One of the hardest things in our world is to understand who we are. This is because it is often hard to even know which question to ask. How do we understand ourselves? Is it about where we are going or where we came from? Is it about what we have done, how we think, or what others think of us? These questions have bothered people since time immemorial, however, they feel even more urgent in our age of social media and instant communications.
This week, we hear about how Ya'akov answered that very question. He asked Yossef to bring in his two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, to give them a blessing. In the end he blesses them twice. The second is the more famous. In it he says: "Through you Israel will bless (others), and so they shall: May Hashem make you as he did Ephraim and Menashe." Ephraim and Menashe, the children of Yossef, are due to become the example for all the Jewish people, the paradigm that we use to bless others. To this day, on a Friday night, it is common for parents to say to their children: "May Hashem make you as He did Ephraim and Menashe."
The first blessing Ya'akov gave to Ephraim and Menashe is also famous: "The angel who saves me from all evil should bless the youths and should call them by my name and the name of my father, Avraham and Yitzchak, and they should be very numerous through the land." This blessing also has become famous. It was made into a beautiful tune commonly sung to small children, and is known throughout the Jewish world.
Which blessing is the most important one? The second relates to perception, to how people will see you. The first relates to actual substance. And yet, the second is easily the one given more significance. It is more often repeated, the more recognisable of the two.
Perhaps the answer is that both blessings are signifcant to our functioning in society. We often discount what others think of us, as though it is not important. This is incorrect. And yet, we tend to neglect substance in favor of style when given the option. In truth, for us to truly to be like Menahse and Ephraim, and to show how much we are worthy of the blessings, both aspects are important.