Mennashe and Ephraim's Blessing
Rabbi Besser
Transcribed by Moshe Ben-Chaim
An interesting occurrence is noted during this weeks parsha: As Joseph brings his two sons before his father Jacob, Jacob blesses Joseph, by blessing Mennashe and Ephraim. What is strange is the placing of Jacob's hands on their heads, and in doing so, Jacob crosses his hands, placing his right hand on the child to his left, Ephraim, the younger child.
Rabbi Besser asked two questions: 1) Why must one place their hands on someone to bless? Won't the blessing take hold even without physical contact? 2) What was the nature of this blessing, that,according to Rashi, when one blesses their son in the future, one will say, "G-d shall place you as Ephraim and Mennashe". Why were these two selected to be the model of a father's blessing of his son?
Rabbi Besser answered the following: When Jacob saw Joseph's two sons, he desired to know one thing, "were they at odds with each other as all of the previous sons were?" Avraham had two sons, Yishmael and Isaac, and they were at odds. Isaac had Esav and Jacob, both at odds with each other. Jacob had 12 sons, 10 were opposed to one, Joseph. Now stands Joseph before Jacob. Are Joseph's two sons at odds with each other as well? To determine this, (Jacob was not familiar with Mennashe and Ephraim, [Gen , 48:8] "who are these?" referring to Joseph's sons), Jacob sought to awaken any sibling rivalry by placing the dominant hand on younger son, Ephraim. (Normally the elder is favored, and Jacob was clearly favoring the younger). If there was rivalry, this would bring it to the forefront in some form. When Jacob saw there was no animosity between the two brothers, even as the younger was being favored, Jacob blessed them with the one blessing which specifically epitomizes children living properly - the absence of rivalry. He therefore blessed them stating that when a father wishes the best for his sons, he should bless them as Ephraim and Mennashe, as the two sons who shared peace, and not the common rivalry. The bracha itself embodies this concept, as the text reads. "G-d shall place you as Ephraim and Mennashe", Ephraim the younger, is first in the text.
One could ask as to what brought about this peace in these two brothers, not seen in earlier generations of the Avos. Perhaps this is answered by understanding the cause for 'sibling rivalry'. Two brothers do not rival each other without cause. It is based on the desire to gain the spotlight in front of the parent. Children crave attention. Perhaps these two did not desire attention, a they saw their father preoccupied with running Egypt, they realized this was his focus, and felt emotionally inadequate to compete with "Egypt", to gain their fathers shared attention. This caused them to accept a secondary role of importance in their father's eyes. Thus, they abandoned seeking this type of approval. Normally, a mature individual will overcome the rivalry emotion, but Ephraim and Mennashe were faced with conquering this emotion earlier in life.