This article was constructed with the help of Dr. Robert Goldman, Psychologist of Yeshiva Chaffetz Chaim and Rabbi’s Baruch Dopelt, Eliezer Finkleman, Yitzchak Aminov
Who doesn’t want to receive a bracha from their beloved father or grandfather? It’s a big honor. One gets a feeling of warmth and an awareness that the bracha has been passed down for many generations, for thousands of years. It’s beautiful!!
Interestingly, though, what happens when the beloved patriarch wants to give a more important bracha to your younger sibling? How would you feel? Would you feel slighted? Does one still have that warm feeling?
We have an ancient tradition, and many would say, one of the most beautiful customs in Jewish life is for parents to bless their children at the start of the Friday night Shabbat meal. What makes it more important is it’s done at Shabbat table which is designed to be the grand stage for family communication and family love, especially in todays fast pace lifestyle where one doesn’t communicate with his family all week. Girls receive the blessing: “May God make you like the matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.” Boys, meanwhile, are blessed “to be like Ephraim and Menashe.”
What happened to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?! Why were Ephraim and Menashe chosen instead as the subjects of this important tradition?
In this week’s parsha, the last in the book of Sefer Bereshit, we see a very interesting pattern, the rejection of the first-born. When Yosef brought his two sons for a blessing from Yaacov, his father, who was old and ready to pass on, he did something very peculiar. Yaacov crossed his arms so that Efraim, who was the youngest, would be under his right hand and Menashe, who was older and purposely placed by Yosef at his grandfather’s right, got the left. Yaacov, who emphasized that Menashe also received a nice bracha, gave the more important blessing to Efraim.
We see through history that the first born, the well-respected elder, receives double the inheritance, losing, on many occasions, the status in which he inherited. This was apparent in the first generation of the world; Cain was the oldest; however Hevel got the reward. We know that Shem, (where our ancestors come from) one of three sons of Noach, was not the first-born. Abraham passed the baton to Isaac, the youngest, and not to Yishmael. The same is said about Isaac’s sons, Eisav, who was the bechor, but Yaacov was the brother chosen. Reuben, the eldest of the twelve tribes, neither got the first-born rights, the kingdom nor the kehuna (high priest).
First and foremost, the Torah is trying to emphasize that even though the first-born has changed the status of man and has made him a father of this precise bechor, nevertheless, the bechor has to earn the benefits that has been bestowed upon him. There’s no freebee; no job is safe. Apparently, it’s a demanding role and has to be maintained to the highest standard, or else he loses it.
There is a puzzling question: Okay, we learn “one has to earn his brownie points and nothing is a freebee” from the tragic story of Cain and Hevel, but the Torah keeps on harping the same pattern over and over. Why? We learned the lesson. Perhaps one didn’t get it the first time, so the Torah wants to accommodate those slow thinkers and present similar storyline; possibility?
One has to realize that it’s not so simple to overcome such a test. In fact, it’s one of the CHULSHAT ENOSH human weaknesses. There are a number of very interesting stories in our history pertaining to this test.
The great HILLEL came to Israel from Babylonia. His activity of forty years likely covered the period of 30 BC to 10 AD. As soon as he came, everyone realized how great he was. He answered all the questions that was presented to him and knew all the Jewish discourses that was presented to him cold. It seemed like Shmaya and Avtalyon, the leading Rabbis, also realized that he was far greater than they. In response to his presence they resigned their position as leading Rabbis, relinquishing the mantle of leadership to him. A generation later the famous Rabbi Yehuda the NASI-prince, the leader of the Jews of his generation and the author of the Mishna said it would be most difficult, for me, to give up the position of president. I would not be able to relinquish the honor. Kol Hakavod to Shmaya and Avtalyon for placing the welfare of the Jewish people in front of their life time achievements, goals and pride.
Being the leading Rabbi has always been in the forefront throughout our history. In every corner of the world the head Rabbi was traditionally always recognized as the authority. It commands tremendous respect but with it he takes upon himself tremendous responsibility.
In the 1700’s, there was a large Jewish community in Prague headed by Rabbi Yechezkel Laundau. The position of head Rabbi was traditionally chosen by vote. Rabbi Laundau narrowly beat out Rabbi Zorach, who was also tremendous Torah scholar. Rabbi Zorach was not satisfied. He felt he would be the better choice in serving the community. On the first Shabbat of Rabbi Laudau’s new position, Rabbi Zorach asked him a question in front of the congregation that he could not answer. It was clearly an embarrassing moment right at the start of his tenure. He came home and cried himself to sleep. His father, who had passed away some time ago, came to him in a dream where Rabbi Laundau disclosed to him his anguish over the question asked by Rav Zorach. His father said “Son you will find the answer of the question in the Tosfot in this particular tractate of the Talmud,” disclosing the page. The next morning sure enough the answer was there. He then showed it to Rav Zorach who himself was not aware of the Tosfot answer. He then asked him “how did you figure out the answer?” When he found out about his father coming to him from the next world to give him the answer and save face in front of the congregation, he rationalized if the other world is interfering with matters of this world and providing answers so Rav Laundau can keep his position then perhaps this is what the heavens want; this is what is suppose to be. He then gave up the quest to overthrow Rabbi Laundau and eventually became a staunch supporter of him.
Rav Zorach could have rationalized the situation differently. We tend to look at everything to our favor. If man develops a liking to a certain view, he can make a straight line look crooked.
It’s too simplistic to blame the individual alone for being selfish. It’s a lot more complex. One has many pressures. On occasion, the wife and other family members get involved, egging the person not to give up. Perhaps they would feel slighted by the individual not being chosen. One, at times, succumbs to pressure. What starts out as a sincere project often ends up as an egotistical struggle; it’s scary, however, we tend to be drawn in to this natural human nature deficiency.
One of the most sensitive person that I have ever met, who worked and stressed good character traits was the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chaffetz Chaim Rav Henoch Liebowitz t’zl.
At his Eulogy, one of the eulogizers said something mind boggling. He quoted Rav Henoch saying that “the toughest decision that I ever made was to pass over the position of Rosh Yesiva to his own chosen heir apparent.”
Here is a man well into his eighties knowing well he cannot function as the head Rabbi because of health issues, has difficulty giving up the mantle.
It’s not so easy!!
We now can appreciate and acknowledge that Menashe was a remarkable human being and the same can be said of Aharon.