In this week’s Parsha we read of the blessing giving to Ephraim and Menashe by Yaakov Avinu. The meeting begins with a strange statement uttered by Yaakov. When Yosef brings Eprhaim and Menashe in to see him, he asks “Mi Eleh” – who are these? Both the Radak and the Chizkuni understand this statement according to the pshat – later on in the same perek we are told that Ya’akov’s sight was failing and therefore perhaps since it was dark and he initially saw them from a distance, he did not immediately recognize his two grandsons.
Rashi, quoting the Midrash Tanchuma, explains that when Ya’akov was preparing to bless his two grandsons, he felt the Shechina suddenly depart from him as he saw through prophecy that evil kings would arise from the boys – Yerovam and Ahav from Ephraim and Yehu and his sons from Menashe. Ya’akov’s question to Yosef was – who are these sons who are worthy of a Bracha if it is clear that such evil leaders are destined to descend from them.
The Netivot Shalom brings down a very different understanding of the question of Ya’akov “Mi Eleh”. He quotes the Divrei Shmuel (Rav Shmuel Schmelke Horowitz) who interprets the words “Mi Eleh” as referring to the name of G-d, Elokim. The word Elokim is attained by shuffling around the letters of “Mi Eleh”. The Netivot Shalom continues to use this unique understanding of Ya’akov’s question in order to explain the dialogue which occurs in the Parsha between Ya’akov and Yosef.
When Ephraim and Menashe approach Ya’akov in order to be blessed, we are told that Ya’akov places his right hand on Ephraim’s head and his left hand on Menashe’s head, even though Menashe is the firstborn. He proceeds to bless his two grandsons. When Yosef sees that Ya’akov has crossed over his hands, he reproaches his father for blessing Ephraim as the Bechor and he reminds Ya’akov that this is Menashe’s right. Ya’akov, however, is not to be persuaded and replies that although Menashe will be great, Ephraim will surpass him.
The Netivot Shalom notes with interest the debate between Ya’kov and Yosef and specifically the fact that Yosef’s opinion is expressed in the Torah despite the fact that Ya’akov has the “deciding vote”. He sees the debate between Ya’akov and Yosef as representing two opinions or methods in our Avodat Hashem. This split is represented by the division of the tribe of Yosef into two – Ephraim and Menashe. Menashe represents the midda of “Sur Mera” – distancing oneself from evil. This is evident in his name: “G-d has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house” Ephraim represents the Midda of “Aseh Tov” – “G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering”.
When Ya’akov sees Ephriam and Menashe and asks “Mi Eleh” – this is not a question, but rather a statement. Using the interpretation of the Divrei Shmuel, the Netivot Shalom points out that the name “Elokim” refers to the attribute of justice of G-d. When Ya’akov sees Yosef’s sons and asks “Mi Eleh”, he does this because he has just understood that Ephraim and Menashe are serving Hashem through the element of Din. They are serving Him with Yir’a – with fear, and not with love. Ya’akov does not understand why this is the case.
To this claim Yosef replies that they are his sons who Hashem gave him “bazeh” which the Netivot Shalom understands as being a reference to Egypt which is a land of tuma – impurity. Yosef is really explaining to his father that his two sons, Ephriam and Menashe, were born and raised in Egypt, a land of idolatry which necessitated them serving Hashem out of fear in order to maintain their faith whilst surrounded by so much impurity. When one is in such a situation, love of Hashem is not enough in order to combat the external influences. Therefore Yosef educated himself and his sons to serve Hashem primarily through Yir’ah.
One can surmise that Ya’akov understood that this was the type of relationship with Hashem which was necessary in order for Yosef and his sons to maintain their faith in a place like Egypt. We also have to remember, however, that the mida of Ya’akov is Tifferet which is Torah and through Torah one can serve Hashem with love even when one is in a place of Tum’a such as Egypt. Ya’akov was expressing the belief that through learning Torah one can reach a level and an understanding that one can serve Hashem through love even when living in the most impure of places.
This can then explain why Ya’akov crosses over his hands and places the right one on the head of Ephraim. If Menashe epitomizes the Midda of “Sur Mera” – fear of Hashem; and Ephraim epitomizes the Midda of “Aseh Tov” – love of Hashem; then Ya’akov through placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head was declaring his belief that the true way to serve Hashem is out of love – even in Egypt. Yosef tries to correct his father and reminds him that Menashe is the firstborn – that the only way to serve Hashem in a place like Egypt is through fear. To this Ya’akov replies that he knows that up until now that may have been the case – that the only way to serve Hashem in Egypt was through fear and therefore up till now Menashe has been the firstborn, but when one places Torah and Emet – the midda of Ya’akov – as one’s primary focus – then one can attain a level of serving Hashem primarily through love and one does not have to fear that one will be influenced by the impurities which are all around. This is the attribute of Ephraim – serving Hashem through love.
This is a message then to all of us. The only way to truly serve Hashem is through Torah. When we take the direction and teachings of the torah as the primary focus in our lives, we too can reach a level in which our love for Torah and our love for Hashem will be the primary driving force in our Avodat Hashem. We too are constantly surrounded by external forces which try to distract us from our Emunah. There are some who feel that the only way to combat these influences is through fear, but the message of Ya’akov Avinu is that which prevails. The blessing of the Bechora was given to Ephraim. Menashe also received his blessing. Fear is also a necessary element, but if we learn Torah and see the beauty and depth in all that is written in it, we will come to a realization that Ahavah can be the main driving force in our Avodat Hashem.