Yaakov first blessed two grandsons, Efrayim and Menashe. Friday nights, there is a long-established custom for fathers to bless their children. Those who do so use the same Brachos/blessing that Yaakov used for Efrayim and Menashe.
In this week’s Torah portion, Efrayim and Menashe were not the only ones to receive blessings. Each and every one of the twelve sons got one. Therefore, we must ask, why is the Bracha that Efrayim and Menashe got, the one that is used through the generations?
I’ll share with you two profound reasons. The first is because the circumstances of how Efrayim and Menashe were raised. They were the first two Jews born fully in Galus/exile and raised in isolation there – and, yet, they were solidly frum. So, through the generations, when the Jews have to go from exile to exile, we draw strength in knowing two special Jews were raised in exile and were righteous. We, therefore, use the blessings bestowed on those two for our own children and hope our children will be as frum as those two.
Another reason we utilize this blessing for our own children is that when Yaakov gave the Bracha, he switched his hands and put the prominent hand on the younger of the two brothers’ heads. Igra D’Kalla notes that even though Efrayim was younger, when Yaakov put his right hand on Efrayim’s head, Menashe did not become jealous or feel threatened. Furthermore, Efrayim did not become boastful and conceited from this extra honor. Both brothers stood side-by-side there respectfully, happy they were both getting the Bracha, with no ill feelings between them. That is why we use their Bracha for our children – we want every member of the Jews to be able to live that way – without jealousy, without arrogance, happy for our fellow Jew when they get something good. And not conceited if we get an extra blessing in our lives.
Now, each and every one of the conversations/missives Yaakov gives to his children, each one personalized and tailored to him, has multiple meanings and prophecies. Here, with brevity, I will just gloss over some small tidbits on these utterances of our father Yaakov.
Reuven, supposed to be the Bechor. Alas for him, he messed up. Amazingly, he doesn’t falter or feel bitter. Wish I could be that able to let my losses due to my mistakes not eat me alive with bitter regret. Now we hear, for the first time, Yaakov addressing Reuven’s wrong doing. It is years after the event, actually. However, Yaakov did not say the Mussar/admonishment until now because he did not want Reuven to be ashamed to face him. Yaakov kept his silence to ensure Reuven was not put into a position of wanting to run away from home. We have to remember that “telling someone off” is not a very good idea if it makes the person ashamed for years to come. If Yaakov kept quiet about a wrong that Reuven did for years just so not to harm him, how much more so should we keep quiet. My father always told us, not everything a parents sees or knows about his child should be used in confrontation with the child. Parents have to know when to keep their mouths shut.
Next, two brothers had to be censured for acting out of anger. When Shimon and Levi are rebuked for their anger, Yaakov says “Arur Apam” cursed is their anger. Rashi points out Yaakov cursed the bad action and did not curse his sons. We always have to separate an action from the person. Most people are not cursed or bad – actions might be. This is very important to remember for parenting.. Never call your kid bad. If you have to rebuke your child, rebuke the behavior. Don’t call a child lazy. You can say, “wasting two hours on that was a lazy act”. This way, you are sending the message that Yaakov sent his sons – that they are good – but at times their actions were not on par to their greatness.
In the blessing for Yehuda, Yaakov said that Yehuda “crouched like a lion” — even when Yehuda made a mistake he did not bash his own sense of self, but knew he could get up again, strong as before. We have to try to imitate Yehuda – to fix what we did wrong, but never to get crushed by our mistakes. It’s okay to mess up. You crouch, understand you did wrong. But crouch like a lion, without losing a sense of the greatness you can accomplish once you move past your mistake.
In Yisascher’s blessing, Yaakov said “Yisacher, saw a resting place and the land was pleasant, and he bent his shoulder to bear” — The Rav of Warka said that the land is pleasant when we bend our shoulder to bear – the more responsibility, usually the happier the person.
Zevulun is to become the merchant chief. Because he undertook to support his brother Yissacher and let him learn, he has blessings in his commerce and becomes wealthy. Don’t think that just the earners are supporting the learners. The learners, by giving the merit to have the wealth to the Zevuluns of the world, are supporting the earners. It is mutually beneficial.
In Dan’s blessing, Yaakov hints to the leadership of Shimshon HaGibbor, Samson who single-handedly was able to beat our enemies. And Yaakov calls out [v. 17] “Leeshoo’uhscha keeveesee Hashem – for Your deliverance I’m hoping Hashem” Rashi says this refers to G-d hearing the last prayer of Shimshon, which was “Zachreinee Nah..ach ha’pa’am Hazeh – please remember me this last time”. To review that tale: Shimshon was betrayed by his non-Jewish wife. His hair was shorn, his eyes blinded. He was to be killed in a public spectacle in a vast arena, with many Philistines in attendance. Shimshon wants desperately to deal a last blow with his death to the Jews’ enemies. He prays for one last blast of strength, and G-d allowed him to have that last burst of energy. Granted his request, Shimshon pulls down the marble pillars which were the balancing beams of the arena, crushing himself, along with the enemies’ troops, judges and spectators. His final revenge. Rabbeinu Bachya points out that as Yaakov sees prophetically this mighty warrior and prays for him, at the same time, Yaakov ends off the prayer with the words “for YOUR deliverance” we are hoping. Yes, we applaud all the strongmen who have stood up to fight for our nation. But that is not our “tikva” hope. HaTikva is all fine and good, but that is not our Tivka. Yaakov, refocuses us: G-d’s deliverance we want, straight, direct, just as he did for us in Egypt. We’ll accept the necessary miracles here and there of human strength, but what we really yearn for is the above-and-beyond miracle. G-d himself intervening.
Gad’s blessing is that they will be successful in bringing all their men home from battle. [v.19] “Vehoo Ya’good Uhkayv – and his troop will “heel”. Rashi, they will retrace their footsteps homeward. We know Eliyahu HaNavi comes from Shevet Gad. Using connections based on words used in verses, we look at the word, “ukhayv” and see that it is the same as the word Eykev used in Sefer Devarim to remind us that “Ve’haya Eykev Tishmah’oon – it will be when you “heel” will listen”. The two are inter-connected. When will we get Mashiach; when will Elijah come bring us the tidings of world peace? When we finally understand we must retrace our steps to keep every single one of the Mitzvos.
[v. 20] “from Asher will come Shmayna Lachmoh” fat breads”, Shmayna hinting to Shemen [oil] and Shemona [eight]. Olive oil brings intelligence and beauty. More people from Asher’s tribe knew the exact sciences of setting the calendar, which takes broad knowledge of geography, astronomy and the concepts of time. And the daughters of Asher’s tribe would end up marrying the Kohanim who wore Shemona (8 garments).
Yosef gets the bracha of no Ayin Harah, no jealous glances have impact on his descendants. This is a direct reward of his actions. When Eisav came out to “meet” with Yaakov, Yosef did not want Eisav leering or ogling his mother’s beauty. Therefore, though a young lad, he stepped in front of mother and shielded her from Eisav. Because he shielded his mother from Eisav’s eye, no ill-grudging glares or stares have any effect whatsoever on the members of his tribe.
Binyamin [v.27] “in the morning will eat a portion and in the evening will divide spoil” Rashi: Shaul during the times in Israel “in the morning” will beat our enemies, but he left behind Agag and so “in the evening” during Galus-exile, Mordechai and Esther will divide the spoils of Haman, will do the mop-up work. Guys, we all have a mission to do here on Planet Earth. Mess up, and you might be leaving behind messy work for your descendants to have to cope with and execute.
Yaakov finishes the blessings with more guidance. [v. 28] “ALL these are tribes of Yisroel, twelve.” The message in this verse is that blessings come when we acknowledge each other and join together and respect each other. All of us, Chassid or Misnaged, Sefardi or Ashkenazi, all of us are the tribes of Yisroel. Heaven is big enough for all of us. Without peace amongst us, without respect to our fellow Jew, the blessing is heading into a sieve. We have to acknowledge all our brethren and make peace amongst ourselves, for unity is the vessel which “catches” the blessings and keeps it there for us.
[v. 29] “Each man like his blessing he blessed them.” Each person in the world is unique. We all have different jobs and different talents. Our goal should never be to be someone else, but to realize our own strengths and talents – and to figure out our own mission in Hashem’s work. That is why Yaakov gave each one of the Shevatim/tribes his own unique Bracha. And gave them exactly what they needed for what they would have to do in the unfolding of history.
May we all be blessed “like our blessing” with the requisites we need to fulfill our unique missions.