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Vayechi- Jacobs sensitivity

When Joseph brought his two sons, Menashe and Ephraim to his father, Jacob, to bless them before his death, Joseph positioned Menashe, his older son, at Jacob’s right side and Ephraim, the younger son, on his left. Jacob, however, crossed his hands and placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head and his left, on Menashe’s.

The verse (Ch.48, v. 14) relates that when Jacob blessed Ephraim and Menashe “Sikeil et yadav ki Menashe ha’bchor” he crossed over his hands (thus indicating preference of Ephraim, the younger son over the firstborn Menashe). BECAUSE Menashe was the first born.”

The verse should actually say something entirely different. He switched his hands placing his right hand on Ephraim DESPITE the fact that Menashe was the first born. The Chizkuni explains that Jacob had another option he could have replaced Menashe on his left side and Ephraim on his right. This would have enabled him to bless them while extending his hands in front of him, in the normal manner. This, however, would have been a slight to the firstborn, Menashe. By allowing Menashe to remain positioned on his right sight and subtly crossing his hands, Jacob minimized the embarrassment to Menashe. The verse can now be understood. BECAUSE Menashe was the first-born, Jacob crossed over his HANDS, leaving Menashe on his right side to receive Jacob’s blessing. Jacob thus avoided the unnecessary embarrassment which would be incurred had he changed the grandsons’ placement.

In this vein, the Koheles Yitzhak, in the name of Rabbi Ben Zion of Shkud says that although Ephraim received his blessing through the right hand of Jacob, Ephraim must constantly remember that he was seated on the left side. This reminder was instilled by Hashem by giving the descendants of Ephraim the nature to pronounce a “shin” as a “sin” should be pronounced (see Shoftim 12:6). The difference between a “shin” and a “sin” is where the dot is located. A dot to the right indicates a “shin,” and one to the left, a “sin.” Ephraim pronounced both as a “sin,” where the dot is to the LEFT, a powerful reminder that their tribe’s ancestor stood to the LEFT of Jacob when receiving his blessing.

We learn from this incident that even if one is in a situation where embarrassment cannot be avoided, the utmost care, concern and sensitivity must be taken to reduce it to the minimum.

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