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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayechi (70)

The sedra is the final sedra in the Book of Bereishis. It tells of Jacobs' blessings to his sons and his death.

This is a most puzzling Comment. If nothing else, it reminds us that questions are no less important than answers. They are the key to uncovering the deeper meaning of the Torah and its commentaries.

Genesis 48:16

He shall bless the lads: Rashi: Menashe and Ephraim.

A short but strange comment

What would you ask on this it?

Your Answer:


A Question: What is Rashi telling us ? Certainly we know that "the lads" refer to Joseph's sons Menashe and Ephraim ! Who else could these lads refer to? The whole chapter speaks of Joseph bringing Ephraim and Menashe to Jacob and Jacob's reaction to them. The whole focus is on these two boys so why does Rashi have to tell us the obvious?

This brief comment looks like a Type II comment, one meant to help us avoid a misunderstanding. ıClearly he wants us to know that "the lads" does not refer some other boys. But who else could "the lads" refer to?

Your answer:


This is really a difficult one! The commentators come up with different approaches to this question. Commentators struggle with this and do not come up with a reasonable answer. The Mizrachi says Rashi has to tell us this is Menashe and Ephraim because otherwise we would have thought Jacob meant two other sons of Joseph. We might think this, he says, because it says in verse 20 that "He blessed them saying, in you Israel should be blessed saying May He make you like Ephraim and Menashe" And this certainly refers to Ephraim and Menashe so I might think that our verse refers to other children. But this is quite far fetched since the verses flow one into another and all have the same focus - on Ephraim and Menashe.

The Gur Aryeh (Maharal) offers another possible answer. He points out that this blessing is for Joseph (see 48:15 "And he blessed Joseph saying...") only later does it explicitly say that he blessed Ephraim and Menashe. So we might have thought that the "lads" referred to Joseph's children that would be born in the future.

Again the answer sounds forced. On the very verse that the Gur Aryeh cites (48:15) saying we might think it refers to other sons of Jacob, on that verse itself Rashi tells us it refers to Ephraim and Menashe.

These answers are difficult to accept. As a rule, Rashi helps us avoid reasonable and likely misunderstandings, but most people reading these verses would not have thought that "the lads" refer to anyone other than the two boys Jacob was holding near him. The Sefer Zicharon acknowledges the difficulty here and offers no explanation.

Is Rashi making a point by listing Menashe before Ephraim? I don't know.

Can you think of an explanation for this Rashi ?

Your Answer:


I have included this Rashi here, in spite of the fact that an explanation is hard to discover. But there is an important message here. It is that understanding Rashi always begins with a question. The answer may be a long time in coming. Maybe only years later will the student begin to understand Rashi's meaning. But the question is meaningful, nevertheless.

Without the question our quest for a fuller appreciation of Rashi's commentary can't begin.

It is the beginning of our understanding of Rashi.

I would suggest the following explanation of this simple Rashi-comment. Rashi told us in the first Chapter of Bereishis that his goal in commentary is to tell us p'shat and the Aggadah that fits in with the verse. This is important to remember - Rashi teaches us a Aggadah, but only that which fits in with verse.

Rashi draws much of his comments from the Midrash. What does the Midrash say on these words?


In Midrash Bereishis Rabbah (97:3) we find the following:

He shall bless the lads: This is Joshua and Gideon.

On the face of it this is an amazing Midrash. Are we to believe that Jacob had Joshua (Moses' assistant and successor) and Gideon (one of the first judges of Israel, generations after Moses' death)in mind when blessing Joseph? They weren't even brn yet!

But when we think about it there is some resemblance between Ephraim and Menashe and Joshua and Gideon.

" Joshua is from the tribe of Ephraim and Gideon from the tribe of Menashe

" Jacob said "The angel redeeming me from all evil…" And Joshua sees an angel (Book of Joshua 5:13-14)). And Gideon sees one in Judges 6:12ff

" Jacob bless the lads" and Joshua is called a lad in Exodus 33:11; and Gideon is the youngest in his family (Judges 6:15).

So there is grounds for perhaps assuming Jacob was referring to these two heroes, even though they lived many years after Jacob's time. These points in common reinforce the Midrash's association of Ephraim and Menashe with Joshua and Gideon.


Rashi, in effect, is saying: I know that the Midrash says on these words that the "lads" refer to Joshua and Gideon, but this Midrash does not sit well with the whole context of this chapter. P'shat requires us to take these words a face value. They just what you thought they mean - Ephraim and Menashe!


Sometimes Rashi will tell us the obvious in order to disabuse us of accepting a Midrash which is too far from p'shat to be acceptable.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.

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