Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky, for "The Chumash
of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
"Joseph then took
them both - Ephraim with his right hand, to Israel's left, and Manasseh with his
left hand, to Israel's right - and brought them close to him. Israel reached out
with his right hand and rested it on the head of Ephraim, even though he was the
younger son, and rested his left hand on the head of Manasseh. He crossed his
hands deliberately, knowing that Manasseh was the firstborn." (Gen. 48:13-14)
"Since Manasseh was the firstborn, he deserved the primary
blessing, which Jacob would convey through his right arm." (Rashi)
The name "Manasseh" expresses Joseph's
wish that he resist the enticements of the material world (i.e. not "forget
his father's house"), while the name "Ephraim" expresses Joseph's
wish that he accomplish his mission (i.e. to "be fruitful") while in
exile. Since before we attempt to refine the world we must take measures to ensure
that we are immune to its temptations, Joseph named his firstborn "Manasseh",
and wished to give him precedence in receiving Jacob's blessing, as well.
granting his blessing, however, Jacob focused on the purpose of our descent into
exile: not mere survival, but the ascent that follows our successful encounter
with exile. By transforming the exilic state into one of redemption, we achieve
a greater degree of divine consciousness than we began with. He therefore wished
to give precedence to Ephraim.
Furthermore, we have to summon
deeper spiritual powers to transform exile than we do merely to survive exile.
Thus, both Manasseh and Ephraim were the more important son in their respective
ways, and Joseph and Jacob were both correct, from different perspectives, in
choosing which one to give the greater blessing to.
2001 chabad of california / www.lachumash.org
Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky is a scholar, writer, editor and anthologist. Originally
from Los Angeles, he moved to Israel in 1977, and currently lives in Jerusalem.
While living in Tsfat, he was one of the three founders of ASCENT in 1983.