After he is reunited with his long-lost son Joseph, Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Though you might think Jacob would have learned from experience that favoritism can be poisonous, he insists upon reversing the traditional order of the boys, favoring the younger, Ephraim, by putting his right hand on the boy’s head and naming him first. As part of the blessing, he foretells, “By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh” (Genesis 48:20). True to that prediction, Jews do bless their sons on Friday evenings with exactly those words. Although I have a son and a daughter, I like this blessing and the rabbinic understanding of why being like Ephraim and Manasseh is a good thing: They are the only sibling pair in Genesis about whom there is no record of discord.
To what you fought over—the front seat,
pushing the elevator button, the blue block—
you brought the same intensity
as brothers vying for the last hunk of bread.
Even in the world of enough you grew up in,
the impulse to do battle hangs on,
like a troublesome appendix, unnecessary
but easy to inflame. G-d made you,
as He did each of his creations, with the will
to live, to push like impossibly fragile cotyledons
through asphalt or loam. So we bless you
with the wish to be like Joseph’s children,
predisposed, like any boys, to tussle,
but born into a land where the granaries
are full. Although the father of their father,
who never saw the pitfalls of preferring,
crossed his hands to steal, one more time,
the blessing of the eldest, the sons of Joseph
trusted in the plenty of their world,
confining their rivalries to the small change
of toys and caresses, leaving behind no stories.