“Israel extended his right hand and placed it on Ephraim’s head, though he was younger, and his left hand on Menashe’s head. He maneuvered his hands because Menashe was the firstborn” (Genesis 48:14).
When Yosef brought his two sons to be blessed by Jacob, he placed his older son facing Jacob’s right hand and the younger son facing his left hand. Yosef assumed that the older child would receive the more prestigious blessing that would be given with the right hand. But Jacob crossed his arms and placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head and left hand of Menashe’s. Even though Yosef protested (48:17-18), Jacob insisted he knew what he was doing.
Chizkuni asks an obvious question. If Jacob wanted to bless Ephraim with his right hand, why did he awkwardly maneuver his hands rather than just have the boys switch places?
The phrase used by the Torah to describe Jacob’s move was “sikel es yadav” – literally, he maneuvered his hands with wisdom. Chizkuni explains that Jacob acted purposefully. He knew that in giving the priority blessing to the younger son he could be hurting the feelings of Menashe. But it would have been even more awkward and embarrassing to ask the boys to switch places. This would be pouring salt on a wound. Jacob was intent on giving his blessings to the boys in a way that would not rub the older brother’s nose into the slight he could be experiencing and adding insult to injury.
By Rabbi Michael Skobac
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