Ohel Yaacob Congregation
Ohel Yaacob Congregation
Deal, New Jersey
Parasha Insight - from Rabbi Eli J Mansour
Parashat Vayehi: The Vision of Gedoleh Yisrael
In Parashat Vayehi, we read that Yosef brought his two sons, Efrayim and Menashe, to their grandfather, Yaakob, to receive his blessing before his death. Yosef positioned the boys such that Menashe, the older brother, stood at Yaakob’s right, while the younger brother, Menashe, stood on the left side. Yosef assumed that this was the proper arrangement, as the older son should assume the more prominent position, to the right. Yaakob, however, crossed his hands and placed his right hand on top of Efrayim’s head while administering the Beracha. After Yosef objected, Yaakob explained that the tribe of Efrayim was destined to greater stature and prominence than Menashe.
In relating this story, the Torah tells that Yaakob switched his hands, “Ki Menashe Ha’bechor” – “because Menashe was the firstborn” (48:14). At first glance, this verse seems incomprehensible. It should have said that Yaakob reversed his hands and placed his right hand upon Efrayim “even though Menashe was the firstborn.” Why does it say that Yaakob placed his right upon Efrayim “because Menashe was the firstborn”?
One explanation is that the Torah here gives the reason for why Yaakob decided to cross his hands rather than reversing his grandsons’ positions. Why didn’t he simply switch Menashe and Efrayim, so that Efrayim stood to his right and Menashe to his left? Why did he deem it preferable to keep them in their current positions and cross his hands? The answer is that Yaakob did not want to embarrass Menashe. Had he asked them to switch places, Menashe would have understood that he was being lowered to a less prominent position. Yaakob therefore had Efrayim and Menashe stay in their places. Since they held their heads down to receive the Beracha, they would be entirely unaware of the fact that Yaakob placed his right hand upon Efrayim’s head, thus sparing Menashe any embarrassment. Thus, Yaakob crossed his hands – rather than reposition the grandsons – “because Menashe was the firstborn,” and would suffer embarrassment if Yaakob would make him switch places with his younger brother.
This might explain Targum Onkelos’ translation of this verse: “Ahkeminun Lidohi” – “He placed his hands with wisdom.” The “wisdom” was in choosing a method that would avoid embarrassing Menashe. Yosef did not understand why his father crossed his hands, but Yaakob then explained that he did this with “wisdom,” for good reason.
What we might learn from this episode is the faith and trust we must have in the decisions of the Gedoleh Yisrael – the great religious leaders of the nation. Just as Yosef did not initially understand why Yaakob reversed his hands, similarly, we often do not understand the statements made and the positions taken by our religious leaders. We must trust that their decisions and policies are made with “wisdom,” with keen insight and knowledge. Several people could witness the same incident, but the one with the best vision will obviously see it the most clearly. The great scholars of the generation have the clearest vision of anyone, and they therefore have the most accurate and keen understanding of events. We must therefore learn to trust and accept their guidance, even if we do not understand it at first.
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