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Let’s hope that like Abraham, Joseph and King Solomon, we can positively impact the world around us.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Vayechi” (Genesis 47:28–50:26), and in it we read the well-known story in which Joseph arranges for his two sons to receive blessings from their grandfather Jacob, with the older, Manashe, placed to the right of Yaakov. Surprisingly, Yaakov crosses his hands in order to place his right hand on the head of the younger Ephraim.

Assuming it to be a mere oversight, Joseph tries to correct his father, only to be told, “I know, my son, I know; he too … will be great. But his younger brother will be greater than he … and he placed Ephraim before Manasheh.”

The great Torah commentator Rashi explains how Ephraim will be greater: “For Joshua is destined to be descended from him.”

Seemingly, the mystery of the crossed hands is solved – the blessing is for future generations as well and, as the leader of the nation of Israel at the critical time of its entry into the Land of Israel, Ephraim’s descendent Joshua needs the greater blessing to guarantee his success.

But is there a deeper meaning to this story?

The Torah tells us the significance of the names of the brothers: “And Joseph named the firstborn Manashe, for G-d has caused me to forget all my toil and all my father’s house. And the second one he named Ephraim, for G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” The root of Manasheh is “forget” while the root of Ephraim is “fruitful.”

Joseph understood that with his new role as a leader in Egypt, G-d had set the stage for him to be “fruitful,” by refining the Egyptians. To succeed, Joseph would need to influence while not being influenced, i.e., he would need NOT to “forget” the way he was raised. So the order of the names was significant – only after solidifying one’s beliefs can one go out into the world to spread those very beliefs.

Jacob, of course, agreed that a person must protect himself from potentially negative influences before attempting to lift up others. This order of interaction with the world is even mentioned in Psalms: “Turn from evil” and then “do good.” (Psalms 34:15.) Jacob, however, wished to emphasize that while turning from evil was a necessary “prerequisite,” doing good is the “goal,” and so he give the greater blessing to Ephraim, letting Joseph know that he must constantly endeavor to be “fruitful” by bringing people closer to their Creator.

Indeed, even before Jacob’s blessings, Joseph attempted to change his environment, requiring all Egyptians to circumcise themselves before distributing food to them. His success in this endeavor may have been greater than commonly assumed, as the Pharaoh who ruled around the time that Joseph was in Egypt suddenly introduced a belief system that many scholars consider monotheisistic. He ordered the removal of the names and images of false gods from texts and monuments and even changed his own name from Amenhotep, representing idol worship, to Akhenaten, emphasizing the service of one deity. (See here for more on this lesser-known fact.)

The very first Jew, Abraham, of course acted likewise, destroying idols, publicly speaking in favor of monotheism and morality, and even sending his sons away from his wife Keturah “eastward,” with spiritual “gifts,” around the time that Hinduism developed.

King Solomon continued in this path when he inaugurated the first temple, lighting 10 menorahs of seven lights each to represent the 70 nations and opening the temple to visitors. Scholars note that an extraordinary number of religions (Taoism, Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism) started in a short period of time coinciding with these visits to Solomon’s Temple. While not monotheistic, unfortunately, these faiths, like Hinduism, represented a move from appeasing idols to an emphasis on improving one’s character.

Let’s hope that like Abraham, Joseph and King Solomon, we can positively impact the world around us by first ensuring that we are immune to its negative temptations. And may the whole world come to the realization and belief in the one God, the God of Israel.

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.




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