As Yaakov was preparing for his physical departure from this world, Yosef brought his sons Menasheh and Ephraim to him to receive a blessing. Upon seeing the two young men, in amazement he asked “Mi eila?” — “Who are these?” Yosef replied, “They are my sons who G‑d has given me here.” Hearing this, Yaakov responded “Bring them to me, if you please, and I will bless them.” Yaakov kissed and hugged them and said to Yosef, “Re’eih panecha lo filolti — I did not imagine seeing your face, — ve’henei, her’ah Elokim oti gam et zar’echa — and behold G‑d has shown me even your offspring” (48:9-11).

There are a few difficulties that come to mind in this brief encounter. Why was Yaakov so shocked when he saw them, to the extent that he asked in amazement “Mi eilah” — “Who are these?” Yosef should have just responded “Banai heim” — “they are my sons” — “asher natan li Elokim — “that G‑d has given me.” Why was it necessary to add the emphasis — bazeh — [G‑d has given me] here? What caused the change in Yaakov’s mind that he decided to embrace and bless them?

Finally, in Yaakov’s statement “Re’eih panecha lo filolti” — “I did not imagine seeing your face.” The word “panecha” — “your face” — is superfluous. He should have simply said “re’eih otecha” — “seeing you” why the emphasis on seeing his face? Likewise, in his concluding words, “and, behold, “her’ah oti Elokim gam et zarecha,” the words “oti” that literally means myself, is not clear, since it may be read that Yaakov was shown to Yosef’s sons? Grammatically, Yaakov should have just said “her’ani Elokim” or “her’ah li” — “G‑d has shown me [your offspring]?

This could perhaps be explained in the following way:

When Yosef and his sons stood before Yaakov, Yaakov was greatly surprised. He saw two young men with beards and paiyot dressed like chassidish-yeshivish men. Back home in Canaan he saw many such people. They were his grandchildren the sons of Reuven, Shimon and the others. But here in Egypt he couldn’t believe his eyes. In his wildest dreams he never imagined to see such in Egypt. So in amazement he asked “Mi eilah?”—“Who are these!?”

Yosef told him that over the years he had married and had raised two sons. “Moreover,” he said, “though there is no Torah spiritual atmosphere, and they had no frum friends or environment, still bazeh — here — I succeeded in raising them to be fully committed to Torah and mitzvot. They are not only pious in observance but also in their outer physical appearance. They are young yeshivish-chassidish bachurim, who are proudly and tenaciously attached to the ways of their ancestors.”

Yaakov told Yosef: “Upon learning that you were in Egypt and had achieved great fame, many thoughts went through my mind about your loyalty to Judaism and spiritual situation. Re’eih panecha lo filoti — I did not imagine seeing your face — i.e. I began to doubt if your appearance would be the same as when we last saw each other and I feared that your children had probably assimilated, resembling the young Egyptian boys with whom they associate.

“Not only has Hashem shown me panecha — that your face is the way I would wish it to be, but looking at your children, I see in them a replica of otimyself. Thus, ‘her’ah oti Elokim’ — G‑d caused me to appear — ‘et zarecha’through your children — due to their similarity to my appearance. They, too, look like young chassidish bachurim, filled with Yiddish spirit and it is a pleasure to kiss and hug them and give them my berachot — blessings.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, I have attended countless Bar Mitzvah celebrations. Unfortunately, at some I see the decline of the generations. There is an obvious spiritual generation gap between the grandfather and his son, the father of the Bar Mitzvah, and even between the Bar Mitzvah boy himself and his father. Tonight, I look at you, your father, and your grandfather. I proudly paraphrase the words of Yaakov Avinu, thank G‑d: Her’ah oti Elokim — you depict a replica of your father and grandfather.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, hopefully you will continue to proudly carry the banner of your ancestors and propagate their ideas and convictions throughout your entire life and be recognized as a scion of your prominent family thanks to your religious conduct and Torah observance.


The Gemara (Bava Metzia 87a) says that up to the life of Yaakov there was no illness. Just prior to one’s expiration, a person would become ill and pass on. So when Yosef was notified that his father, Yaakov, was ill, he took his sons Menashe and Ephraim and rushed off to be at his father’s bedside.

Yaakov inquired about the two young men. Satisfied with what he heard from his son Yosef about them, he proceeded to bless them. He blessed them, “May they deserve to have their names coupled with those of my forefathers — the Patriarchs — and ‘Veyidgu larov b’kerev ha’aretz’ — ‘May they proliferate abundantly (like fish — Rashi) within the land’” 48:16).

What quality do fish possess that Yaakov prayed they acquire? Yaakov had the following in mind:

Once the Roman government issued a decree forbidding Torah study. Papus ben Yehudah saw Rabbi Akiva conducting Torah classes and asked him, “Do you not fear punishment by law?” Rabbi Akiva answered with a parable: A fox was strolling along the riverbank and noticed fish swimming swiftly from place to place. He asked, “Why are you running?” They replied, “We are afraid of the net that people set up to catch us.” The fox slyly said, “Perhaps it would be wise to ascend to the shore and live together with me as my parents lived with your parents.” The fish responded, “You speak foolishly; if we are afraid in our native habitat, our fear will be even greater on land, where death will be certain.” Similarly, Torah is our source of life and may save us. Without it we will definitely perish (Berachot 61b).

Yaakov was instructing his children to always remember that just as a fish cannot live without water, so a Jew cannot exist without Torah; and he blessed them to “swim like a fish” in the “Yam Hatalmud” — the ocean of Torah study.

Yaakov also had in mind the unique quality of fish in that their life depends in a large measure on their vitality and ability to swim upstream. If a fish permits itself to be swept along by the current, it will be in danger. It is only because the Hashem has endowed the fish with the precious instinct of self-preservation, whereby it is able to swim upstream against the forces of the billowing waves, that it can survive and thrive.

Yaakov blessed his children to be capable and willing to swim upstream and resist the temptation of swimming with the tide.

There is, however, one thing that superficially is enigmatic: Yaakov’s words are recorded in two pesukim and begin with “Vayevarech et Yosef vayomar” — “He blessed Yosef and he said.” Immediately following is the berachah given to Menashe and Ephraim. What was the berachah for Yosef?

Yaakov’s berachah to Yosef was that his children, Ephraim and Menashe, should be tzaddikim. When children conduct themselves in a proper way, the parents’nachas is the greatest berachah they can wish for.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, Yaakov Avinu’s words are so true. The greatest berachah for parents is nachas from their children. Your berachah to your parents will be when you continue your diligent Torah study and go “upstream” in your observance of Torah and mitzvot. May you succeed in this mission and make your parents, family, and Klal Yisrael proud of you.


In this week’s parshah, Vayechi, Yaakov blesses all his sons and his two grandchildren, Menasheh and Ephraim. In addition he establishes a format of blessing for generations to come, by saying “By you shall Israel bless saying ‘May G‑d make your like Ephraim and like Menasheh’” (48:20).

It is customary in some families for parents to bless their sons on Shabbat eve with this blessing, and universally it is traditional for parents to bestow the blessing on Erev Yom Kippur. (Daughters are blessed “May G‑d make you like Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah”).

Many interpretations are offered to the significance of this berachah and the intent of blessing children to be like Ephraim and Menasheh specifically.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, I would like to share with you an insight on this.

Yaakov’s twelve sons were all Torah giants and each possessed unique qualities. They constituted a generation for themselves, while Ephraim and Menasheh were members of the succeeding generation. A common tendency is that the succeeding generations are inferior to their predecessors. Ephraim and Menasheh, however, were an exception to this rule. Though they grew up in Egypt and were not in the surroundings of Yaakov Avinu; nevertheless, there was no visible distinction between them and their uncles who were of the previous generation. They were Torah giants and G‑d-fearing people exactly the same as their uncles.

When Yaakov spoke to Yosef regarding his sons, he exclaimed, “And now, your two sons who were born to you in Egypt before my arriving to you in Egypt shall be mine; Ephraim and Menasheh shall be mine like Reuven and Shimon. (48:5). Yaakov meant to say, “Though your sons Ephraim and Menasheh grew up and Egypt prior to my coming, nevertheless, they are identical in greatness and righteousness to my sons Reuven and Shimon. There is absolutely no difference between them and their predecessors.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, you are a member of a new, upcoming generation. However, observing your zeal and love for Torah and Mitzvot, I see in you a replica of the generation of yesteryear. It is my prayer and wish that you continue in this direction and be a Chassid, yirei Shamayim — G‑d fearing Jew — and lamdan — Torah scholar — who will emulate his predecessors.

Incidentally, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 105b) says, “A man is jealous of everyone except his son and his disciple.” Rashi comments, “A father is not jealous of his son’s success, even when it exceeds his own.” I say the same to you: Keep up your enthusiasm for learning Torah and conducting yourself in the ways of Chassidut. I can assure you that all your family members and mentors will be very happy when you will outdo them in being a superior Chassid, a unique G‑d fearing Jew, and an exceptional Torah scholar.


The Gemara (Berachot 31a) says that the prophets would conclude the sefarim — books — that contained their works of prophecy with words of praise for the Jewish people and consolation. Although they were previously discussing the punishment that would befall the Jewish people, G‑d forbid, for their sins, they always took care to conclude their words on an encouraging note.

This is the source for the popular adage “Mesaymim b’chi tov” — “Conclude with a good note.” Thus, the last Gemara of Shas as well as some other Gemarot conclude with something totally unrelated to the subject matter being discussed in order to conclude with something good and pleasant (see Tosafot to end of Gemara Nidah).

Cognizant of this, the Rebbe raises a question regarding the final pasuk in this week’s Parshah, Vayechi which is the conclusion of Sefer Bereishit the first of the five books of Torah. It states, “Vayamet Yosef ben mei’ah va’eser shanim, vayichantu oto vayisem ba’aron b’Mitzrayim — “Yosef died at the age of 110 years; they embalmed him and he was placed in a coffin in Egypt” (50:26). Asks the Rebbe, how can this closing passage be reconciled with the practice of concluding b’chi tov — on a good note?

The Rebbe explains this, based on the words of the famous Kabbalist Reb Mordechai Hakohen of Tzfat (1523-1598) in his sefer Siftei Kohen, published originally in 5370 (1610). He writes that the reason Yosef was placed in a coffin in Egypt and not carried immediately to Eretz Yisroel for burial is that Yaakov had said to him “You must protect over them, and elicit for them chein v’chesed — grace and kindness — throughout their stay in exile, and to go with them in the wilderness.”

Hence, knowing that Yosef was interred in Egypt and that he would accompany them when they traveled in the wilderness, the Jewish people drew support and strength to endure the tribulations of their exile. This helped them to remain tenaciously attached to Hashem without being impressed or influenced by their neighbors.

The Rebbe’s beautiful innovation gives us insight to the profundity of the final words “he was interred in a coffin in Egypt.” Permit me, however, my dear Bar Mitzvah, to share a thought on the beginning words of the pasuk, “And Yosef died at the age of 110.” Superficially, the mention of the name Yosef in this pasuk is superfluous? In the previous two pesukim Yosef was speaking and said to his brothers, “I am about to die,” assuring them “Hashem will indeed remember you, and you will bring my bones up out of here,” so why the necessity to mention his name?

Pharoah was intrigued with Yosef, the young Jewish slave and prisoner who interpreted his dreams. In awe, he proclaimed to his servants “Can we find someone like this?” (41:38), and against their advice, he proceeded to appoint Yosef viceroy over Egypt. As a part of his inauguration ceremony. “Pharoah called Yosef’s name Tzaphnat Panei’ach”(41:45) “explainer of the hidden things.” Never, however, do we find that Yosef used this name. In fact, the same pasuk that records Pharoah giving him the beautiful name Tzaphnat Panei’ach, concludes, “and Yosef went out over the land of Egypt.” Why did Yosef avoid using this prominent name?

Regardless, of his admiration for Yosef’s genius, Pharoah was apprehensive. “Does it look good to have a devoutly religious Jew in such a high position?” he thought. How would it look in the upper echelon, and how would it be viewed by the high ranking officials to have a Jew with a yarmulka — skull cap — beard and peiyot in their midst? Therefore, he devised a scheme to change Yosef’s name, hoping that if he assumed a non-Jewish name he would little by little adapt to the Egyptian ways, assimilate, and become part of their society. Yosef sensed this and clung to his Jewish name, realizing that any deviation from his true identity might, G‑d forbid, distance him from his Torah-true righteousness and dedication to Hashem.

The final pasuk of the parshah and the closing passage of Sefer Bereishit, does not end on a gloomy note. On the contrary, it is offering a laudatory eulogy to Yosef. Throughout his entire life, up to his day of passing at the age of 110, he always remained Yosef. He was proud of his Jewishness and never did he seek to conceal his identity.

To paraphrase Rashi’s comment in the parshah of the coming week (Shemot) on the Biblical words “and Yosef was in Egypt” — Rashi asks, “Would we not have known that Yosef was in Egypt?” and answers, “The clause is included to inform you of the righteousness of Yosef. He was Yosef who tended the flock of his father (and) he was the same Yosef who was in Egypt and became a king, yet he stood firm in his righteousness, despite the radical change in his life.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, neither I nor anyone here can foretell your destiny. We do not know what is in store for you in the future. Your potential, however, is unlimited and hopefully you will attain much success and reach lofty heights. Indeed you have our blessings and felicitations. Remember but one thing: Let Yosef be your role model. Cherish your identity and never compromise on it. Doing so will not diminish or limit your success. On the contrary, it will enhance your position and gain you acclaim and admiration.