By Rav David Silverberg

The Torah tells in Parashat Vayechi of Yosef bringing his two sons, Efrayim and Menashe, to his aged father, Yaakov, so he could bless them before his passing.  We read that upon seeing the two young men, Yaakov asked Yosef, “Who are these?” to which Yosef replied that they were his sons (48:8-9).

Rashi, based on several Midrashic sources, explains that Yaakov knew that these were Yosef’s sons, but he asked this question because he prophetically foresaw wicked people descending from Efrayim and Menashe.  This prophetic vision resulted in the departure of the divine presence from Yaakov’s room, Rashi explains, and so Yaakov asked Yosef about his sons’ origins, to explain why they would beget sinful descendants.

The Or Ha-chayim observes that this Midrashic interpretation is unsatisfactory on the level of peshuto shel mikra (the plain meaning of the text), and therefore suggests two other explanations of Yaakov’s question.  First, and perhaps most simply, he suggests that Yaakov did not recognize his grandsons due to his impaired vision, of which the Torah takes note in the very next verse (48:10), and so he needed Yosef to identify the two people who were with him.  Additionally, the Or Ha-chayim writes, Yaakov perhaps asked this question in order for Yosef’s love for his children to intensify.  Yaakov understood that his blessing for Efrayim and Menashe would be more effective the more their father loved and cherished them.  He therefore arranged that Yosef would have to utter the words, “They are my sons,” which would have the effect of strengthening Yosef’s emotional bonds with his sons, and increasing his love and affection for them.  The Or Ha-chayim mentions in this context God’s famous description in Sefer Yirmiyahu (31:19) of how His emotions are stirred, as it were, every time He speaks of His beloved children, Am Yisrael.  In a similar vein, Yaakov wanted to arouse Yosef’s emotions by forcing him to announce, “They are my sons,” which would naturally evoke feelings of pride and affection.

Underlying the Or Ha-chayim’s comments is the notion that the greatest blessing children can receive is their parents’ unconditional love, support and affection.  While all parents love their children, the parent-child relationship is complex and can often be fraught with a degree of tension.  The Or Ha-chayim reminds us that parents need to regularly step back and proudly declare, “Banai heim,” to intensify their love for and emotional connection to their children, and recognize that these feelings are the greatest blessing that their children could possibly receive.

Originally appears on VBM

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