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THE OL' SWITCHEROO

by Steve Lerner    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

A major theme which runs throughout the book of Genesis is the granting of the blessing to the next generation by the Patriarchs. The blessings are a recognition of key character traits and they assign priorities, contain a vision for the future, and pass the mantle of leadership in Torah to the next generation.

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A major theme which runs throughout the book of Genesis is the granting of the blessing to the next generation by the Patriarchs. The blessings are a recognition of key character traits and they assign priorities, contain a vision for the future, and pass the mantle of leadership in Torah to the next generation.

Who better than Jacob can appreciate the profound impact associated with the receiving of a blessing. Now he, too, must use his life-long experience and wisdom to convey his blessing to his children. The curtain rises with Joseph presenting his two sons before Jacob to be blessed. Joseph places Menashe, his first born, opposite Jacob's right hand, and Ephraim opposite Jacob's left hand. To Joseph's surprise, Jacob crosses his hands, first placing his right hand on Ephraim's head and then placing his left hand over his right onto the head of Menashe.

The Malbim, one of the preeminent Torah commentators of the 19th century, explains that Jacob wished to maintain the first born status of Menashe while also assigning a preference to the younger Ephraim based upon his indiv idual excellence in Torah. This explains why Jacob did not request that Joseph switch his sons' places which could have caused some embarrassment.

On a deeper level, the Malbim states that the right and left hands represent the two ways that Hashem rules the world, the right hand being the miraculous order and the left hand being the natural order. In the miraculous order, divine influence corresponds to the good deeds and merits of the individual. In the natural order, goodness occurs according to the laws of nature established at the time of creation.

Jacob sees that the greatness of Ephraim will manifest itself through individual excellence particularly to be found in Joshua, a descendant of Ephraim. Menashe will be numerically great. Since Ephraim's greatness transcends the natural order, he will receive the blessing of the right hand. Menashe, being great in number, is blessed within the natural order, with the left hand which represents wealth and honor .

Both Menashe and Ephraim are models of greatness in their own right. They represent the Jew in exile who, despite a hostile environment, flourishes and holds fast to the spiritual heritage of his forefathers. Jacob indicates a preference towards the Ephraim model, to excel in the study of Torah as much as possible. The Menashe model is also sanctioned, since it too represents a proper service of Hashem within the framework of the Torah.

Jacob's blessing is a hope and a prayer that future generations will be like Ephraim and Menashe, each individual containing both elements of spiritual and worldly greatness, excellence in Torah study combined with wealth and honor in this world.

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Steve Lerner writes from Atlanta.

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