THOUGHT FOR PARSHAT VAYECHI 5780
BY RABBI CHAIM FACHLER
When Yakov blesses Yosef’s two sons Ephraim and Menashe, he crosses his arms in order to place his right hand on Ephraim, the younger one, and his left hand on Menashe, the firstborn.
Why does Yakov do this? Why not simply reposition the boys instead of crossing his arms?
The Netziv also points out that from this moment, the Torah always mentions the younger Ephraim before the older Menashe – except when Bnei Yisrael are counted for the second time in the book of Bamidbar (Numbers), when the order is reversed. What is the significance of this?
The Netziv goes on to explain that Yakov saw that the two boys possessed different strengths. While Menashe was more down to earth and able to cope with the physical and material aspects of the world, his younger brother Ephraim was gifted with a more spiritual character, with emphasis on knowledge, study, and holiness.
Thus, during the time that the Children of Israel were in Egypt and later in the wilderness, when HaShem led them through open miracles in a very spiritual existence (such as the daily Manna and the protective holy clouds), Ephraim took centre stage, ahead of Menashe.
However, when the Chosen People conquered the Promised Land, the miracles were less obvious. Even though HaShem continued to lead and protect the Children of Israel, they had resorted to a more physical and natural existence. They used modern warfare and they physically developed the land to provide sustenance. This is why when they were counted just prior to leaving the wilderness to enter the Land of Israel, the more down to earth practical brother Menashe retakes the lead role.
With this explanation, we can now understand Yakov’s way of blessing his grandchildren. He doesn't move the older one, Menashe, because Menashe's place is on the ground, standing in his rightful place, to the right. But Ephraim receives Yakov’s right hand on his head, signifying that his role is the more spiritual one, where Torah study and a holier leadership is required.
When we bless our children, or when we are blessed by our parents, the words spoken by Yakov are invoked: "Let HaShem make you like Ephraim and Menashe".
We are in need of both attributes, but we also need to know when and how to prioritise them.