The Friday night blessing in traditional communities includes the phrase “may you be like Ephraim and Manasseh.” Here’s what I’m wondering: why do we mention Ephraim and Manasseh? I mean, most prayers mention Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…so what the heck are Ephraim and Mannaseh randomly doing in this prayer?
In Parsha Vayechi, Jacob “elevates” the status of Joseph’s sons to that of his sons, in effect, making Ephraim and Manasseh inheritors of the patriarchal lineage and an equal member of the Jewish clan. Traditional commentators say that Ephraim and Manasseh showed themselves worthy by being moral people in the land of Egypt, when they could have been all depraved …like Charlie Sheen!
But Robert Alter in The Five Books of Moses suggests something different. It is not so much that Ephraim and Manasseh were so special. Rather, it is because Reuben and Simeon were such failures, that in a sense, Joseph’s sons [Read more…]