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PARASHAS VAYECHI - What is Birkas Habonim

Parashas Vayechi year 1 issue 19
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vayechi booklet
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לע “נ

חיה ליבא בת ר' שלמה

Chaya Leba Bas R' Shlomo

The Feller Family Edition

In Parashas Vayechi, we have the brocho that Yaakov gives to his grandchildren Ephraim and Menashe. ‘Vayevoricheim Bayom Hahu Laymor.’ He blesses them that day that Klal Yisroel should bless their children through Ephraim and Menashe. Rashi says that when a parent blesses his children, Birkas Habonim, it should be with the words ‘Yesimcho Elokim Ke’Ephraim Ve’chiMenashe.’

The Ramban raises two questions on the posuk ‘Vayevoricheim Bayom Hahu Laymor Becho Yevoreich Yisroel Laymor Yesimcho Elokim Ke’Ephraim Ve’chiMenashe.’ First, it seems that the words Bayom Hahu are extraneous; why does the Torah emphasize these words? It seems evident that if Yaakov was giving a brocho, it was on that day. Second, why is the word Laymor repeated in the posuk?

The Sfas Emes says that there is a halachic reason why it says Laymor a second time. Usually, it is a problem to quote half a posuk, and we would not be able to bench Birkas Habonim since it starts from the middle of a posuk. Therefore, the second Laymor solves this problem and allows us to quote an incomplete posuk. The Torah itself is permitting it and telling us to begin from there. In that case, why not just have the second Laymor? In addition, why is the word Laymor written in ktiv molei the first time, with a vav, and in ktiv chaser, without a vav, the second time?

Midrashim deal with this question and the Medrash Habiur says the following: The first Laymor is written in ktiv molei, in a complete way, to show that Yaakov gave a complete brocho. The Medrash continues that Yaakov says to Hashem, ‘Take the vav that you took out of my name and add it to their name,’ since the Torah generally writes Yaakov’s name without a vav. However, neither Ephraim nor Menashe have a vav in their name, so where are we adding the vav?

The Balei Hatosfos explain the vav is in the word Laymor and denotes the extra six brochos that Yaakov gave Ephraim and Menashe in Birkas Kohanim: Yevorechecho, Yishmirecho, Yo’eir, Viychuneko, Yiso, and Veyoseim. We see a connection between the Birkas Habonim and Birkas Kohanim, which explains why we give Birkas Kohanim as part of Birkas Habonim (instead of the brocho ‘Hamaloch Hagoel’). Even if the father is not a Kohen, he can still give the brocho to his children.

However, we are still left with the question of the two Laymors. Furthermore, why does it say the word Becho in the singular in the posuk when Yaakov is giving a brocho to both sons?

The Ramban says that the word Becho refers to Yosef, that Yaakov (Yisroel) tells Yosef that he should be blessed through the fact that his children are the paradigm of brocho for all of Am Yisroel. The greatest brocho for a father is that his children are exemplified as people to look up to, so Yaakov is saying that Yosef’s sons’ brochos are, in fact, his brochos.

The Medrash Cheifetz explains that the word Becho, written with the letters beis and chof, means ‘Bechof-Beis Osiyos ShebaTorah,’ that Yaakov blessed them with all the 22 letters that the Torah was written with. The same idea is brought down regarding the posuk ‘Nogila Venismacha Boch.’ Boch—beis and chof, hinting at the 22 letters which the Torah was written with, and are, in fact, the letters of the name of Hashem. Hashem refers to himself as Ehyeh, which in gematria is 21, 22 with the kollel, i.e., adding one for the complete word. Therefore, the brocho to Ephraim and Menashe was Becho: the 22 letters of Hashem and the Torah. These two together give a brocho.

From the Baalei Hatosfos and the Medrash Cheifetz, we can clearly see that the brocho was either Birkas Kohanim or the name of Hashem, depending on either’s teachings.

Let us further explore Birkas Habanim, the brocho that every father gives his child. The first important question is why Ephraim and Menashe are chosen out of all the other Shevatim?

The Chida explains that Ephraim was the symbol of the Torah; he learned under his grandfather’s tutelage. Menashe took care of the financial issues. We give a brocho that every Yiddishe child should be zoche to have both qualities.

The posuk then says that ‘Vayosem Es Ephraim Lifnei Menashe.’ Why does the posuk emphasize this? We are blessing the child that they should have Torah and money, but it is crucial to know the correct order of priorities. For example, even when someone spends all day working for his parnassoh, they should make sure that they first learn in the morning.

On this, I always asked why we do not give the Birkas Habonim in the name of Yissochor and Zevulun. They are seemingly the prime example of the spiritual and physical aspects of life. It is interesting to note that in their brocho, Zevulun (parnossoh) precedes Yissochor (Torah). The answer is that Yissochor and Zevulun are two different people, and therefore there is room to discuss who has the greatest sechar—the person learning Torah or the person supporting Torah. However, within the same person, the Torah always takes precedence. Ephraim and Menashe were one unit, so they teach us a lesson as individuals.

The Mefarshim explain another answer. The Shevatim were brought up with Yaakov, sheltered with Torah. Yosef’s children grew up in Mitzrayim, surrounded by bad influences, and ended up like the Shevatim. So, we give our children the blessing that even in Galus, they should stay loyal and remain good Jews when different tests surround us.

Yaakov tells Yosef clearly that Ephraim and Menashe are like Reuven and Shimon. The Baal Haturim even adds that Ephraim and Menashe’s names are the same gematria as Reuven and Shimon. If this is so, why don’t we give the blessing in the name of Reuven and Shimon? The answer is that typically, generations have a yeridoh, but here the next generation stayed on the level of the first generation; that is why we give the blessing in their name. We are aspiring and blessing our children always to have an aliyoh, not a yeridoh.

There is a third that of why Yaakov chose Ephraim and Menashe over other shevatim. The posuk repeats the fact that Yaakov put Ephraim first to indicate that in the future in general, when there is something concerning these two Shevatim, Ephraim always precedes Menashe.

The Ibn Ezra, in contrast, does not learn the posuk like that; instead, he says that the repetition refers to the order they are mentioned in the brocho. Let us better understand the Birkas Habonim. What is the blessing for good children?

When Yaakov sees the children, he asks Yosef, ‘Who are these children?’ I.e., who are these children that you think are deserving of a brocho? Yosef answers, ‘These are my children.’ Yaakov then gives them a brocho. How did Yaakov suddenly capitulate from being unsure that they were deserving of a brocho to blessing them that all of Am Yisroel should be like them? Secondly, Yaakov had previously experienced what can happen when one shows favoritism to one child over another. Why is he repeating this mistake here with Ephraim and Menashe? Did Yaakov not learn? Also, why does he use his hands only now? It does not mention that he did before with the other Shevatim.

One reason can be that since they were not deserving of a brocho, he blessed them with his hands to provide a vessel for the brocho. Meforshim ask, why are we not told to give a brocho that our children should be like the Avos, similar to the girls’ brocho that they should be like the Imohos? In fact, the ChofetzChaim did first mention the Avos in his Birkas Habonim before mentioning Ephraim and Menashe.

Rav Hutner asks, if Menashe is not on as lofty a level as Ephraim, why do we include Menashe in the brocho at all, why not just Ephraim? Also, the posuk does not mention Yaakov’s brocho. Rav Yerucham explains that the brocho was that they should be the mekor of all brocho.

The Targum says ‘Becho Yevoreich.’ When is that supposed to happen? Rashi says that this brocho should be given by one who comes to bless his sons; i.e., it is optional; there is no specific time to give this brocho. Other Meforshim say that it should be on the day of the bris. Why is this brocho appropriate for a bris?

There is a Sefer called GevileiAish that is a collection of the Torah of the Kedoshim of Novardok Yeshivos who perished in the Holocaust. According to the Gevilei Aish,Menashe’s name is included in the brocho since his geduloh was that he saw that Ephraim was being elevated higher than him, the bechor, and he felt no kinoh for his brother. That is a maileh that we bentch our children with. Ephraim was included in the brocho since even though he was placed before Menashe, he was not boastful. The closeness of these two brothers was unique, so we used them as an example and role model for sholom and shleimus. Together they are one great unit. Yiddishe children should have this since this is the formula of achdus.

From this, we can better understand the conversation between Yaakov and Yosef: First, Yaakov thinks that perhaps they are lost in the negative surrounding influences in Mitzrayim, so he says Hamaloch. Then, he puts Ephraim before Menashe, and Yosef jumps and corrects his father. He reacts immediately since he was a living example of what happens when one shows one child’s preference over the other. Yosef answers with double loshon of Yodati, saying, I know exactly what I am doing. I want the shleimus of achdus, that even with my actions they can stay united.

Yaakov now sees what he was looking for. The words ‘Bayom Hahu’ are here since Yaakov waited so long for it and now finally sees it. Now he knows that Klal Yisroel can be created.

This explanation can help us understand ‘Becho Yevoreich Yisroel Laymor Yesimcho Elokim Ke’Ephraim Ve’chiMenashe.’ The Ramban says that when children have the good character of not being jealous or boastful and can live with shleimus within themselves, it comes from the father, from home. Therefore, Yaakov was telling Yosef in this posuk that he, Yosef, is the reason he can give the brocho Yesimcho Elokim. That may be why Birkas Habonim is given on Friday night in the house, and this is the Birkas Habayis: when the family sits around the table, they should be with shleimus. All this is in the chinuch of the father.

Why does Yaakov give his two grandchildren a brocho together, why not bentch each one separately? Yaakov was trying to express that the distinctive quality of the brocho was that it was one, a brocho of unity. The unit of the brothers and the home. That is why the word Becho is in the singular since it is you as one, as a group. The two become one when it is Ephraim and Menashe.

When Yaakov crossed his hands, Sikel Yodav, to bless Ephraim and Menashe, he was making a chibbur and illustrating that each one had the maileh of the other, and they were receiving the brocho as one. That is why here, unlike the Shevatim, he put his hands on them. Achdus means that if someone has a maileh, then it means that it is your maileh too since he has it. Each child is the other one’s brocho, and that was Yaakov’s blessing to them. Together they have mekor habrocho. Sikel from the loshon of seichel—the seichel, wisdom, of uniting the kochos and brochos. The brocho is that Klal Yisroel can have harmony even if one comes before the other. Everyone can be happy with the other.

The Targum says that this brocho is special for the day of the miloh. The Rambam says that the miloh gives the person the power to suppress taiveh. A person can have tremendous mailehs, but if the container for those mailehs has holes, they all will fall out. The container is the middos. The Shevatim had many mailehs, but what held them all together was Ephraim and Menashe. So, on the day of the miloh, it is appropriate to give a brocho that as well as suppressing taiveh, they should also have tohoroshaleiv from kinoh and kovod. Now it goes in a circle. Hakinoh Vehataiveh Vehakovod removes a man from the world. On the day of the miloh, we give the child a brocho that he should be cut off from these three things.

The extra vav from Yaakov’s name was put between their names. The posuk says ‘Ephraim VeMenashe,’ the vav unites them together. The greatest chibbur is when one takes two parts and turns them into one.

Every Jew has his own individuality, and when we understand and accept that each person’s unique strengths are different from my strengths, yet both are to be admired, respected, and appreciated, that starts achdus. We can be separate yet united!

This was what Yaakov was seeking throughout his life and finally found in Ephraim and Menashe, the children of Yosef!

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