs and he wished to ensure that they would not be exposed in public. He put his life on the line to make that happen. This is why we bless our children to be like Efraim and Menasheh. We wish for every Jew to learn how to let go of pain and resentment (Menasheh) and instead to be as productive and fruitful (Efraim) as possible!