16 Tevet 5773 / Dec. 28-29, 2012
In this week’s portion we find Jacob, having lived in Egypt for 17 years, feeling his death coming on. After making Joseph promise to bury him back in Canaan with his ancestors, Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons, Menashe and Emphraim. However, instead of resting his right (dominant) hand on Menashe’s head (as Menashe was the elder brother and such was tradition), he rested it on Ephraim’s head. Joseph tries to correct him, but Jacob says his actions were purposeful, as Ephraim’s line would be greater than Menashe’s, despite Ephraim being the younger of the two.
As an eldest child myself, it’s very hard for me to admit that the story of the Jewish people has historically been that of the younger brother superseding the older brother: Isaac over Ishmael; Jacob over Esau; Ephraim over Menashe; and eventually, Moses over Aaron.
In many ways, what the Bible has done by consciously (and often painstakingly) pointing out the lineage of our ancestors is gift us with the underlying mentality that has allowed the Jewish people to survive for millennia. Namely, our narrative is the same as that often embodied by younger siblings striving to fill the shoes of their overachieving and (perceived) over-loved older siblings – that of the underdog.
We are the miniscule pimply-faced David, facing the behemoth hyper-masculine Goliath. We are the Maccabees, few in number but strong in conviction. We are the tiny sliver of land in the Middle East surrounded by hateful neighbors.
As our ancestors did before us, we should embrace being the underdog, while acknowledging that embracing such a narrative inevitably may result in making it harder to recognize instances where we might occupy positions of relative power.
It is because of our underdog narrative, infused in us via our core religious text and embodied throughout history, that we find we possess the scrappiness we need to succeed in an ever-changing world, and the strength we need to face the Goliaths in our own lives.