Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

A Time to Survive and a Time to Thrive (Parshat Vayechi)


In this final parsha of Sefer Bereshiet, Yaakov gives blessings to all of his children, but he gives a special blessing to his grandchildren, to Ephraim and Menashe.

And he says that ‘You, the children of Yosef, my grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe. You will be “like Reuven and Shimon”, you will be no different than my children. (Genesis 48:5)

And he continues on and says that the Jewish people will bless their sons in your name:

“ישימך אלוקים כאפרים וכמנשה”
God should make our children like Ephraim and Menashe. (Genesis 48:20)

Throughout all of Yaakov’s engagement with Yosef’s children, Ephraim and Menashe, he places the younger one first and the eldest second. And that’s because Yaakov has a special message for each and every one of us, thousands of years later.

You see, the oldest child, Menashe is named “כי נשני אלוקים”, because God has allowed me to survive after the tragedies that I’ve gone through in the land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:51)

Ephraim, the second child, is so named “כי הפרני אלוקים”, because God has not just allowed me to survive, but God has allowed me to flourish. (Genesis 41:52)

Says Yaakov to all of us, as we read the parsha this week, our first responsibility, our first mandate, is to try to flourish, to actualize our potential, to be able to look at the world around us and to not allow the challenges to paralyze us. But to be able to grow, and to be able to achieve wondrous things in this world.

But sometimes there are so many challenges, and we have seen this during COVID, that all we can do, and that is not just sufficient, it’s heroic, is Menashe. All we can do is survive; all we can do is be “like Menashe”.

And therefore, the bracha that Yaakov gives us, that we are to bless our children and our grandchildren with, is “ישימך אלוקים”, God should make us “like Ephraim”.

We should always try and ask ourselves the question: What are we doing to achieve purposefulness? What are we doing to create meaning in the world?

But also, to recognize that sometimes it’s all about Menashe. Sometimes it’s all about surviving. Sometimes survival is not just good enough, it is really heroic.

Please God, as we read this parsha, we will be able to bless our children and our grandchildren with this bracha, and we will be able to internalize the message of always being “Ephraim”, of working hard to be able to make sure that we make a difference in the world and within our families.

And sometimes it’s just enough to be “Menashe”, to survive, and that itself is an act of greatness.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 32 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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