Parshas Vayechi:
Unavoidable Embarassment

By Rabbi Moshe Francis
Teves 5757

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

    The verse relates, that when Yaakov blessed Ephraim and Menashe "He deftly switched his hands, for 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 Terumas HaDeshen explains that Yaakov had another option. Initially, he could have placed 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 a normal manner. This, however, would have been an obvious slight to Menashe. Instead, he positioned Menashe on the right sight and subtly crossed his hands, minimizing the embarrassment to Menashe. The verse can now be understood. He switched his hands because Menashe was the bechor. He chose this option of switching his hands to avoid any unnecessary embarrassment of overtly placing Menashe on the left hand side.

    A person in one of my classes, after arriving a few minutes late one morning, removed his hat and sat down in front of his gemorah without his yarmulke. Noticing his bare head, which was uncharacteristic of him, I debated what course of action to take. Catching his eye I pointed momentarily to the top of my head as unobtrusively as possible. The message was understood, and he retrieved his yarmulke. After the shuir he thanked me warmly for calling this to his attention. He told me that he once made the same mistake when he visited the house of a prominent rabbi, and the rabbi did not mention anything to him. When he came home he realized that he had no yarmulke with him and that he had sat in the rabbi's house the whole time without a head covering. He called the rabbi on the phone and asked him why he did not point out the error. The rabbi said that he did not want to cause him any embarrassment. The man remarked, "I feel more embarrassed now that I know I sat for two hours in your home without a yarmulke".

    From Yaakov we learn that in those cases when one can not avoid embarrassing someone, great care and sensitivity should be shown to minimize the embarrassment.


By Rabbi Moshe Francis is the author of this essay from the Chicago Community Kollel. If you have any questions or comments about this week's Parsha Encounters please email him at



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