The final sedra in the book of Genesis contains Jacob's blessings to his twelve
sons. He saves a special place for his beloved son Joseph. He has a special blessing for him and for his sons Ephraim & Menasheh. His blessing is well known but it's meaning is far from clear.
And he (Jacob) blessed them (Ephraim & Menasheh) on that day saying: Through you ( singular) shall the People of Israel bless, saying: May G-d make you as Ephraim & Menasheh. And he placed Ephraim before Menasheh.
Through you shall the People of Israel bless: Rashi: When one comes to bless his children he will bless them with their blessing. And a person will say to his son 'May G-d make you as Ephraim & Menasheh."
In many homes it is customary for the father to bless his children on Fri evening with these words "May G-d make you as Ephraim & Menasheh." It would seem to be based on this Rashi.
There are several questions that come to mind as one looks at this verse and its Rashi-comment.
Some Questions: Rashi says "When one comes to bless his children he will bless them with their blessing.' What does he mean with their blessing? He was to bless them with the words "May G-d make you as Ephraim & Menasheh." Is that their blessing? That is not their blessing. Those words seem to mean your son should grow up to be like Ephraim & Menasheh. It's your son's blessing, not Ephraim & Menasheh's blessing. Why then does Rashi say "bless them with their blessing.'
A Question on the verse: It says "He blessed them" where does this verse contain their blessing? The verse speaks of "The People of Israel's" blessing., not Ephraim & Menasheh's .
To complicate matters even more, look above at verse 15. There it says "And he blessed Joseph and he said…" Read the rest of that verse and you won't find any blessing for Joseph. It says rather "[may] He bless the lads" etc.
It seems like a lot of confusion.
Our final Question:
What's bothering Rashi that prompted this comment?
Hint: See the plural-singular usage here.
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: Rashi notes the switch from plural "And he blessed them" to the singular Through you (singular) shall Israel bless.
How does his comment deal with this?
This is very difficult!
An Answer: Actually the verse has to be read in two parts. "And he blessed them" refers to the blessing they received above in verse 15, where the lads were blessed. This, then, is their- Ephraim & Menasheh's - blessing. Rashi tells us that this is the blessing that a father is to give to his son -the blessing that Joseph's lads received. What was that blessing? That the Forefather's names should be called on them, and that they should multiply like the fish of sea.
Now the plural-singular discrepancy is cleared up. Through Joseph (singular) a child will receive their - Ephraim & Menashe's (plural) blessing.
OUR CUSTOM TODAY
We say "May G-d make you like Ephraim & Menasheh." Meaning not that the son is to be like Ephraim & Menasheh (whatever that could mean!), but that their blessing should be the same as that received by Ephraim & Menasheh.
THE ULTIMATE BLESSING
The blessing that Joseph received (verse 15) was that his children, the lads, multiply like the fish of the sea. The ultimate blessing is that our children shall also have children who will follow in the ways of our fathers. As it says: "My name and the name of my fathers, Isaac & Abraham."
This is what Rashi is teaching us.
A verse that seemed self-evident was, on closer inspection, much more complicated -- until Rashi clarified matters.
A second series of What's Bothering Rashi? will come out IY"H during the holidays.
Those who want to make a dedication for the volumes can contact me at Drbonchek@gmail.com
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