Through You They Bless
The final parsha 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 and Menasheh. His blessing is well known but its meaning is far from clear.
"And he (Jacob) blessed them (Ephraim and Menasheh) on that day saying: 'Through you (singular) shall the People of Israel bless, saying: May God make you as Ephraim and 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 God make you as Ephraim and Menasheh."
In many homes it is customary for the father to bless his children on Friday evening with these words: "May God make you as Ephraim and 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.
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 God make you as Ephraim and Menasheh." Is that their blessing? That is not their blessing. Those words seem to mean your son should grow up to be like Ephraim and Menasheh. It's your son's blessing, not Ephraim and 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 and 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 and 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 their forefather's names should be called upon 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 and Menashe's (plural) blessing.
OUR CUSTOM TODAY
We say, "May God make you like Ephraim and Menasheh." Meaning not that the son is to be like Ephraim and Menasheh (whatever that could mean!), but that their blessing should be the same as that received by Ephraim and 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 and 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.