Parshat Vayechi: Getting along like Ephraim and Manasseh

Eli Spiegelman
Eli Spiegelman (Photo by Mitzi Spiegelman)

By Eli Spiegelman

This week’s parshah is Vayechi. In Vayechi, Jacob blesses his 12 children, now adults. In this portion, Jacob also meets with Joseph’s two sons. He famously swaps his hands on their heads while blessing them. Ephraim and Manasseh are the children of Joseph, and while Manasseh is the older sibling, Ephraim is blessed with the birthright.

This is because when he was younger, Jacob stole the birthright from his older brother, Esav. According to the Etz Hayim commentary, there is a preference for younger brothers over older ones. The commentary says that this teaches us that birth order doesn’t decide how important a child should be, it should be the character. However, this also caused a lot of sibling rivalry in the Tanakh. Sibling and family rivalry has been going on in the Torah since Adam and Eve’s children, Cain and Abel, where Cain murdered Abel. Abraham and Haran didn’t fight, but their offspring did. Thus, Lavan and Jacob had some troubles, when he wanted to marry Rachel, but was tricked by Leah. Joseph and his brothers had some trouble, which is why Jacob is here in Egypt in Vayechi. The first set of the siblings that didn’t have any rivalry were Ephraim and Manasseh. You would think that they would fight because Ephraim got the birthright instead of Manasseh, but nope!

Today, there is still a lot of rivalry. I am not saying that rivalry is good or bad, or that any specific rivalry is good or bad, but in my opinion, they can be good or bad. In sports, it could be good. Let’s say the Yankees and Red Sox are competing in the World Series. That would be a good type of rivalry, because they are against each other in the game, but not in real life. In, God forbid, war, rivalry is terrible. It just depends on who, what, where, when and why.

In the Torah, rivalry is usually a bad thing. But Ephraim and Manasseh didn’t fight over the birthright, which isn’t so common. This is why in the children’s prayer on Friday nights, the children are blessed to be like Ephraim and Manasseh. The commentary suggests this is because they were the first biblical brothers to get along peacefully. So if they can get along as brothers, then maybe we should try to do the same thing, and be like Ephraim and Manasseh.

Eli Spiegelman is a seventh grader at Krieger Schechter Day School.

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