At the end of the life of our forefather Yaacov, his son Yosef came to his bedside with his two sons, Menashe and Efraim.
Yaacov proclaimed that these grandchildren, Efraim and Menashe, will each be a tribal head among the ranks of his own children.
Yaacov then spread out his hands to bless Efraim and Menashe, placing his prominent right hand on the head of the younger son Efraim, while placing his left hand on the head of Menashe, the older son.
When Yosef noticed this, he tried correcting it. However, Yaacov insisted on doing it this way, stating that he prophetically saw that Efraim will produce greater leaders than Menashe, therefore he gave Efraim the preferred hand.
Rabbi Yaacov Kamenetzky o.b.m. asks an obvious question. We know that Yaacov displayed preferential treatment towards his son Yosef which caused jealousy between Yosef and his brothers and eventually led them to sell Yosef as a slave to Egypt.
By Yaacov conferring a double portion to Yosef by blessing and inducting his two sons as equals to his own children, it would seem to cause history to repeat itself. Wouldn’t it seem that this would foster animosity amongst the family members as well?
Reb Yaacov explains that Yaacov gave these two grandchildren a special blessing because only they were born and raised in Egypt away from the spiritual influence of Yaacov and his family. Yaacov therefore blessed them in particular and charged them with the responsibilities of his own children to advance and elevate their spirit. The rest of the family understood this and it was not an issue.
Yaacov also demonstrated that the younger grandson, Efraim required an additional boost and therefore invested his right hand upon him.
Reb Yaacov explains. When Yosef named his older son Menashe, he included his father’s home within his explanation of the name. However, when he named the younger son Efraim he did so explaining that he should prosper in the land of Egypt. Efraim was more entrenched in Egypt than Menashe, and Menashe spoke Hebrew while Efraim did not.
Yaacov picked up on this and had Efraim stay close to him while he was in Egypt, because he needed an additional spiritual influence.
Before Yaacov’s death, he called in each of his children, blessing each of them and giving them a charge using his prophetic insight. These blessings carried each of the tribes and guided them to their mission and what their focus should be while working in harmony with all the tribes. This was Yaacov’s ultimate goal.
Yaacov also gave a secret code to Yosef to pass on to his children which would be used to determine the legitimacy of the leader (Moshe) who would eventually lead them from Egypt.
Our tradition teaches us that 30 years before the Jews were freed from Egypt, thousands of the descendants of Efraim escaped Egypt. They all died in a war before they made it to Israel.
Reb Yaacov explains why specifically the tribe of Efraim couldn’t take it in Egypt, more so than the other tribes. He explains with the idea stated previously. Efraim was fully raised in Egypt. He saw how his father saved the land during the famine and how through his grandfather’s blessing the Nile would rise and irrigate the land.
When the new Pharoh came to power and forgot Yosef and all his contributions and enslaved Yosef’s immediate family and entire extended family, in particular the tribe of Efraim were utterly incensed by it and figured out the earliest time possible to escape such tyranny, but they were wrong.
After the Jews’ redemption from Egypt and the Mishkan/Temple was erected and inaugurated, each of the tribal heads offered personal sacrifices during a twelve days period. One of the days was Shabbos when it is prohibited to offer a personal sacrifice. Yet, the Torah allowed a tribal head to offer his personal sacrifices during the inauguration. Which tribe was chosen? It was Efraim. The reason the Medrash gives is that since Yosef and his family observed the Shabbos while in Egypt, G-d said, “Let his descendant be the one honored to be allowed to bring a personal sacrifice on Shabbos!”
Yaacov’s attention to build up Yosef’s children paid off!
It is no wonder, that our forefather Yaacov declared that his descendants – all of Israel ― shall bless their children by stating, ‘May G-d make you like Efraim and Menashe.’ This is so that parents remind themselves that no matter what type of environment their children find themselves in, they should gain inspiration from Efraim and Menashe – who were raised in the absolute worst situation – yet with attention, care, uplift and love, turned out to be elevated to the level of the Twelve Tribes of Israel!