Roberta and I recently had a virtual (Zoom-call) Friday evening Shabbat dinner. During the call, at the point when we blessed our children, an explanation was offered for the reason we ask that our sons be like “Ephraim and Menashe” as opposed to our Patriarchs. The suggested reason was that these two children of Joseph were perhaps the only set of siblings in the Torah who loved each other. I do not recall any supporting evidence in the text – but certainly, other siblings did NOT get along.
I would take that concept one step further. We are currently into the Torah texts describing the Israelites’ 40 years being nomads in the wilderness, comprising the better part of 4 of the 5 books in the Torah. In the entirety of these texts, there are numerous descriptions of interactions among people. Since the time the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds and began their trek, the Torah has been a preponderantly serious work, often dramatic and tense. That is, since Egypt, I do recall any times that are joyous or even pleasant. We could guess that the Israelite families may have enjoyed life together in some manner, having senses of humor or just smiling or hugging, but that kind of “small” detail is not in the narrative. Even with the main character of Moses, we know little of his family life with his wife or children. The Torah is clearly not a modern novel or history text; rather, it intends that we absorb our morals and behaviors as a serious undertaking, and that perhaps we learn best from mistakes (of which there are plenty in the wilderness). I personally agree that we humans can be more naturally attuned (at least once our kids get older) to react to bad behavior, rather than to appreciate the normal good behaviors, but that does not mean we are unable to learn from acts of goodness and kindness. A simple reinforcing smile can be simply powerful.