Vayechi-Two Types of Service
“And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him. But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn (Genesis 48:13-14).”
The primary intent of these verses is to inform us that the firstborn was at the right of Israel, and the younger at his left. Is it not, then, redundant to tell us that they were, respectively, at the left and right of Joseph?
I believe that Jacob’s main purpose was to perpetuate God’s grace and blessings for the people of Israel. Jacob sought to do this by means of these two righteous men, Ephraim and Menashe, as he said, “By you shall Israel bless, saying, ‘God make these as Ephraim and Menashe’ (Genesis 48:20).”
Why through these two righteous men? Because the world is always in need of two types of righteous people, one who will always contemplate the higher worlds and meditate on mystical unifications, to always augment light in the higher spheres, and the other, to think about the needs of this world, the people in need of sustenance and blessing and life, and other such necessities.
By means of these different kinds of righteous people the world exists, and Jacob therefore sought to achieve this through his grandsons. For Menashe, as the firstborn, was by nature desirous of always rising spiritually from level to level and not thinking about mundane matters at all. But Ephraim was younger in his divine service as well. He did not indulge so much in the spiritual ascents. Rather, he always pondered how to draw down the Divine Grace upon the people of Israel. Jacob considered this extremely important, for his main purpose was to draw down goodness upon Israel.
Now, Joseph’s intention was just the opposite. He reasoned that Menashe was more important because of his great concentration and his spiritual ascent, and that is why he placed Ephraim at his own right. For Joseph too, wanted the people of Israel to receive blessings through these two righteous men. But he felt that the power of his own right hand was sufficient for his younger son to achieve blessings for the people of Israel. However, Joseph considered his older son as more important, for he served God through his great spiritual attainments, and therefore he placed him to the right of his father Jacob.
But Jacob disagreed. He took the opposite view, and since Ephraim was younger, thus, presumably, in need of strengthening, he crossed his hands in order to bless him with his right hand. For the primary function of Jacob was to do good to the generations after him, that they be prepared for every good effluence and mercy. This was symbolized by Ephraim.
This is what Jacob meant when he said, “I know it, my son, I know it.” That is, “I know of the idea of my son Joseph, namely that the older brother has attained a level higher than his younger. But his younger brother, in his own way, “shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations,” the world, will on his account, be full of God’s grace and His goodness. Therefore is he more beloved in my eyes.”
This is the meaning of, “The counsel of God is with them who fear Him; and His covenant, to make them know it (Psalms 25:14).” “Those who fear Him,” are the righteous who draw down blessings upon the world and they must do so in secret and in hiding so that the accuser, Satan, will not denounce all of this goodness. “His covenant,” refers to the righteous man who conducts himself according to the covenant and the Torah. “To make them know it,” means to do so openly, so that people will learn from him this proper way. (Noam Elimelech; Vayechi)