The Cross-Handed Blessing

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.

In 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.


Copyright 2001 chabad of california / www.lachumash.org

Rabbi 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.


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