By: Rabbi Osher Jungreis
We have a teaching that everything that happened to our forefathers is a sign to the children. So when we study the Torah, it is not only to our G-d given heritage that we connect, but we also acquire insight into our own lives today. On his deathbed, our father Jacob blessed his children. Those blessings transcend the centuries and are as real today as they were then. In Genesis 48:20, it states: “So he (Jacob) blessed them that day declaring, “By you shall Israel bless, saying ‘May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe…’”
And amazingly, to this day, every Jewish parent blesses his children with that very same blessing, but why were only Ephraim and Menashe singled out by Jacob to be the paradigm of blessing?
Ephraim and Menashe were born in exile and raised in the palace of Pharaoh–and yet, they never compromised their Jewishness, but remained loyal, committed sons of the Torah. And although Ephraim was the youngest and Jacob gave him the principle blessing, he did not become arrogant or haughty, and more significantly, Menashe, the elder son, who could have claimed that he was entitled to the blessing, never became jealous.
Therefore, this is the perfect blessing to impart to our children, for it is an assurance of commitment to Torah regardless of environment and it is a blessing for fine character.
Jacob conferred the blessing of leadership upon Judah (Genesis 48:9).
Why, you may ask, did Judah merit this awesome privilege? Chazal advanced two reasons; 1) He confessed his sins and accepted total accountability for his actions. 2) He took Joseph out of the pit. The sign of a great man can be detected in his ability to acknowledge his faults, his sins, and to accept responsibility for them. A coward, on the other hand, scapegoats. His shortcomings are always someone else’s fault. It was Judah’s willingness to accept accountability and to take action to save his brother that earned him the mantle of royalty and leadership.
Let us be worthy of the blessings of our father Jacob. Like Ephraim and Menashe, let us free ourselves of jealousy and arrogance and cling tenaciously to our Jewish faith. And like Judah, let us accept accountability for our deeds, rectify them, and thus participate in tikkun olam – bringing healing and blessing to our people.
This Shabbos, we conclude Sefer Bereshis, the first of the Five Books of the Torah. It is referred to as Shabbos Chazak – The Shabbat of Strength, because as we conclude the Book of Genesis, the entire congregation rises and proclaims, Chazak, Chazak, V’Nischazek”–“Be Strong! Be Strong! And may we be strengthened!” We ask the Almighty to give us the strength to continue to succeed in our Torah studies. At first glance, it may appear strange that we extend wishes for strength at this time–it is really at the commencement of our undertaking that we should do so. But beginnings are always marked by enthusiasm and zeal–the trick is to retain the same level of enthusiasm at the end. Therefore, upon concluding our studies, we make a commitment to continue our Torah studies with strength and devotion and pray that this conclusion be a stepping stone to further growth and development.