It is customary to bestow a berachah upon a Chatan and Kallah or extend sincerest congratulations and felicitations. To my knowledge there is no one standard berachah or text of felicitation, and thus, everyone articulates it in his own words.

Fortunately, this week this task or pleasure is facilitated. Parshat Vayechi is replete with berachot. Our father Yaakov blessed every one of his children and also two of his grandchildren, the sons of Yosef, Menasheh and Ephraim. In addition, Yaakov designated his grandchildren as the prototype for future parental blessings. The Torah records “So he blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you shall Israel bless saying, May G‑d make you like Ephraim and like Menasheh’” (48:20).

Throughout the ages, universally, this has become the traditional blessing parents give their children. Many deliver this blessing on Erev Yom Kippur and some do so every Friday night upon returning from shul. By so doing, we are not only blessing our children, but we are also expressing our innermost feelings and hopes concerning how we would wish them to be.

The first question that comes to mind is why did Yaakov single out his grandchildren Ephraim and Menasheh to be examples that all parents should aspire that their children emulate? Why didn’t he pick some of his own sons, such as Yehudah the great leader, Yissachar the eminent Torah scholar, Zevulun the philanthropist, or perhaps Yosef the Tzaddik? Also, what is the intent of this berachah? What was Yaakov, along with the parents of today, anticipating and praying for?

Yaakov and his family grew up in the holy land of Israel. They lived in their own protected and shielded community. Ephraim and Menasheh, on the other hand, were the first two members of Yaakov’s family that were born and grew up in Egypt. They were exposed to an alien way of life from a Torah perspective and all the amenities of the secular world. Nevertheless, they remained tenaciously attached to Torah and strongly committed to Yiddishkeit.

Even their grandfather Yaakov was amazed when he saw them and expressed his disbelief to Yosef by telling him that “I had not thought to see your face,” i.e. “I was worried about what you would look like when I saw you. Not only are you the same as you were when we parted some forty years ago,” he continued, “lo, G‑d has let me see also your children (48:11) — though they grew up in Egypt they have not assimilated and their appearance and way of thinking matches with that of all my children and grandchildren who lived all these years under my tutelage in Eretz Yisrael.”

Though Yaakov was sick and very frail, his wisdom was very sharp. He knew very well that his descendants would go through many exiles and have to raise children in environments alien to Torah thinking. Jewish children would grow up in societies and surroundings where they would see very little Yiddishkeit or none at all. Parents, as a result, would have to struggle to instill Torah ideas and ideals in them despite opposition by the forces for assimilation.

Yaakov’s legacy to posterity was that parents should bless their children to emulate Ephraim and Menasheh, the prototypes of Jewish children born and bred in surroundings hostile to Torah who did not permit the surroundings to affect one iota of their attachment and conviction to Torah.

This berachah I extend tonight to you, my dear Chatan and Kallah. You were born and raised in the Diaspora. Though the Yiddishkeit in our community surpasses that of other areas in our city and country, there is still much to be desired. The negative influences are pervasive and likely to dampen our children’s enthusiasm for Torah observance.

May you be like Ephraim and Menasheh: Let it be evident to all that the beracha designed by our forefather Yaakov and bestowed upon you by your parents was fully realized. As you set out on your journey through married life, wherever it will be destined for you to live, don’t follow the vagaries of contemporary trends. Stay attached to our golden heritage and be exemplary members of K’lal Yisrael.


The parshah Vayechi relates the fascinating episode that took place when Yosef brought his sons Menasheh and Ephraim to be blessed by Yaakov before his passing. He positioned them in a way that Yaakov’s right hand would be on Menasheh and the left hand on his younger son Ephraim. Yaakov insisted on doing it his way: He gave precedence to Ephraim and placed his right hand on his head.

Not only did he bless them but he also authored the text for parents to recite when they bless their children, as the pasuk says “So he blessed them that day, saying: By you shall Israel bless saying ‘May G‑d make you like Ephraim and Menasheh.’” The pasuk concludes by telling us “and he put Ephraim before Menasheh” (48:20).

What is the significance of this berachah? What message did Yaakov convey to K’lal Yisrael for posterity?

In Egypt, Ephraim was occupied with the study of Torah. His teacher was none other than his grandfather Yaakov. In fact, Yosef was notified of his father’s illness by Ephraim. For the latter was often in Yaakov’s presence for study, and when Yaakov took ill in the land of Goshen, Ephraim went to his father to tell him (Rashi 48:1).

Menasheh, however, the older son of Yosef, remained in his father’s house and learned there by observing in practice some of the fundamental ingredients of statesmanship. He assisted his father and headed his household (Targum Yonatan ben Uziel 43:16) and was also the interpreter between Yosef and his brothers (Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 91:8). In short, Menasheh was a professional diplomat, statesman and economist.

Yaakov felt that the Jewish community needs both approaches. We need our scholars so that we have proper Torah leaders, and we need our professionals so that we will not be dependent on outsiders. Nevertheless, the professionals, too, must remember that the principle authority lays with the Torah leaders, and the professionals themselves must be people who revere the Torah and its scholars. Therefore, he gave the “right handed” berachah to Ephraim, the prototype of the Torah scholar immersed in Torah study and teaching. He also blessed Menasheh the Jewish professional, but emphasized that Ephraim has precedence — Torah surpasses above all and thus to the professional as well, Torah must be the ultimate standard, the guidepost in his life and profession.

I would like to conclude with a short story I heard some time ago. Henry Kissinger, who was the Secretary of State in the Nixon administration, was putting much undue pressure on Israel. The Prime Minister, Golda Meir, sent him a note appealing to his conscience. Mr. Kissinger wrote back, “Dear Golda, I hope you realize that I am an American, a diplomat, and a Jew in that order.” Golda responded, “Dear Henry, I trust you still remember that we Jews read from right to left.”

My dear Chatan and Kallah, I was happy to learn that both of you will be entering your respective field of expertise. Not only do I wish you mazal tov on your marriage and that your married life should be blissful and favored with good health and happiness, but I also extend to you the blessing of our father Yaakov to succeed in your endeavors and always remember to put Ephraim before Menasheh. While being Jewish professionals, you should keep Yiddishkeit and Torah preeminent in your life.