Yaakov’s blessing of choice for all generations is that Hashem make one grow to be like Efraim and Menashe. This is his quintessential bracha. The custom of blessing others this way has been preserved, predominantly as a benediction of parents on their children.
What is so special about Efraim and Menashe that they are singled out? He does not say “be like Avrohom Avinu”, nor “be like my sons Reuven, Shimon or even Yosef”. Efraim and Menashe are specifically held up as role models. What special trait sets them apart?
There is not very much recorded about Yosef’s sons. What we do know, is unique in the family of Yaakov. Efraim and Menashe grew up surrounded by the alien culture of Egypt. It was a society more toxic than that of Nimrod’s palace. They rose above their surroundings to the point where they were on par with Shevatim who matured in Yaakov’s house. They were worthy of being compared, as Yaakov did compare them, with Reuven and Shimon – people who were true links in the chain established by Avrohom Yitzchok and Yaakov.
It is interesting to note that even though Efraim and Menashe share this quality, they developed in different ways. Efraim imbimbed from the chinuch of his parents, and was involved in Torah learning of high quality. Menashe guided by his parents’ teachings, assisted Yosef in running the country of Eygpt. However both of these roles were cultivated in a spirit befitting the offspring of the Avos.
We may suggest why this blessing has found expression in the hearts and mouths of Fathers and Mothers. Parents pray that their children stay firm in their belief, just as Menashe and Efraim remained true to the values and ethics of their forebears. We ask that our children whichever role they choose, attach themselves firmly to our way of life, in times of ease and in times of hardship. We wish to fortify our generations to grow even whilst transplanted in contrary societies.
If we bless our children to link to the ways of our fathers, we must do the same.
It once happened that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya (d. 139 C.E.) went to visit Rome. There he was told that a Jewish boy was being held in captivity by the Romans for immoral purposes. He went to the prison and saw one boy who had beautiful eyes, a handsome appearance, and well-styled long hair, who was being held for immoral purposes. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya stood outside his room to test him, and ascertain if he were worthy of being rescued.
After a brief exchange, Rabbi Yehoshua realize that the boy was steadfast in his belief in Hashem’s righteousness and his devotion to Hashem’s mitzvos. Despite being surrounded by evil people in a foreign land the boy had retained his commitment to Torah and Mitzvos.Tears poured from Rabbi Yehoshua’s eyes, and he proclaimed ” I call heaven and earth to witness that I am positive that this boy will one day be a Halachic authority in Israel. I swear by the Holy Temple service that I will not leave until I redeem this boy, for whatever price they put on him.”
It is said that, in fact, Rabbi Yehoshua did not leave that place before ransoming the boy for a large sum of money. It was not long after this that the boy indeed became a Halachic authority in Israel. Who was that boy? Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha.
One may not bite skin from one’s lips on Shabbos.