Ephraim and Menashe: Role Models in Chutz La’aretz Come Home!
Last week’s parsha, parshat vayechi, contains many brachot. Each of Yaakov’s 12 sons receives a bracha describing his unique attributes as well as yaakovs wish for him in the future. Yosef’s children, Efraim and Menashe, both get the special bracha of hamalach hagoel and are additionally blessed with "yisemech elokim kiefraim vichemenashe" (bereishes 48 20) This is truly a tremendous blessing. From then on all Jewish boys are blessed by their parents with this very bracha every Friday night, to be like ephraim and menashe. The question then becomes why Yaakov said that perennial blessing specifically about Efraim and Menashe but not Reuven and Shimon? What is so special about them?
Rabbi Yisocher Frand gives a very powerful answer based on several mefarshim and rabbi Eliyahu Munk ztl. Yaakov saw a unique quality in Menashe and Efraim that he did not see in his own children. Yaakovs own children were raised in the land of Israel, in his home, insulated from the secular world, and not exposed to temptation and non-Jewish life. He says there is nothing novel in the fact that the shvatim turned out to be God fearing Jews because of the way and where they were raised. Rabbi Frand offers a literal exmaple: “It is no surprise if a child who is raised in Bnei Brak or Meah Shearim grows up as an observant Jew. However if people raise a child in a city such as Sioux City, Iowa -- where their family is, perhaps, the only observant Jewish family in town -- and the child is subject to foreign influences from all of his surroundings -- and nonetheless, the child turns out a faithful Jew, that is truly a great accomplishment.”
Yaakov avinu, knowing that the future generations of Jews would spend the bulk of their years in galut, formed the best blessing that the Jewish people could give their boys- "may you be like Efraim and Menashe".
Rabbi Frand continues, "Ephraim and Menashe were raised in the Sioux City, Iowa of their time. They were the only Jews in the entire country! They had to grow up knowing that many things that they saw around them were not right, not the way things should be. Despite this, they turned out just like Yaakov's own children. This is the special blessing that the Jewish people would need -- the ability to be raised in a non-Jewish environment and yet turn out to be good and honest Jews. "
I think all of us are like Ephraim and Menashe. For the bulk of our adult lives most of us have grown up in chutz laaertz in primarily non-Jewish environments. Regardless of the size of our many Jewish communities, we’ve learned to maintain our Jewish lifestyle despite being surrounded by a secular country or state. We all have been emulating Ephraim and Menashe in that regard. But we have all chosen to embark on a new and exciting chapter in our lives. We have chosen to live in eretz yisrael.
Now here is the part of Rabbi Frand’s dvar torah that I want to add. We have taken the bracha of Menashe and Ephraim and pushed it a step further. Our life in chutz laaertz has propelled us to come to eretz yisrael and embrace the change of living in an all-encompassing Jewish atmosphere. It will be a comforting change to our normal lives. No longer will we have to live like Ephraim and Now we are zoche to live like the shvatim, in our home, in a place of one majority, that just so happens to be Judaism.
May we be zoche to have an easy and meaningful transition to life in ertez yisrael!
Miriam Blum is currently studying in Migdal Oz and is a member of the Here Next Year Ambassador Program.