The Promise of Blessing
"Israel will blessed through you (by saying) 'May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe...'"
Nachmanides Comments On The Verse In Genesis
"When Jacob says that Israel will be blessed through you, he was speaking to Joseph saying that through your seed will Israel be blessed. The blessing to be used is 'May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.'"
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There is a Friday night tradition that parents bless their children before kiddush, before sanctifying Shabbat over the ceremonial cup of wine. For daughters, the blessing is: "May God make you like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah." For sons it is, "May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe," the two sons of Joseph.
The second part of the blessing is the same for both boys and girls. It is the priestly blessing for Israel that is also written in the Torah: "May God bless you and keep you. May God shine His countenance upon you and be gracious unto you. May God lift up His face toward you and always give you peace." (Numbers 6:24) The source for the boys' blessing is in this week's Parsha. It is written: "Israel will blessed through you (by saying) 'May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe...'" (Genesis 48:20)
1. The preamble to this familiar blessing doesn't seem to fit with the second half. The lack of symmetry between the two blessings is striking. The girls are blessed in the name of the matriarchs while the boys are blessed in the name of the matriarch Rachel's grandchildren. Why aren't the boys blessed in the name of the Patriarchs?
2. How does the verse that promises Israel will be blessed through Ephraim and Menashe explain why boys are not blessed in the name of the Patriarchs?
According to Nachmanides' commentary, we reiterate Jacob's blessing, in order to fulfill his promise to Joseph's children. We continue to be responsible for an ancient promise. Nevertheless, it would make little sense to bless our girls in the name of Joseph's sons, and it would be unseemly not to bless our daughters since Nachmanides maintained that all the people of Israel would be blessed through Ephraim and Menashe.
The solution to this dilemma is to take the formula of the blessing from the verse in Genesis, but substitute the matriarchs for Ephraim and Menashe. Even though they are not mentioned in the blessing for the girls, it is their blessing that echoes in the ears of Israel.
In one blessing many generations are acknowledged, and when we bless our children and our children bless their children, we not only continue Jacob's promise, but we have set the groundwork for his promise to be kept by our children as well. His promise is our promise as we are blessed and continue to bless those who are the source of much of our joy and blessing.