|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Zalman Michoel Ben Golda Mirel
-Ariela Golda Bas Amira Tova
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
**Note: This D’var Torah is a re-written, much edited, and expanded version of an old one I wrote a few years ago.
וַיְחִי ● Vayechi
● Why does Yaakov place his hands on Yosef kids when blessing Yosef? Did Yaakov’s blessing for Yosef’s fruitfulness come to fruition? ●
“Sun and Moon, High above the Eye”
In the end of Sefer Bereishis, Yaakov Avinu sensed his death looming and realized that it was time for him to give over his final Brachos to his sons. However, as was mentioned earlier, Yaakov began the process with a private session with his closest son Yosef and Yosef’s sons Menasheh and Efrayim for a unique, separate set of blessings before gathering the rest of his sons.
In that scene, Yaakov initiated the blessings by having Yosef bring forth his sons so he could place his hands on their heads to deliver the blessings.1
Whom is Yaakov blessing?
Now, while Yaakov would ultimately bless Menasheh and Efrayim at some point in this mini assembly, at the moment he was placing his hands upon the heads of his grandson, the Torah actually says, “Vayivarech Es Yosef…”-“And he [Yaakov] blessed Yosef…”2
Why exactly did Yaakov do that? If he was opening with a blessing addressed to Yosef, why would he send Yosef’s children to pick up the package when Yosef was right there? Just place your hands on Yosef. Later, when the Pasuk writes, “Vayivarcheim BaYom HaHu…”-“And he [Yaakov] blessed them [Menasheh and Efrayim] on that day…,”3 Yaakov could start worrying about placing his hands on his grandsons’ heads. Meanwhile, Efrayim and Menasheh are not going anywhere. They’ll get their blessings soon.
By telling us that Yaakov placed his hands upon the hands of his grandsons, the Chumash leads one to assume that the blessing that would follow would be towards the grandsons whose heads Yaakov’s hands are currently resting on. But, since it is abundantly clear that Yaakov had a particular Brachah, special for Menasheh and Efrayim, and that this one Brachah was apparently for Yosef, the question is why doesn’t he have his hands on Yosef’s head?
However, perhaps the reverse can be asked. Consider what blessing that Yaakov was about to give. It’s none other than the now famous Tefilah of “HaMalach HaGo’eil…”-“The angel who redeems me…”4, where Yaakov prays that the redeeming angel bless the youths—“…Yivareich Es HaNe’arim…”-“…he should bless the lads…”4 Presumably, this line is a reference to Menasheh and Efrayim. In this light, perhaps the Torah should say that Yaakov blessed Yosef’s sons. So, whom really is this blessing for? Is it for Yosef or his sons?
Also noteworthy is that before the bestowal of these Brachos, the Torah records a detailed description of the way Yosef positioned his sons and the way Yaakov intentionally maneuvered around Yosef’s original arrangement.5 Yosef situated Menasheh on Yaakov’s right and Efrayim on Yaakov’s left, but Yaakov reached his right hand toward the right and his left hand toward the right, crisscrossing his arms over his grandsons’ heads. Evidently, Yaakov went out of his way, to set his superior right hand over Efrayim, the younger one, and his left hand over Menasheh, the firstborn. Once he noticed Yaakov’s strange hand arrangement, Yosef objected to his father, asserting that Menasheh was the firstborn and that Yaakov should rightfully place his right hand on the firstborn.6 However, Yaakov would counter, stating that regardless, Efrayim the younger was destined to be greater.7
This is the simple version of the story, but the story, indeed, is not so simple. It begs obvious questions.
- What was Yosef thinking?
The question though, is what was going on Yosef’s mind. Granted, he was concerned about the rights and honor of the firstborn, but the way he addressed the issue, simply pointing obvious facts—“this one is the firstborn,” as if Yaakov didn’t know, is puzzling. Yaakov clearly wasn’t having a senior moment and absentmindedly putting his hands on his grandsons’ heads. The Torah says, “…Sikeil Es Yadav…”-“…He strategically [deliberately] maneuvered his hands…”5 His arms are crisscrossed! Who does that unintentionally? The only basis for Yaakov to do that in a way that would make sense to Yosef would be if Yaakov had mixed up the two children, but why would he? He had no reason to think that Menasheh and Efrayim were positioned incorrectly, and he must’ve known which of his two grandsons were older.
Now, if it was obvious that Yaakov purposefully moved his hands, did Yosef not realize there was some apparent agenda? Did he really think that Yaakov did not know what was going on, or which son was older? What did he think Yaakov’s intentions were?
So, regarding this particular issue, presumably, the answer is that really, Yosef knew that his father had something up his sleeve. Yaakov must’ve had his reasons for giving Efrayim the right hand and leaving the inferior left hand for the firstborn Menasheh, yet, regardless of those reasons, Yosef felt a need to speak up.
After all, years prior, Yaakov had his reasons for seemingly placing Yosef ahead of all of his other brothers and what did that lead to? Yosef had seen this before and it wasn’t a nice sight the last time around. Yaakov’s favor for Yosef led to hatred and envy in his brothers and they ended up selling him away, tearing the family apart for over two miserable decades. It made sense for Yosef to be concerned. Thus, regardless of the “plan,” Yosef said “No, Dad. This is not correct. Don’t complicate things. Just put the right hand on the firstborn’s head.”
- How has Yaakov reassured Yosef?
Now that we understand Yosef’s objection, the question now then is what ultimately relieved him of his concerns now? Yaakov appeared to be a step ahead of Yosef as he opened his response with clear understanding, “…Yadati B’ni Yadati…”-“I know, my son. I know…,”7 yet, his final answer seems not to have solved the apparent problem, as we’ve explained it. Yaakov argued that Efrayim was destined to be greater. So, how does that help? Perhaps that was Yaakov’s exact argument for elevating Yosef over his brothers. If repeating that design was what Yosef was concerned about, Yaakov’s answer is not an answer. Yaakov’s answer would seem to be just as adequate of a justification as “Don’t worry. It’s fine.” But strikingly, Yosef doesn’t say another word after that. How then, did Yaakov’s answer reassure Yosef?
The Still Luminaries
Aside from the fact that, apparently, Efrayim would ultimately become greater than Menasheh, Yaakov also points out, “V’Zar’o Yihiyeh M’lo Goyim”-“and [the fame of] his seed will fill the nations.”7
What exactly does this line mean? Rashi points out that Yaakov was referring to the future when, in the time of Efrayim’s progeny Yehoshua, during the war with Emori8, the world will witness the miracle of the sun and the moon standing still.9 Now, what exactly is so special about the sun and the moon standing still? Okay, it is quite special. It’s a reasonably abnormal event, an undoubted miracle. And true, perhaps it is a miracle that everyone can see. But, how is this miracle about the sun and the moon relevant to the discussion? Why does Yaakov reference this event as a basis for his hand-switch?
“A Fruitful Son is Yosef”
Finally, in the Bircas Yaakov itself, when Yaakov eventually addressed Yosef, Yaakov opened up, “Bein Poras Yosef Bein Poras Alei Ayin…”10
Now, this line alone is packed with multiple poetic, Midrashic interpretations and teachings. However, one of the simpler readings of this phrase cited in Rashi is as follows: “A fruitful son is Yosef, a fruitful son above the eye…”11
Based on this rendition of the verse, why is it that Yaakov praised Yosef’s fruitfulness? All of Yosef’s brothers merited to father children; moreover, most of them even bore more children than Yosef had. Why then did Yaakov ascribe so much prominence to Yosef’s fruitfulness?
“Bircas HaBanim Hi Birchas HaAv”
The first issue that was raised regarded Yaakov’s apparent blessing to Yosef while his hands were on Yosef’s sons’ heads. What’s going on there? Who is the center of Yaakov’s opening blessing?
The answer, you were probably already thinking is obvious; however, the Rashbam on our verse, in five words, puts it beautifully and precisely. He writes: “Bichas HaBanim Hi Birchas HaAv”-“The blessing of the sons is the blessing of the father.” It sounds so simple—which it really is—yet, it’s quite deep.
In the same exact vein, R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch elaborates that Yaakov essentially blessed Yosef by blessing his sons, as the greatest blessing a father can receive is the blessing of his own children. Indeed, the success and flourishing of one’s progeny is what one wants most out of life, and perhaps in this light, Yaakov was crediting Yosef.
What, then, was this special blessing Yaakov gave to Yosef’s children? Bear in mind that if Rashbam and R’ Hirsch are correct, there are then two blessings which Yaakov gives to Efrayim and Menasheh. In the sequence of the story, Yaakov recites one blessing, Yosef and Yaakov argue about the hand positioning, and then Yaakov recites a second one. So, what was the first of these two blessings?
“V’Yidgu LaRov”-“And they shall proliferate abundantly as fish”
We mentioned that the blessing is that of “HaMalach HaGo’eil.” In this Tefilah, Yaakov prays that the angel who delivered him from evil should bless the youths. What is the nature of the blessing that Yaakov wants from this angel for his grandsons? “V’Yidgu LaRov”-“and they should proliferate abundantly as fish.”4 But, what exactly does that mean?
Rashi points out that Yaakov was blessing Yosef’s progeny that just as fish are fruitful and unaffected by the “Ayin HaRa,” or the “Evil Eye,” so should Yosef’s sons be.12
In an earlier discussion13, we defined this concept of Ayin HaRa, as it is described in various M’forshim14, as a spiritual force that summons Divine Justice to scrutinize a person for his good fortune when one’s good fortune is displayed and becomes the object of jealous among others. When the said asset or “prized possession” is exhibited in a boastful manner and one’s deeds and merits are subpar, one risks being subject to the Evil Eye and being stripped of what he has.
Accordingly, Chazal teach us that fish of all species are unaffected by the Evil Eye is that they live hidden under the seas and out of sight and thus remain unseen.
Now, this verse is not merely a blessing that Yaakov hopes for his son and grandsons to realize, but it is just as much a statement of praise in Yosef’s displayed growth and subsequent parenting, to avoid subjecting either of his children to the Evil Eye.
Yosef wasn’t just bestowed with a special defense against the Evil Eye. On the contrary, he was the biggest victim to it from his youth. The Evil Eye cast on him by his brothers upon their noticing the gifts and affection he received from Yaakov fed on him. Yosef didn’t help the situation by arousing more envy with the announcing of his dreams of superiority over his brothers.
However, after being sold away, Yosef had gone through a serious growth process. He was humbled as a slave and forced to start from scratch. Any good he’d gain, he would be forced to notice Hashem’s hand delivering it and appreciate it. He had nothing “coming to him.” When he’d forget this reality for even a moment, he’d suffer.15 But, he fought the battles, continued to humble himself and earned protection from the “Ayin HaRa” for his self-control with Potifar’s wife and for averting his own eyes from her.16 Indeed, when the Evil Eye struck and Yosef was scrutinized by Divine Justice, Yosef proved his worth and earned immunity from the Evil Eye moving forward. Thus, Yosef would become, as Yaakov described him, “Alei Ayin”-“above the [Evil] Eye.”16
The Fruit of Yosef’s Labor
With this idea in mind, perhaps we can understand what Yaakov was trying to convey to Yosef, not only in his blessing him through Yosef’s sons, but in the way he blesses Yosef’s sons by themselves when it was apparently their turn for exclusive blessings.
Again, Yaakov was praising Yosef, not only for excelling and becoming this master over the “Ayin HaRa,” but for transmitting this mastery to his sons through his parenting. And Yosef, who had worked so hard on escaping the realm of pride, envy, and any animosity among brothers rightfully urged Yaakov not to recreate the situation which caused so much strife earlier; “Father—this just isn’t right. Whatever your plan is, we can’t repeat this. Don’t overlook the firstborn.” But, Yaakov comfortably responded, “Yadati,” twice. What was he intimating? Perhaps, in the double expression of reassurance, Yaakov meant to intimate as follows:
“I know who the biological firstborn is, and I know what you’re thinking, my son. Trust me. Regardless of what we’ve seen, this time, I think it is fine.”
Why is it fine though? How had Yaakov reassured him? Yaakov’s blessing toward Yosef through his children holds the answer. Yaakov looked at Yosef’s progress, then at his progeny and became certain that this family has risen above jealousy, strife, and pride.17 They were like fish, untouched by the jealous eye. If Efrayim was meant to be greater than Menasheh, it was just matter-of-fact. Efrayim and Menasheh would both modestly accept that reality. Menasheh would humbly defer, and Efrayim would humbly accept the honor. Who parented such heroic children, immune to the Evil Eye? None other than Yosef HaTzaddik.
“Like Efrayim and like Menasheh” – Exemplary Brothers
Many explain that it is specifically due to this unprecedented unity of Efrayim and Menasheh that in the second blessing they were involved in, Yaakov blessed them stating that the nation will bless their children through Efrayim and Menasheh, “…Yesimcha Elokim K’Efrayim V’Ch’Menasheh…”-“…May G-d make [place, establish] you like Efrayim and like Menasheh.…”18
Efrayim and Menasheh were great in that Efrayim’s superiority didn’t get to his head nor did Menasheh let it discourage him in the slightest bit. Because Efrayim corrected every wrong of the “superiors” and Menasheh corrects those of the “inferiors,” they would both receive the eternal reward of being the nation’s source of blessing. These are the model brothers for Klal Yisrael—completely serving Hashem in the purest way, side by side, accepting one another, overlooking differences in stature.
Had such a phenomenon ever existed until this point? There was not just strife between Yosef and his brothers. The rivalry between brothers over superiority, inheritance, and legacy goes back to Yaakov and Eisav and has even left its mark in the lives of Yitzchak and Yishmael. This conflict certainly traces back to the first brothers Kayin and Hevel and would come up many times again in the future, throughout Tanach. However, this strife may even root even further back in Bereishis, before the mankind was ever created. Where could there possibly have been strife before man?
The Sun and the Moon
On the fourth day of Creation, the Torah describes the origin of the luminaries—“Shnei Me’oros HaGedolim”-“two great luminaries”19—the sun and the moon, which would respectively rule over the day and night. However, after referring to the two heavenly bodies as “great luminaries,” the Torah proceeds to differentiate them by labelling the sun as the “Me’or HaGadol”-“the great luminary” and the moon as the “Me’or HaKaton”-“the small luminary.”19
Rashi explains this discrepancy based on a the teaching from Chazal that the sun and moon were originally created at equal size and stature; however the moon (or perhaps the moon’s representative angel) essentially complained that it is impossible for “two kings to rule with one crown,” and thus its size was diminished.20
Based on this tradition, in the monthly Kiddush Levanah (Sanctification of the [New] Moon) Klal Yisrael has the Minhag to recite a prayer on behalf of the moon, that its “missing portion” be restored, that the moon would ultimately return to its former glory. This Aggadic teaching about the complaint of the moon is quite a tragic, yet it is quite fascinating to think about. What was Chazal’s point? What does the smallness of the moon reflect? One could loosely read the Aggadah as a lesson that we should be happy with our portion21 and not to be greedy. However, the Midrash is saying something even more fundamental. Apparently, it was the inability to share a role with its “brother” and “counter part,” that led to the moon’s loss. It wasn’t that the moon was necessarily greedy or jealous. It was that the moon couldn’t fathom the concept of two kings wearing the same crown—that there couldn’t be harmony within a shared role and portion. The moon argued that superiority good not be shared. When we pray for the moon, what are we actually praying for? Apparently, that there should be no more presumption of this need for competition, that supremacy is an all sum gain. We pray that there should no longer be a place for strife to arise among brothers.
Who would actualize this apparent ideal and attain such a level of brotherhood other than the progeny of Yosef HaTzaddik?
Indeed, with all of this information, we can understand the greater significance of the future miracle which Yaakov apparently highlighted as the ultimate demonstration of Efrayim’s glory “filling the nations.” as was mentioned, much later, the glory of Efrayim’s progeny “fills the nations” as at one fateful point in history, the sun and moon freeze during the war with Emori.7, 8, 9
Why do we care that the sun and moon paused for Yehoshua? What would their temporary suspension mean for us? The stillness of the sun and moon in the time of Yehoshua may correspond to the humble halting of Efrayim and Menasheh before one another. When the sun and moon stop, none of them reigns superior over the other. When Yaakov put Efrayim before Menasheh, they both reacted with simple silence. Is the sun greater than the moon? Yes. But, the ideal would be when no one, neither the sun nor the moon would make anything of it. Efrayim would be greater than Menasheh, and yet, like the humble sun, Efrayim kept quiet about his greatness and would not make Menasheh feel as though he were inferior. Unlike the moon that once had equal power to that of the sun and took issue with the distribution of glory and was ultimately diminished, Efrayim and Menasheh would reverse that course of nature, accepted their portions, perhaps creating this supernatural phenomenon which saw the sun and moon as silent equals.
Again though, where did this reversal of nature come from? From Yosef’s efforts. Yosef’s triumph over the Evil Eye would manifest itself in his children, bringing a halt to the seemingly eternal strife between the moon and the sun, and perhaps bringing this key message of Sefer Bereishis full circle.
Yosef’s Dream Come True
While we’re bringing things full circle, interestingly, back in Yosef’s youth, before becoming the “master of the eye,” he had some mysterious, prophetic dreams which implicitly announced his superiority over his brothers. But of course, at the time, perhaps those dreams caused Yosef to fall victim to the Evil Eye with his brothers and be subsequently stripped of his superiority. However, perhaps it was actually only when Yosef overcame the Evil Eye that those dreams would come true.
Consider how, of the two dreams, there was one which featured the heavenly bodies bowing to Yosef.22 We know that there were eleven stars corresponding to his brothers. But, of course, there were two other heavenly bodies. Who were they? Of course, the sun and the moon! Chazal explain that Yaakov dismissed this part of the dream, because if the sun and the moon corresponded to Yaakov Avinu and Rochel Imeinu, Rochel was deceased so it would be impossible for her to actually bow.23 However, Yaakov never considered the possibility that the moon represented Bilhah who was like a mother to Yosef when he was orphaned from Rochel.23 Either way, these two ambiguous characters in the dream, the sun and the moon were one basis for Yosef’s family’s dismissal of the dream. Perhaps, the details of Yosef’s dream were insignificant.24
Indeed, what the true, full interpretation of this dream was and whether or not it occurred in Yosef’s lifetime is unclear. But again, we could likely agree that at the time, telling the dreams over to his family in the manner he did so was not the most promising move because Yosef caused his brothers to grow jealous that way and brought further hatred upon himself.25 He made his superiority known, for better or for worse, and his brothers felt like inferiors. Perhaps, Yosef’s arousing of the jealousy in and strife with his brothers was contrary to the symbolism of the bowing sun and moon in his dream which represented humility and submission. And maybe, since the way Yosef reacted to the dream was counterintuitive to the dream’s meaning, the dream’s true meaning would be withheld with him for years. It would not be actualized until some time later. And, maybe the sun and the moon bowing to Yosef in his dream represented a time when the feuding would end—when the sun and the moon humbly give in to one another. And that was what the “dream” was waiting for.
Meanwhile, the Torah tells, “…V’Aviv Shamar Es HaDavar”-“…and his father guarded the matter,”25 which, Rashi explains, meant that Yaakov awaited the fulfillment of this dream. It could be that he knew that this dream could not come about until Yosef would overcome the Evil Eye that aroused jealousy, animosity and accusation in his family, but he never ceased in hoping that that day would come. Once Yosef suffered, understood, and subsequently conquered the Evil Eye, and subsequently brought up children whom he guarded them from this Evil Eye, then the dream would come true!
In that light, what if the sun and the moon in Yosef’s dream actually represented his two sons, Efrayim and Menasheh? And when would the dream come to full fruition? What if the bowing of the sun and the moon represented the stopping of the sun and moon in the time of his progeny who were humble and united?
With all of the above, there’s no wonder at all what Yaakov was referring to when he blessed Yosef as “Bein Poras Yosef Bein Poras Alei Ayin…”-“A fruitful son is Yosef, a fruitful son, above the eye…” The eminence of Yosef’s fruitfulness is not merely his bearing of children, but his rearing of them. The excellent parenting that followed made Yosef fruitful in the most essential way. No, Yosef was not the father of multitudes like some of his other brothers. But, Yaakov was not blessing the quantity of Yosef’s children, rather the incredible quality! Like fish, there was no Ayin HaRa among his children! Yosef had fought an intense battle against the Ayin HaRa and had not only prevailed, but carried over the victory to his seed, Efrayim and Menasheh! This blessing of Yosef’s children is the greatest blessing that he, as a father could receive. WE have to adopt the parenting model from Yosef and make like Efrayim and Menasheh the exemplary brothers of Am Yisrael. If we do, we will be like the sun and the moon in their optimal state, still luminaries, high “above the eye!”
May we all be Zocheh to overcome the Ayin Hara, be humbly united with one another, eliminate strife from the world and, in that Zechus, Hashem should bless us with the coming of the Geulah in the times of Moshiach, Bimehirah Biyomeinu! “Chazak! Chazak! V’Nischazeik!”-“Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!” Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Bereishis 48:12-13
- Ibid. 48:15
- Ibid. 48:20
- Ibid. 48:15; For a full analysis of the text of “HaMalach HaGo’eil,” see what I wrote earlier in this Sidrah; “Fish in the Midst of the Land.”
- Ibid. 48:13-14
- Ibid. 48:17-18
- Ibid. 48:19
- Yehoshua 10:12
- Rashi to Bereishis 48:19 citing Bereishis Rabbah 97:4 and Avodah Zarah 25A
- Bereishis 49:22
- This reading is a combination a few translations offered by Rashi to 49:22, based on Targum Onkelos, Bereishis Rabbah 98:18 & 78:10, and Brachos 20A.
- Citing Bereishis Rabbah 97:3 and Brachos 20A
- See what I wrote earlier in this Sidrah, “Evil Eyes & Teary Eyes – Final Tribute to Rochel,” Understanding “Ayin HaRa.”
- I.e. Maharal and Michtav Eliyahu
- See Rashi to 40:23; See also what I wrote earlier; “The Grace of G-d & a Maccabee in Mikeitz,” Parshas Mikeitz.
- Brachos 20A
- Indeed, some explain that Efrayim was chosen for his exceeding humility; See Pesikta Rabbasi 3:93
- Bereishis 48:20
- Ibid. 1:14-19
- Citing Bereishis Rabbah 6:6
- Pirkei Avos 4:1
- Bereishis 37:9
- Rashi to 37:10 citing Bereishis Rabbah 84:11
- Rashi to 37:10 citing Brachos 55B
- Bereishis 37:11