maggio 28th, 2012
(cf. Gen 48:13 et seq.) We are at the end of the book of Genesis, the patriarch Jacob is sick and his son Joseph visits him bringing his two sons: Ephraim and Manasseh.
Besides the joy of having seen even his son’s children, Jacob/Israel gives them his blessing. Their father Joseph puts the two in front of the patriarch in the position he considered correct for the transmission of the birthright: positioning (Gen 48:13) Manasseh on Jacob’s right hand, and Ephraim on his left.
The laying on of the right hand conferred those rights on which often depended a person’s entire life: properties, herds, lands, slaves, wealth and power… (We remind you once again it was not about the spiritual life of the blessed person!).
Contrary to the expected, old Jacob crosses his arms and raises his right hand on Ephraim’s head, who was the youngest, and the left on Manasseh’s head, who was the eldest son (as the author of this extract outlines: Gen 48:14). Joseph disappointedly points out the incongruity (Gen 48:17), takes the right hand of the father and tries to move it onto Manasseh’s head, but Jacob confirms his choice and says that Ephraim and his descendants are meant to become greater than Manasseh.
To ensure this it was necessary that Ephraim could dispose of all that was linked to the right of primogeniture.
Thus the precise description of the event’s details, the crossing of the arms, Joseph’s disappointment, his strained attempt to restore the order, let us clearly understand that it was not about a spiritual blessing (which could easily be divided between the two without privileging one or the other), but a gesture that in the culture of that time meant the clear assignment of birthright, whose importance we will better understand when talking of Jacob and Esau. We all understand that the spiritual blessing could easily be distributed without any particular spatial position, without a clear distinction between right and left, as it happens every time a priest blesses the congregation that is arranged at random in front of the officiant.
In the case of Joseph, instead, the gesture was a real legal act, which stated who would become rich and powerful, and who would not.