The blessings bestowed by Yaakov on Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Menashe, are the most enduring blessings within all humanity. 3,400 years after they were given, we still reference them in the blessings we give our children every Friday night.
What makes them as relevant today as the day they were given?
Envy, in the view of our sages, is as destructive to a person’s well being as poison is to the body. It destroys not only the person but also the relationships he has with others.
Jacob himself, in the opinion of the Talmud, had provoked such hatred and jealousy in his sons by favoring Joseph with a special coat of many colors. This led to the crime of Joseph being sold into slavery.
Now, when Jacob came to bless Joseph’s sons, he showed preference to the younger Ephraim by planting his right hand on his head. Although Joseph objected, Menashe was accepting of his brother’s greater potential and did not react with envy.
Jacob then blessed them by saying, “Let these two brothers be the examples for all of Israel to follow.”
We have no way of knowing why some people have lives full of hardship and challenges while others live out a full and comfortable existence. We have the option to be envious and fill ourselves with pent-up rage and feelings that life is not fair or we can be accepting of the Divine judgment as ultimately just and proper.
This blessing was chosen because it promotes harmony within the family, which is the foundation of Jewish survival. This was shown by Menashe and Ephraim who respected each other as unique and special, without begrudging the other’s success.