The blessing given to boys is Jacob’s blessing to Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Jacob declared: “By you shall Israel bless, saying: May God make you as Ephraim and as Menashe” (Genesis 48:20).
Jacob’s children were raised and taught by Jacob and their mothers, all of whom were devoted to the service of God. Ephraim and Menashe, on the other hand, were raised in Egypt and were taught their faith by Joseph and their mother, Osnat (a presumed convert to monotheism). They lived, however, in Pharaoh’s palace, hardly an easy place to escape from the amoral practices of the ancient Egyptians.
When Jacob finally came to Egypt, he was delighted to find that his grandsons’ “Jewish souls” had not only survived in the exile of Egypt, they had actually flourished. Perhaps anticipating that many future generations of Jews would be raised in environments similar to Egypt rather than the land of Israel, Jacob’s blessing to his descendants of the future was that, wherever their homes may be, they too should be able to create strong Jewish families in which Jewish faith and heritage would flourish.
Similarly, the blessing for daughters refers to the four Matriarchs of the Jewish people: “May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.”
The Matriarchs--Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah--were raised in homes and environments filled with idol worship and immorality. (Laban, the father of Leah and Rachel, was a well-known thief and con-artist.) Nevertheless, the Matriarchs used the force of their personalities and spiritual inclinations to live righteous lives set apart from falsehood and idolatry.
Additionally, examining the lives of the Matriarchs can teach us much about prayer, patience and gratitude. These women were each outstanding individuals, possessing extraordinary personal integrity and strength. By blessing our daughters in their names, we teach our daughters to learn from them and to emulate their lifestyles.
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