Learning From Yaakov's Hand Switch: Prayer During Times of Plenty

In Parshat Vayechi, Yosef brings his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe, to be blessed by his aging father, Yaakov. Yosef positions Menashe, the eldest, on Yaakov’s right, and Ephraim, the younger son, on Yaakov’s left. The ostensible purpose is to have Yaakov bless Menashe with his right hand – the right hand being deemed a source of greater blessing than the left hand (see list of halachic practices and non-ritual where the right hand takes precedence, reasons why the right hand is favored, and exceptions to the rule, e.g., tefillin).

Famously, Yaakov crosses his hands so that his right hand is on Ephraim, and his left hand is on Menashe, and proceeds to bless his two grandsons. At the conclusion of Yaakov’s blessing, Yosef notices that Yaakov had crossed his hands, and tries to move Yaakov’s right hand back on to Menashe. Yosef protests: “This is not correct, father. He [Menashe] is the bechor – put your right hand on his head.” Yaakov refuses to change his hands back and tells Yosef he knows that Menashe is the eldest. Yaakov explains:

“Gam hu y’hiyeh l’am v’gam hu yigdal v’ulam achiv ha’katon yigdal mimenu v’zaro y’hiyeh melo ha’goyim.”

“He [Menashe] too will become a national [hero] and he too will rise. But his younger brother will be greater than he and his descendants will astonish the nations.”

Rashi explains that Yaakov foresaw that Gideon would descend from Menashe, and a miracle would be performed through him. However, Yehoshua ben Nun, Moshe’s successor, would descend from Ephraim, and would help Bnei Yisroel conquer Eretz Yisroel and teach them Torah. The implication is that Yehoshua was a greater leader. Yaakov’s response is intended to explain his actions, but it’s not clear how it does so.

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