This Shabbat, we conclude reading the book of Genesis and the patriarchal narrative. Jacob is nearing his death but before he passes away, he offers two of his grandchildren, Ephraim and Manasseh, one last blessing. After he blesses them, we are told that all of Israel in the future will be blessed to be like them. This serves as the source for the custom of blessing our sons to be like Ephraim and Manasseh every week at the Shabbat dinner table. (In a future message, I will address the topic of a Shabbat blessing for our daughters.)
The commentators are somewhat perplexed as to why Ephraim and Manasseh are the biblical characters whom we will be blessed to be like. One of my favorite explanations points out that they were the first Jews to grow up outside the land of Israel and were still able to maintain their positive Israelite identity and connection to their faith. While I think this explanation is beautiful in theory, we actually know very little about Ephraim and Manasseh and what their lives were like. This knowledge gap offers another explanation as to why we are encouraged to bless our children to be like them.
When I bless my son every Shabbat to be like Ephraim and Manasseh, I have no idea or expectation as to what that blessing will lead to. What I really want him to be is happy, but I have no idea what that happiness will look like. When I bless my son to be like Ephraim and Manasseh, I am not hoping that he will be like someone else, or will live up to my expectations and dreams for him, but rather that he will decide for himself what those blessings will look like.
Similarly, when I think about all of the blessings that await us in the new year, I have no idea what is in store. Which is why this year, it is my hope and prayer that we are all blessed to be like Ephraim and Manasseh. May we all recognize our own agency in determining what it means for us to be blessed. May this year be a year filled with blessings for all of us and the world around us.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Josh Dorsch