One reason is that Ephraim and Menashe were the first brothers mentioned in the Bible that did not fight. They achieved a signficant accomplishment in that they were raised in Egypt but maintained their righteousness. Being the children of the viceroy, their lives were not complicated with having to pursue physical necessities. Everything that Yaakov knew he taught to Ephraim and Menashe.
An excellent question, particularly as we will shortly be reading from the Torah portion of Vayechi (Genesis 48: 8 - 20) from which the traditional Friday night blessing of our male children is taken. And why is it that we preface the priestly benediction by which we bless our sons with the words "May God bless you like Ephraim and Manasseh" as opposed to a parallel phrase used for our daughters, "May God bless you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah"?
The simple answer is that we don't know. No explanation is given in the text (Gen. 48:20) other than to say "By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: God make you like Ephrasim and Manasseh". However, as often happens, this is an opportunity for some wonderful commentaries and explanations that seek to answer the question of why these two names are used in blessing our male children.
One explanation that I particularly find meaningful is the following from the Ramban (Nachmanides) on 48:16 "The Angel who has redeemed me from all harm - Bless the lads. In them may my (Jacob's) name be recalled and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth." He suggests that in connecting Abraham and Isaac's name with his and to Ephraim and Manasseh and those who will come from them in the future, that there will be a continuous chain and link from one generation to the next. It is important to remember that our strength comes from maintaining our traditions from the past to now and into the future. We must continue the transmission as did Jacob from his forebears to his future and in the same way as we to ours. It is a powerful thought that we reenact each and every Friday night.
One explanation is Ephraim and Menashe represent a break from the pattern of sibling rivalry demonstrated by Isaac and Ishmael, and Jacob and Esau. It is interesting to note that Jacob purposely switched his hands, blessing the younger Ephraim before the older Menashe. Jacob wished to emphasize the point that with these siblings, there is no rivalry. (see Genesis 48:13-14) There is no greater blessing than peace among brothers. The words of King David ring true: "How good and pleasant is it for brethren to dwell together in unity." (Psalms 133:1)
Another explanation might be that Ephraim and Menashe were the recipients of affection from their grandfather. When Joseph brings his sons to his father, Jacob "kissed them and embraced them." (Genesis 48:10) Perhaps the originators of the traditional blessing understood the importance of parental love and affection in the formation of a human being's personality and values.
When Joseph learned of his father's final illness, he took his sons with him to visit Jacob. Joseph clearly wanted his sons to receive their grandfather's blessing and become an integral link in the chain of the descendants of Abraham. And indeed, Joseph apparently enjoyed a close relationship with his sons. "Joseph lived to see children of the third generation of Ephraim; the children of Machir, son of Menashe were also born on Joseph's knees." (Genesis 50:23)
Still another explanation might be that they were the first of the generation that was born in the diaspora, which has been the source of Jewish survival for millennia..
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