“When Joseph saw.” – Genesis 48:17
When the time arrived for Jacob to give his blessings to his children, he began by blessing his two grandchildren, Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Because his father’s eyesight was dim, Joseph specifically arranged the children for the blessings: Manasseh, the older son, he placed toward Jacob’s right hand; the younger son, Ephraim, he placed toward Jacob’s left hand. He intended that the primacy is given through the right hand to the older son as would be the custom; however, Jacob changed his hands, placing his right hand on the head of Ephraim, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh.
“When Joseph saw” this rearrangement, he was displeased, and said, “Not so, my father, for this is the first-born; put thy right hand upon his head” (Genesis 48:18). Yet, his father explained, “‘I know it, my son, I know it; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; howbeit his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations’” (Genesis 48:19). Moreover, he established the tradition that Israel shall bless their children “saying: G-d make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh” (Genesis 48:20).
At that moment, Jacob was given prophetic insight: he foresaw the greatness of the descendants of the younger brother Ephraim. And, so, aided by the power of the Ruach HaKodesh, he was able to see beyond the expected scenario. Additionally, by instituting the blessings given to Jewish children, he has empowered us to accept ourselves, regardless of our status. While Joseph’s perspective is akin to our own commonplace understanding of events in our lives, the perspective of Jacob reaches higher towards an outcome even beyond expectations.
Furthermore, from another viewpoint, intending to place primacy upon Manasseh, whose name alludes to the verb “forget” (Genesis 41:51), Joseph was emphasizing putting his past sufferings behind himself. Yet, what we can learn by the name of Ephraim, is to be “fruitful” in regard to performing mitzvot (good deeds), so that we may flourish, despite our sufferings. For, it is not enough to put our past sins and negative character traits behind us (sur meira); we must also focus on holiness, through asei tov (doing good). “Turn from evil and do good” (Psalm 34:15).