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Question: Is there special significance to the blessing Yaakov gave his grandsons?

Answer: HaGoan HaRav Yitzchok Hutner, z”l, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, once said that anything a person does in this world, no matter how creative or unique, will be equaled, or surpassed, by someone else at a later date. There is, however, one exception to this rule. Namely, the quality of being first. Being first is an achievement that can never be equaled or excelled.

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Accordingly, it is of interest to examine the first time a berachah was granted to grandchildren: when Yaakov blessed Menashe and Efriam. This is how the berachah begins: “Hamalach hagoel oti mi’kol ra yevarech et hane’arim – The angel who protected me from all bad should bless the children.”

Note how Yaakov shifts responsibility from himself to an angel to make the actual blessing. His rationale must have been that an angel, more than he, will know the true dreams and goals of Menashe and Efraim. An angel can discern what a child really needs in order to achieve stature, success, and fame. It was, therefore, the angel who was given the power to bless.

What was the actual berachah? “Vi’karei va’hem she’mi v’sheim avotai Avraham v’Yitzchak… – That my name be declared upon them and that of my forefathers, Abraham and Isaac….” The inference is that grandparents should not be forgotten. Grandparents (especially after the Holocaust) built the foundations of the family and should not be deemed “past history.”

When a name is given at a brit milah, we say, “Vi’karei shmo b’Yisrael… – May he be called in Yisrael….” This is not just an introductory phrase. It is a prayer: May this child be known in Israel. May he bring kavod and glory to his people. May the world hear about him and acclaim his accomplishments. 

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Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of eight sefarim on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer the Right Way” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and select Judaica stores.
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