For every Jewish family, however we choose to observe it, Friday night is a special time. A time for family and friendship, great food and peace in the home. This emphasis on family is reflected even in our prayers. You will notice in the siddur that before our meal there is a beautiful custom – the blessing of our children. It is an opportunity for parents to offer a prayer or a thought for their children, so that they may be blessed and that Hashem should watch over and protect them.
For our daughters, we bless them that they should share the character and attributes of our Matriarchs; Sarah, Rebecca, Leah & Rachel. Our boys we bless to be like Ephraim and Manasseh; a blessing that is taken from this week’s Parasha.
Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons of Joseph, and like their father and uncles, they were blessed by their grandfather Jacob before he died. Manasseh the oldest of the two stood on the right hand side of Jacob with Ephraim on the left. Whilst blessing the boys he reaches out to place his hands on their heads. At this time, Jacob crosses his arms placing his right hand on the head of Ephraim and his left hand on the head of Manasseh. Apparently it would seem he is showing a greater prominence to the younger grandchild. The question is why did he bless in this way, and even if he wanted to give a stronger blessing to Ephraim, why not ask them to swap places?
To answer the question we need to understand who these two boys were. Manasseh was his father’s son. He worked in the Egyptian palace, helping Joseph run the country, ensuring their livelihood. Ephraim was close to Jacob and studied with him; the boy became a master of Torah.
With this perspective we can see why Jacob desired to show greater prominence to Ephraim – the scholar. But it was not to disregard the place of Manasseh. Jacob also wanted to demonstrate to Manasseh his own role was also important and thus Manasseh stood on his grandfather’s right.
Jacob was trying to teach his grandchildren and us, that in life we need a healthy balance between work and study. The right side represents strength and prominence, so his right hand covered the head of Ephraim emphasising thought and understanding, but the right side of his body faced Manasseh, signifying his physical achievements and abilities.
Of course we should all aspire to be wise searching for meaning and understanding, but we must also be able, to support ourselves and provide for the needs of our families.
This is what we do each Friday night, when we bless our children, we ask for this duality of roles – for them to grow and support themselves both spiritually and materially.