The Blessing of the Unexpected - ויחי

Friday, 29 December, 2023 - 9:14 am


The Blessing of the Unexpected 

In the final pages of the book of Genesis, we read about the episode when Jacob placed his right hand (which represents the greater blessing), upon the head of Ephraim, Joseph's younger son, bypassing the elder brother Menashe, echoing a recurring theme of the book of Genesis: throughout the book, the younger son was chosen as the blessed and superior one. 

Regarding all the other instances, we can argue that there was a reason that the younger one was chosen, it was because of a negative choice or characteristic of the older one; regarding Menashe and Ephraim, by contrast, it is clear that Menashe was a righteous and virtuous person. The selection of Ephraim points to a general preference of the second over the first. 

The book of Genesis begins with the story of the creation of the natural order with all its beauty, precision, and consistency — the laws of nature are precise, consistent, and predictable. Very quickly, however, the book shifts its focus to the stories of individual people who, with the power of their free choice, defy their natural instincts and do the unexpected. It is unnatural to stand alone as Abraham and Sarah did, serve water to ten camels as Rebbeca did, or forgive your brothers as Joseph did. And that is also the reason why the first is consistently passed over. 

The first represents the natural impulse. The second represents the ability to offer another perspective, to deliberate, to choose. The lesson the Torah conveys is that true blessing comes from the ability to overcome instinct and do the unexpected. 

When we begin to read the scene of Jacob blessing Joseph's children, we think we know where the story is headed. Joseph sets up the science so that his firstborn Menashe will receive the superior blessing symbolized by the right hand: 

And Joseph took them both, Ephraim at his right, from Israel's left, and Manasseh at his left, from Israel's right, and he brought [them] near to him. 

But then the unexpected happens: 

But Israel stretched out his right hand and placed [it] on Ephraim's head, although he was the younger, and his left hand [he placed] on Manasseh's head. He guided his hands deliberately, for Manasseh was the firstborn.

The second one is chosen, because the second one represents the ability to do the unexpected. To defy the natural desire and express the gift and blessing of free choice. 

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