Friday, December 29, 2006

Ephraim and Menashe, Torah and Derekh Eretz

One of my favorite divrei Torah from high school was said by my ninth grade Chumash rebbe (and 10th grade Gemara rebbe), R. Yitzchak Meir Goodman. This devar Torah has since been published in his book on Bereishis, There Shall Be Light pp. 335-337 (which is currently out of print, but his book on Shemos, And There Was Light, is still available from the publisher and directly from the author):

Why, then, did Yaakov coin the blessing "May God make you like Ephraim and Menasheh" (48:20) rather than " Yehudah" [whom Yaakov had sent to Egypt to open a yeshivah]? I think Yaakov foresaw that most of am Yisrael would not engage exclusively in Torah study. Therefore, he gave the masses the berachah of "Torah with derech eretz," simultaneously teaching us that only those immersed exclusively in Torah would be our greatest poskim and gedolim.

Midrashim stress that Ephraim emphasized Torah, studying for years with Yaakov in Egypt, while Menasheh concentrated on politics, serving as his father's interpreter even as a boy. With a father like Yosef, however, each one must have engaged in both Torah and secular pursuits. Thus, when Yaakov crossed his hands in blessing his sons (48:14), he was affirming that even those who work for a living should emulate Ephraim, or at least set aside time for Torah, as Menasheh did.

Because Yehudah and Ephraim represent Judaism's two highest ideals -- pure Torah and Torah with derech eretz, repectively -- surely they must be united in love and respect. Perhaps this is the symbolism of the haftorah for Vayigash (Yechezkel 37), in which the prophet is told to join the branches of Ephraim and Yehudah! Similarly, Yeshayahu envisions that, in the generation before the advent of Mashiach, "...Ephraim will not envy Yehudah and Yehudah will not vex Ephraim" (11:13). Could our nevi'im be telling us that before Mashiach can come, the Torah world and the "Torah with derech eretz" world must unite?
In other words, Yehudah represents Torah-only, Ephraim represents mostly Torah with some derekh eretz, and Menasheh represents mostly derekh eretz with some Torah.

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