We see from the blessings that Ya’akov gave to his children, that they were different one from another. We know from the Chumash, that Ya’akov also treated his children and grandchildren differently.
However, this can have harsh consequences. The Gemara in Shabbos teaches us an example of this: “one should never treat children differently. For it was due to Ya’akov’s favoring Yosef over his other sons – by giving him the coat of many colors - that we ended up as slaves in Egypt.” Yet, it seems that the family kept following this pattern over and over again. In last week’s Parsha, before sending the brothers home to bring Ya’akov and the rest of the family to Egypt, Yosef gave the brothers gifts. To each brother he gave one change of clothing. However, to Binyomin he gave five changes of clothing. Why would Yosef risk the same consequences for Binyomin that he himself experienced due to a display of favoritism?
And then, in this week’s Parsha, we find that Ya'akov did it again. Ya'akov blessed Ephraim and Menashe, the two sons of Yosef. But, we don’t find that he gave a blessing to any of his other grandchildren! On top of that, he switched the order of their blessings. He favored Ephraim over Menashe by blessing Ephraim first. Yet, Menashe was older! Why didn’t Ya’akov learn from his mistake of favoring one son over the rest? Why wasn’t he afraid of creating another rift in his family – another case of sibling rivalry – this time among his grandchildren?
Yosef’s behavior towards Binyomin is understandable. They were long-lost brothers of the same mother whom Binyomin never knew and Yosef was only eight when she died. The brothers would understand Yosef’s affinity towards Binyomin. In addition, the Vilna Gaon makes note of the spelling in the Torah and concludes that the value of Binyomin’s five sets of clothes was equivalent to the one set that each brother received. But, how do we explain Ya’akov’s behavior?
Rabbi Matanky shared with me the following idea: Certain children need more care, attention and encouragement. Others need a tougher approach. And so, we do what we think is right and hope that the other siblings will understand. And that was what Yaakov also did. Rabbi Matanky suggested that since Ya'akov’s other grandchildren lived in his neighborhood in Goshen, they had a large family who created a Jewish atmosphere of observance and tradition. For them, the traditions of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov were second nature, always being reinforced.
But this was not the case with Yosef’s children, Ephraim and Menashe. They were raised in Egypt, described by the Talmud as an immoral and idolatrous society. Their link to tradition was primarily their father, Yosef and whatever memories he shared with them as they were growing up, separated from the rest of the family. So, they needed a special Bracha.
So, now we know why Yaakov blessed only these two grandchildren and not his other grandchildren. They needed the extra boost for their own self-esteem. But that doesn’t solve our other problem; why did Yaakov favor Ephraim over Menashe, blessing the younger son first?
Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky suggested that in a sense, Menashe represents the memories of the old world – as the meaning of his name indicates, “G-d has allowed me to forget my terrible hardship in Egypt and my father’s house.” In contrast, Ephraim represents the new world – as his name indicates, “that G-d has made me prosperous in the land of my affliction.” And that is why their Bracha is different. For as long as there is an attachment to the old world, there was less need for the Bracha of their grandfather. But for Ephraim - who represented the prosperity of the new world - he faced greater dangers and needed special warmth and blessings.
The Jewish belief is that equality does not mean that all people are treated the same way. Ya’akov sensed that Ephraim and Menashe were different from the other grandchildren and from each other, and he blessed them accordingly. Perhaps that is why to this very day, we bless our children to be like Ephraim and Menashe. Because Like our forefather Yaakov, we refuse to accept the cookie cutter mentality. No two of our children and grandchildren are exactly alike, and they deserve to be treated as such.