In this week’s parsha Yosef, upon hearing that his father was sick, brings his two sons Ephraim and Menashe for a blessing. Yaakov bestows them with the immortal words recited by Jewish parents to this very day, “Becha yevorach Yisrael laimor, ‘yesimecha Elokim k’Ephraim u’ki’Menashe’.” – “With you Yidden shall bless saying, ‘May Hashem make you like Ephraim & like Menashe’.” (Beraishis, 48:20) There are many explanations given as to what special qualities Ephraim & Menashe had that they became the poster children for yiddishe nachas, and I would like to share one that I heard from Rav Moshe Kupitz in the name of Rav Shlomo Bloch zt”l. Earlier in the parsha Yaakov tells Yosef, “Ephraim u’Menashe ki’Reuven v’Shimon yiheyu li” – “Ephraim and Menashe will be to me as Reuven and Shimon.” (Beraishis, 48:5). Rashi explains that Yaakov with this statement is giving his grandsons Ephraim & Menashe each a portion of Eretz Yisroel equal to the portion divvied up to Yaakov’s sons. Says Rav Bloch, Yaakov is offering here an anomaly of what usually happens with the passage of time. We as Yidden believe in a concept known as yeridos hadoros – the degression of generations. Sons are not on the same level as their fathers who themselves are not up to par with their fathers. But Yaakov is bucking the trend with Ephraim & Menashe. He is promising, “ki’Reuven v’Shimon yiheyu li” -they will be on the same level as the generation before them. This, says Rav Bloch, is the bracha we give our children. “Yesimecha Elokim k’Ephraim u’ki’Menashe” – may Hashem bestow upon you a level that defies your generational standing and give you the ability to rise to the level of the illustrious greats of yore. With the flourishing of kiruv and yiddishkeit’s emphasis on quality in Torah learning this brave bracha of Yaakov is a truism. Britain’s Chief Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jacobovits zt”l once remarked (circa 1970’s) that if you were to walk into the average Jewish house in England in the early 50’s and see a Shas on a bookshelf, you could be certain of three things. The grandfather of that family is familiar with its contents. The father would know what a Shas is but is ignorant of what is contained within. And the son nebach is completely clueless as to what these great tomes even are. Today if one were to walk into the same Jewish house and see a Shas on a bookshelf you could also be certain of three things. The grandfather of the family is clueless as to what these great tomes are. The father would know what a Shas is but is ignorant of what it contains. And the son, well this time he would be completely familiar with its contents.
Political commentator Charles Krauthammer once met a physicist who as a child had been something of a chess prodigy. He loved the game and loved the role. He took particular delight in the mortification older players felt upon losing to a kid in short pants.
“Still play?” Krauthammer asked.
“Quit when I was 21.”
“Lost to a kid in short pants!”
“Yesimecha Elokim k’Ephraim u’ki’Menashe”. We as Yiddishe parents dream and hope that our short panted ones should best us adults and make us and Hakadosh Baruch Hu very proud.
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.