When Jewish parents bless their daughters on the eve of Sabbath and Holidays, or at life’s significant milestones, we invoke the Matriarchs: “God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.” But in compliance with an explicit Biblical directive (Genesis 48:20) based on the precedent of Jacob’s blessing for Joseph’s children, the parental benediction bestowed upon our sons begins, “God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.”

Jacob here granted primacy to the younger sibling, Ephraim, over his first-born brother Manasseh. Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, points out that Manasseh’s name means “forgetfulness” (see Genesis 41:51). He concludes, “Greater are the blessings of a child who remembers the past and future of which he is a part.”

Jacob was a grateful heir to the patriarchal role discharged by Abraham and Isaac. He remembered his past. Yet his emphasis was on engaging his grandchildren — the future — an example we are called upon to emulate.      

Jacob apparently succeeded in transmitting his dual sense of history and continuity to Joseph. According to the final verses of the Book of Genesis (50:22-23), Joseph developed a special relationship with his great-grandchildren, “children of the third generation of Ephraim” and “the children of Machir the son of Manasseh.”

Could there be a greater blessing?

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting. This marks the 52nd entry by Rabbi Prouser marking a full year of commentaries.)

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