Love for Jews Brings the Redemption
It is written, “And Israel stretched out his right hand and put it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand upon the head of Manasseh. He crossed his hands, although Manasseh was the firstborn” (Gen 48:14). And then we read of an argument between Joseph and Jacob: “And when Joseph saw that his father put his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him. And he took hold of his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head onto Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, ‘Not so, my father. This is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.’ And his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. But truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations’” (Gen 48:17-19).
This incident should be explained. The Sages have said, “Because Jacob preferred Joseph over his other children, he made him a special tunic that provoked his brothers’ jealousy and brought our ancestors to Egypt” (Shabbat 10a). If such is the case, why did Jacob cross his hands and place his right hand on the head of Ephraim, the younger child, thus risking to provoke Manasseh’s jealousy? In addition he said, “May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh” (Gen 48:20). Why is the younger mentioned before the elder? If he blessed them with such a benediction, why does the Torah add, “And he set Ephraim before Manasseh” (ibid.)?
Such an order of priority would have provoked jealousy, and Joseph asked his father Jacob to place his right hand on the head Manasseh, the first-born. But Jacob intentionally put Ephraim and Manasseh to the test, in the same way that he put his own children to the test in order to verify that they had been reconciled to Joseph with all their heart. Harmony was to be the foundation of their future. If their descendants know how to give way one before the other, their sins would be pardoned (Yoma 23a). In conducting oneself with respect towards the other, in thinking first of all to the good of one’s neighbor, one guarantees good social relationships, relationships built on love and respect.
To put his grandchildren to the test, Jacob first of all asks, “Who are these?” (Gen 48:8). Rashi explains his words as meaning, “‘From where come these children who don’t deserve a blessing?’ For Jacob saw that Jeroboam and Ahab would descend from Ephraim, and that Jehu and his children would descend from Manasseh. And he was troubled” (Tanhuma Vayechi 6). If both of them would have descendants that would be equally wicked, one must ask why he gave preference to one of them, since that was only meant for putting them to the test to determine if they would accept such a preferential situation and continue to love one another. In that case, the children of the other tribes would also learn how to live conflict-free in peace with one another. Joseph pointed out the error to his father, but the tribes accepted the decision of Jacob and resolved to conduct themselves lovingly with one another. “And he set Ephraim before Manasseh” in view and knowledge of all so that everyone understands that no one should be jealous of others, but rather should behave with fraternity and love towards one another.
The remainder of the story becomes clear. It is written, “And Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather yourselves together and I will tell you what will happen to you in the latter days. Assemble yourselves and hear …’” (Gen 49:1-2). Jacob wanted to make it known to them that they will only be saved because of fraternal harmony and the attention that each gives to the feelings of others, as it written: “Redemption will only come when the entire Jewish people will be united” (Tanhuma Nitzavim 1).
What remains for us to explain is why, when Jacob wanted to reveal to his sons the events of the latter days, Divine inspiration left him (Pesachim 56a). He therefore thought that there lay a fault in them. His sons told him, “Hear O Israel, the L-RD is our G-d, the L-RD is One.” He then replied, “Blessed be the Name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.” It is difficult to understand how Jacob could have suspected his sons of having any doubts concerning the unity of G-d, to the point that they were obligated to make this proclamation. Precisely why did they say, “Hear O Israel”? And what is the sense of Jacob’s response: “Blessed be the Name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever”? Moreover, if they actually had been whole in their faith in G-d’s unity, why was Jacob deprived of Divine inspiration?
To clearly respond to these questions, it must be stressed that hate and jealousy risk leading a man to damage the image of G-d that is in his neighbor. To cause harm to him is to deny the existence of G-d (Bereshith Rabba 34:20), as if there were many gods, and to give strength to the forces of evil. In addition, if a man’s faith is not whole, each commandment that this man performs reinforces his mistaken faith, and in that case his good deeds will benefit people that he has slandered (Chofetz Chaim, Shmirat Halashon) and he loses all Divine likeness. In effect, how could he still carry the image of G-d in himself after having denied the image of G-d in others?
The Sages say that Jacob actually revealed to his children the end times, for in gathering and uniting them, he made them know that this unity will bring about the redemption. It was when he wanted to reveal to them the details of the redemption that Divine inspiration left him. And so he feared that there still remained in their hearts a feeling of hatred towards Joseph because Jacob had given him “one portion above your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow” (Gen 48:22).
“From the moment that Joseph was sold into slavery, I lost Divine inspiration” (Tanhuma Vayeishev 2) and it only returned to Jacob when the brothers were reconciled, as it is written, “then the spirit of Jacob their father was revived” (Gen 45:27). And then all of a sudden, Divine inspiration again left him. Perhaps they again felt hatred in their hearts for Joseph because Jacob gave him precedence, or because he gave him the city of Shechem. Or perhaps it was because he gave to his sons Ephraim and Manasseh two inheritances (Tanhuma Vayechi 6), as it is written, “Ephraim and Manasseh are mine like Reuben and Simeon” (Gen 48:5). Was it possible that Jacob’s sons still felt hatred for Joseph?
And so his sons replied, “Hear O Israel, the L-RD is our G-d, the L-RD is One,” which is to say, “we feel no hatred or jealousy, G-d forbid! Neither towards Joseph nor towards anyone else.” The declaration of Shema Israel means that before we can come to a love for G-d – a true reverence for Him and a faith that is whole – we must love our neighbor, be attentive to his feelings, and share his pains. The children of Jacob told him that they love their neighbor and support one another, and that it wasn’t because of them that Divine inspiration had left him. Jacob responded, “Blessed be the Name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever,” or in other words, “the honor and reign of G-d are intact solely when the Children of Israel are united, and so His Name is complete and His reign is made apparent.” Divine inspiration left him only so that he not reveal the details of the events concerning the end times.
Later, when he was blessing them, Jacob reprimanded his sons, yet they did not turn to jealousy. Although he rebuked some and blessed others, “he included them all in a single unified whole” (Bereshith Rabba 13:8) because they were all united with the same intention when they made their common declaration of Shema Israel.
It is also possible that Jacob thought that his children had not understood the lesson that he gave them when he met Joseph. “He gave to Joseph the city of Shechem” (Midrash Haggadah Vayigash 28:29) precisely to remove all jealousy from their heart. When they replied with Shema Israel, Jacob understood that they had been reconciled to Joseph and that they weren’t jealous that he had received that city. It is written, “with my sword and with my bow” (Gen 48:22), meaning, “with my prayers and supplications” (Bava Batra 123a). It’s a known fact that something acquired through prayer doesn’t provoke jealousy, for it was not obtained through natural means. Man must sanctify his spirit as much as his body, and to consecrate both to G-d. He must do this in the same way as “when a man shall sanctify his house to be holy to the L-RD…” (Lev 27:14). In the same way, a man’s body and his entire being is sanctified when he serves G-d with enthusiasm. When harboring jealousy, no one can do this. Thus the love for Jews is spread and brings the time of the Final Redemption closer.