Tishrei: Lessons of Ephraim

The tribe most commonly associated with the month of Tishrei is Ephraim. Ephraim is not a son of Jacob, but a son of Joseph. He is “adopted” by Jacob in Genesis 48:5, and they are given birth-right blessings. In a moment that reminds of Jacob stealing the birthright from his own older brother Esau, Jacob gives the younger son (Ephraim) precedence over the older (Menasseh). Joseph points out the error, but unlike Isaac blessing Jacob in error — Jacob shows us this is intentional (Gen 38:13-14).

What is the lesson of Ephraim for Tishrei? What can we learn from this patriarch and Tribe of Israel? In my research on Ephraim, I found an unexpected lesson. The lesson I learned is that Ephraim teaches us to strive to accept and work with contradictions. Truly, I found the message of Ephraim to be one of defying expectations.

Ephraim is presented in the traditional blessing of children as a model of what a Jewish boy should be. Little girls are told, “May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.” This makes sense. We want the girls to learn the lessons of the matriarchs and be blessed. Why then are boys told, “May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.” Why these two and not “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David”?

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