In this week’s Parashah, Ya’akov Avinu realizes the value of giving each of his children distinct Berachot. At the end of his life he hopes to ensure the continuity of Am Yisrael and prepares to bless his children and grandchildren. Interestingly, Ya’akov Avinu uses different styles that send mixed messages about the proper method to bless children.
An Aesop fable tells of a man who marries off his two daughters on the same day, one to a potter and one to a farmer. One year later he decides to visit each daughter to inquire how their lives are going. The first daughter says, “Life is great, my husband treats me kindly, I love him and he loves me. I just wish it would rain less, because when the sun is out the pottery dries faster and he can sell more pots and that makes him happier.” The father leaves and plans to pray for the blessing of more sun. Upon his arrival at the home of his second daughter, the father is greeted by a smiling gracious daughter who says, “Life is grand, my husband loves me, treats me like a queen, all is good. The only thing I could wish for is more rain so the crops would grow faster and we could sell more grain.” The father would love to pray for the blessing of rain but this would disturb his first daughter.
Ya’akov bestows the famous Berachah, “Yesimchah Elokim KeEfrayim VeKiMenasheh,” “God make you as Efrayim and Menasheh” (BeReishit 48:20). This blessing has been used in households worldwide for generations. On Friday nights upon returning from synagogue, fathers bless their sons with these same words. It is really a peculiar blessing, though - do we truly want every child to be like Efrayim and Menasheh? Were they even the same?
In Perek 49, Ya’akov gathers his children and presents each child with a separate blessing. This seems to be more appropriate and in line with the oft told phrase “Chanoch LaNa’ar Al Pi Darko,” “Train the child according his specific way” (Mishlei 22:6). Judaism certainly knows the value of individuality and every child knows that he is not exactly like his sibling.
So how do we resolve this apparent conflict? Should each child be a copy of Efrayim and Menasheh or unique like Ya’akov’s sons? The answer seems to be both. There are some universal blessings that apply to every individual regardless of who they are, but at the same time, each child must be thought of as an individual. Efrayim and Menasheh retained their Jewish identity despite their solitude in Galut and they exhibited no sign of jealousy. Those values should be universally applied. On the other hand, every child should develop his own unique talents and serve Am Yisrael with every talent he was given.