by Shmuel Katanov
Every Friday night, we bless our children with the blessings of Menashe and Ephraim the sons of Joseph. We want our children to be, act and be blessed like those two boys. But while blessing, Yakov Avinu switched his hands and placed his right hand on the Ephraim – the second son, and the left hand on Menashe – the firstborn. The right way should be always right hand on the firstborn and left on the second son.
It pained Joseph to see this. So Joseph pointed it out to Yakov Avinu saying that this is his oldest son pointing at Menashe. But Yakov Avinu said from him will come a great nation, but from the other a greater nation will come, but... there are was something that made Yakov Avinu to give importance to the second son. What was it?
Let's look into this closely.
When Yakov Avinu saw these two boys he was happy to see the achdut, friendship a brotherly love these two boys had even though they were raised amongst the gentiles, in Mitzraim - far from the influence of Jacob's household. He saw something that earlier generations lacked. Kain and Hevel had problems between themselves, where Kain ends up killing his brother. So with Yishmael and Yitzchak where Hashem intervenes and asks Avraham to listen to Sarah and he drives out Yishmael from his home. In case of Yakov and Eisav they had problems as well, Yakov had to run from home because he was afraid for his own life. Even amongst his own children there are was animosity towards Joseph. And now by placing his right hand on Ephraim - it is like ‘Déjà vu’ all over again. When Yakov gave a ketonet passim, a striped coat, to Joseph and singled him out from all his children, the end result was 22 years of separation with his son Joseph. And now by putting his right hand on Ephraim he is introducing exactly the same thing into the relationship of these two young boys.
But Yakov Avinu saw it differently. The love that he saw they had towards each other was more then any others had before. And by placing his right hand on the second son, he knew that his oldest brother will not be jealous of his younger brother and only will be happy for him.
But there are may be another reason.
Gideon (see Judges) will come from the tribe of Menashe and Yehoshua bin Noun will come from tribe of Ephraim. Both are great men, but Yakov Avinu saw that the tests they will go through in life will be on different levels for each.
The tests in life are the things that separate us all, and our reaction to them will determine whether we make the right choices or the wrong ones. While going through a test and under pressure we may hurt others and burn the bridges or build castles and discover powers within to overcome whatever thrown our way.
When Moshe Rabeinu was approached by the tribes to send the spies to Eretz Yisrael, Yehoshua bin Noun was picked as one of the candidates to go and spy out the land. Knowing the intentions of the others Moshe Rabbeinu was afraid that this will influence Yehoshua bin Noun and he may take the wrong side and commit a gravely sin of slandering the land. So Moshe prayed for Yehoshua so he would not make that mistake and he even changed his name to increase the odds.
When Yakov Avinu was giving the blessing to Joseph's sons, and seeing the consequences of that slander he felt that Yehoshua needs a blessing from his right hand, an extra push in the right direction, a zechut a merit from Yakov Avinu himself through Ephraim.
The death of that whole generation, wars, pogroms and destruction of both Temples and all of the suffering that Am Yisrael has endured to date came because of that day, the slander, a false report that spies gave to the nation when they came back and nation’s reaction to it.
Thus by blessing Ephraim with the right hand Yakov Avinu helped Yehoshua bin Noun to pass the test of the spies with flying colors. Yehoshua bin Noun came back, brought the right report, became the leader after passing of Moshe Rabeinu and took the Am Yisrael to the land of Israel.
May the blessings of our fathers and our rabbis give us the right push in the right direction when the times come, so we all shall build and not destroy, make the right choices and pass our personal tests with flying colors. Amen.
by Shmuel Katanov