In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, Yosef brings his two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, to be blessed by their grandfather Yaakov prior to his passing. Yosef positions his older son, Menashe, to his left side and Ephraim to his right, so that when Yaakov would stretch out his hands to confer the blessings upon their heads, his more distinguished right hand would lie upon Menashe’s head and his left hand would rest upon Ephraim’s. Much to Yosef’s surprise, as Yaakov delivers the blessings, he crosses his hands over one another so that his right hand is atop Ephraim’s head. When Yosef attempts to set Yaakov’s hands straight, Yaakov resists and says to Yosef (Genesis 48:19): “I know my son, I know, he too (i.e., Menashe) will become a people and he too will become great, yet his younger brother (i.e., Ephraim) shall become greater than him…” Rashi explains that the manner in which Ephraim’s greatness eclipsed that of Menashe was that although a great miracle would occur through Menashe’s descendant Gideon, who would defeat a Midianite army consisting of 135,000 troops with a fighting force of 300 men, nevertheless Joshua, who was a descendant of Ephraim, would bring the Jewish People into the Promised Land and teach them Torah.
Let’s bear in mind that a miracle, especially the one involving Gideon, is no small feat. It involves a complete abrogation of the laws of nature in a way which no one would expect, much less believe, could actually happen. So why is Gideon’s accomplishment considered inferior to Joshua’s? After all, miracles don’t occur every day, whereas Torah and the Land of Israel have been around since time immemorial!
I believe the answer is that while the word “miracle” may conjure up images of something glitzy and glamorous, it is not necessarily so. Large and small miracles happen all the time. One can choose to view a “miraculous” event as an act of G-d or nothing more than a fluke of nature; its spiritual significance is debatable. On the other hand, Torah and the Land of Israel posses inherent value. When one studies Torah or visits or lives in Eretz Yisrael, whether they realize it or not they are experiencing a direct connection to Hashem in this physical world. So although these experiences may not be as attention-grabbing, their spiritual worth always trumps a miracle, whose value is relatively specious.
This idea is so important that the Torah instructs us that when we bless our children that “The Almighty should make you like Ephraim and Menashe,” we are to specifically mention Ephraim before Menashe. The message to our children is that the focus of their lives should be on Torah and matters of spirituality, whose value is absolute, as opposed to placing a premium on the latest flashy styles and gadgets , which may do a better job of impressing others, but whose value is fleeting and superficial. By virtue of the fact that Yaakov simultaneously placed both his hands on the heads of Ephraim and Menashe, he taught us that while there may be nothing inherently wrong with having the best of both worlds; nevertheless, our primary hand (traditionally the right hand, with apologies to lefties) should always remain outstretched toward matters of spirituality, because to paraphrase the motto of the hardware company of the same name, “Behind every real project is a True Value.”